Right to Repair is taking off in Australia. In June, the nation passed a national motor vehicle Right to Repair law that will require car manufacturers to share repair information with independent repair shops. In July, it hosted the first-ever Australian Repair Summit, sponsored by iFixit and Repco. And in October, the Australian Government will review a report calling for government inquiry into a Right to Repair for all consumer products. July’s summit provided strong evidence for a fundamental truth: Right to Repair is as good for consumers as it is resisted by manufacturers.
For car dealers, repair is big business. Repair accounts for 64% of car dealers’ revenue—over nine times the 7% they get from new car sales, said Stuart Charity, director of the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association, at the summit. Manufacturers have a vested interest in keeping repair information away from you and securing their monopolies on repair. If you fix your car yourself, or you take it to a mom-and-pop repair shop, you’re cutting into their profits.
That’s not what car makers say, of course. Charity’s non-profit group of independent repairers got so used to manufacturers’ repetitive complaints, they published an “Excuses & Answers” brochure. Manufacturers would say, “There’s no problem here. If you need access to data, you can get it”—but Charity knows shops have lots of problems. Mechanics struggled to get fault codes, diagnostic information, wiring diagrams, re-initialization instructions, calibration files, specifications for oil and lubricant, and technical service bulletins. The last one, he said, was especially frustrating, because it has forced small repair shops to waste enormous amounts of time diagnosing problems with known fixes.
Fighting big manufacturers as a scrappy group of independent shops was David versus Goliath.
Fighting big manufacturers as a scrappy group of independent shops was David versus Goliath, Charity said. But this summer, they conquered the giant: Starting in 2022, Australian car manufacturers will have to make available relevant diagnostic and repair information, at a reasonable price, for repair shops and training organizations.
Computer repair shop technician Tim Hicks described his own fight with a giant. His biggest frustration as a repair tech in the aughts, he said at the Summit, was scrambling to find repair manuals. So he started his own collection, shared it online, and by 2012 his site had become the biggest collection of laptop repair manuals worldwide. Then Toshiba sent him a takedown letter, and Hicks had to delete over 300 Toshiba manuals. Lots of people on the internet made a stink about it, including iFixit. Toshiba didn’t give, but Hicks’ site proves the bad press did its job: No other manufacturer has sent him a takedown notice, and almost a decade later he’s still hosting more than a thousand laptop service manuals.
Though manufacturers are reluctant to share repair information, customers want it. “Consumer demand is there,” Erin Turner said, speaking at the Summit on behalf of CHOICE, Australia’s leading consumer advocacy group. Her organization does a reliability survey every 12 months, which lets CHOICE know not just which products are failing but also how. In the most recent survey, 85% of Australians said they want products that are durable, and 73% said they consider repairability when deciding what to buy.
73% of Australians consider repairability when deciding what to buy.
Turner called for a standard metric of repairability for all products, so consumers can compare. By providing repairability information at the point of sale, Turner said, we can lift the quality of all products. There’s evidence for that, by the way—after France introduced national repairability scores this year, Samsung released a free repair manual online for its Galaxy S21+, bumping up its score. No major cell phone manufacturer had ever done that before.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Teardown
iFixit's teardown of Samsung's 2021 Galaxy S21 Ultra flagship smartphone. Performed on March 10th, 2021.
The Australian Repair Summit wasn’t entirely one-sided. A couple of industry representatives were invited to speak in the final panel: Janet Leslie of Canon, and Ian McAlister of the Consumer Electronics Suppliers Association, which represents Samsung and Sony and hundreds of other major manufacturers. McAlister’s talk was framed as a list of beliefs, a stark contrast to the data and stories that had been shared before him.
What do manufacturers believe? They believe Right to Repair laws “should be confined to major household appliances and focus on professional repairers.” They believe we should separate product markets, not try to address them all with sweeping legislation. They believe consumer law already provides plenty of protections. They believe there’s no evidence of a lack of repair competition. They believe current intellectual property laws pose no barrier to repair. They believe repair rates are falling not because it’s getting harder to fix things, but because falling prices make repair less appealing to people. And above all else, they believe there should be no new regulations beyond the French repairability scores—nothing that’s uniquely Australian.
We believe that whole list smells fishy.
In the Q&A session after his keynote, iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens called for a “universal approach” to Right to Repair: “I don’t see a fundamental difference between a farmer having access to the information he needs to fix a tractor and a consumer having access to the information they need to fix a phone.”
Again and again at the summit, the cry was raised, with strong evidence: Consumers want manuals and parts. They want to compare products’ repairability. They want to fix their stuff, for the good of their pocketbooks and the planet. Manufacturers’ best counter to these understandable desires was a list of unfounded beliefs.
Australia has an opportunity to be a world leader in the Right to Repair arena. When the Australian Government reviews the Right to Repair Productivity Commission report in October, let’s hope they see manufacturers’ complaints for the unfounded lies they are.
Comments on the report were due July 23, but the form is still open. If you’re an Australian customer or business and want to share how Right to Repair legislation might help you, submit your comment here.