Manufacturers could be forced to include repair instructions

Fix-it guides among changes mulled by FTC for home appliances and potentially other stuff

In yet another sign the right-to-repair movement is gaining ground in the United States, manufacturers could be forced to provide fix-it guides and maintenance instructions with certain products.

The FTC this week said it's seeking public comments on this proposed rule change.

Those proposals also include a shakeup of those yellow energy-usage labels equipment makers must attach to certain products: a wider range of goods would need to carry the stickers, and the information on them may have to be posted online too, seeing as fewer of us are going out shopping and seeing appliances in stores – if the proposals are approved.

Updated Energy Star labeling is all well and good, but it's not as big as the possibility that manufacturers could be forced to include repair information, something many have been loathe to do.

FTC chairwoman Lina Khan last week said [PDF] research by the regulator demonstrated that US companies use a variety of tricks to prevent folks from repairing their own products. By doing so, manufacturers "raise costs for consumers, stifle innovation, close off business opportunit[ies] for independent repair shops, create unnecessary electronic waste, delay timely repairs, and undermine resiliency," Khan said. 

Much of the proposed changes focus on the energy-usage labels, which the FTC is considering adding to clothes dryers, air purifiers, "miscellaneous refrigerator products," a broader range of light bulbs, home ice makers, humidifiers, "miscellaneous gas products," cooking tops, and electric spas. 

That focus makes it a bit less clear which products would be affected by the repair instruction requirements. In a press release about the proposals, the FTC mentioned its 2021 Nixing the Fix report that homed in on the struggles people potentially face repairing their own vehicles and mobile devices.

Despite that, the FTC told us these latest repair instruction proposals so far only apply to home appliances and other equipment covered by the yellow energy label regulations.

As to whether the fix-it guide proposals could be extend to other industries, such as personal electronics, "the FTC has not reached any decisions about whether to create repair-related requirements or which products would be covered if such requirements were proposed," the commission told us.

In the 2021 report, which the FTC provided to Congress, the watchdog said it found "scant evidence to support manufacturers' justifications for repair restrictions," which it found included making parts, manuals and software unavailable, making repairs less safe, physically restricting access to device internals, and practices like parts pairing, a favorite tactic of Apple.

These suggested repair information requirements have been a long time coming for the FTC, which has for years been warning companies including Apple that its crackdown on how and where people can fix their own stuff may be breaking the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.

The proposed changes are still in flux, and aren't close to being approved by the regulator. They do indicate, though, what's potentially on the horizon for manufacturers and their customers. ®

 

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