Right to Repair

By John B. Swift posted 05-06-2019 08:54


My mother-in-law’s refrigerator broke last week. It was only a year old and one week out of warranty, which meant the repair would run about half the cost of a new unit. At the last minute the manufacturer decided to extend her warranty and make the whole thing right. Of course if that hadn’t happened, her next step would have been a third-party repair shop. Imagine if doing that was just not an option.

With some products and industries, it is nearly impossible or cost prohibitive to repair a product yourself or have it repaired by a third party. In this situation, the manufacturer has the consumer over a barrel and can inflate repair costs to the point where it is cheaper, or more convenient, for the consumer to buy a new product.

One of the most prevalent areas in which this issue arises is agriculture, an industry and culture known for do-it-yourself repair. In fact, 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren has come out in favor of a national right-to-repair law for agricultural equipment. One of the worst offenders in this arena is John Deere (which makes clothing and a few tractors), which has been looking to make tractor “ownership” look much more like a lease. In fairness, though, modern tractors are sophisticated $500,000 pieces of equipment with advanced positioning software and, in some cases, wholly autonomous. So the issue has much less to do with the stereotypical barnyard tinkerer and more to do with whether owning a piece of equipment includes the right to access and make changes to the software that runs it.

It will be interesting to see how this issue evolves. Where do you draw the line on being able to fix your own stuff?