Bizarre (& Illegal) Product Repair Restrictions

From shattered smart phones to auto repairs, why the feds want to put the kibosh on manufacturers’ product repair restrictions — and why extended warranties are almost always a bad idea.

For 12 of the 20 years I served as the consumer investigator on two Memphis TV stations, I produced a weekly product-testing segment. Year after year, viewers confirmed it was the most popular segment I produced. It was always fun, rewarding — and not only informative to my viewers, but also enlightening to me. That segment taught me the intricacies of truth-in-advertising, product claims and repair rights.

Now the feds say your product repair rights are under attack.

In this report to Congress, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) exposed potentially illegal methods manufacturers use to restrict repairs. Particularly foreboding is the report’s revelation of computer manufacturers embedding software in their devices to keep them from being repaired by anyone else other than the manufacturers’ approved repair facilities. 

“Such restrictions may take the form of ‘software locks’ that disable a computerized device repaired outside of the manufacturer’s authorized service networks, or the use of firmware updates that limit third-party repairs,” read the report. It continued, “…In general, the intellectual property laws and the antitrust laws share the common purpose of promoting innovation and competition. However, misuses of intellectual property rights may create barriers to independent repairs, and thereby harm competition.”

Federal law already bans auto manufacturers and dealers from creating barriers to independent repairs on vehicles, as I established in this #WiseAdvice article. But Emily Wu, an FTC attorney, revealed some electronics and appliance makers are getting particularly nasty in how they limit consumers’ ability to fix their defective products. 

“Here’s the thing: some manufacturers prevent you from fixing the things you buy,” Wu said. “They might do things like gluing in batteries, limiting the availability of spare parts, and not giving you the repair instructions and software to help figure out the problem.”

This brings me to the subject of extended warranties. I have always told you to avoid buying extended warranties, especially from third-parties who have no true investment in either the manufacturer, the distributor or the retailer of the product. Those third-parties are often fly-by-nighters who find a way to ignore or dispute your warranty claims, especially in the case of vehicle service contracts. NEVER buy a vehicle service contract from a third-party. If you must consider a vehicle service contract, only consider one backed or sold by your vehicle’s manufacturer or dealer — and make sure it does not restrict your right to maintain your vehicle yourself or hire your own mechanic to maintain it. Remember, that restriction violates federal law.

Extended warranties are typically overpriced, and they often overlap some or all of the same protections your manufacturer’s warranty provides for free. “Never, ever (buy an extended warranty) on appliances or electronics,” said Clark Howard, nationally renowned consumer advocate of Clark.com. “Salespeople will tell you that an extended warranty ‘protects your investment.’ But a TV, a washer or DVD player isn’t an investment.” Instead, they are depreciating, unsecured purchases. Buying an extended warranty for them just adds to their price tags with no real guarantee of repair or replacement.

The FTC is persuading Congress to craft legislation that will limit manufacturers’ unfair repair restrictions, without the added hassle and expense of superfluous warranties. Until lawmakers make that happen, Wu said there are things consumers can research BEFORE they buy a product to ensure they can get it fixed if something goes wrong. She suggested before you buy, find out:

  • What is the average lifespan of the product?
  • What is likely to go wrong with it if it breaks?
  • How hard will it be to fix the problem?

“Here’s something else to know, in case you find yourself in this situation,” Wu added. “Let’s say you took a product to an independent repair shop to fix or maintain it. Then later you go to the product’s manufacturer for a repair, but not one related to the earlier fix. If that repair is covered by your (manufacturer’s) warranty, and your warranty hasn’t expired, the manufacturer can’t refuse to make the repair.” Wu said if a manufacturer voids your warranty due to an independent repair, report it immediately to ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

You may remember I always ended my product-testing segment with a “pass” or “fail” of the featured product.

Trust me when I say a manufacturer who voids your warranty due to an independent repair or a retailer/dealer who tries to sell you an unnecessary extended warranty always fails the Does It Work test.

Copyright 2021 Wise Choices TM. All rights reserved.

 

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