The Federal Trade Commission has just upped the stakes in its recent work to ensure consumers have a right to repair all the things in their lives. In a unanimous, bipartisan decision, the FTC has proposed new rules that would require all products displaying the Energy Guide label come packaged with repair instructions.
This is a big deal. Energy Guide, best known for those big yellow stickers on appliances and water heaters at US retailers, is an important and influential label that consumers take into consideration when shopping for items like refrigerators, washers, and air conditioners. Millions of appliances are shipped with the label every year—and, if the FTC’s proposed rule goes into effect, those millions of products would ship with repair instructions, too.
It’s hard to think of a more impactful, consumer-facing and repair policy move from the FTC, or a more surefire way to get repair instructions into the hands of more consumers who need them, in recent memory. “Repairing a product instead of replacing it is one of the best ways to cut down the environmental impact of our appliances,” US PIRG’s Nathan Proctor said in a statement lauding the announcement. “Including repair requirements as part of the Energy Guide label is the right thing for the planet and important for consumers.”
The vast amounts of energy and resources we spend manufacturing products are not factored into the current Energy Guide label—just the energy consumed during product use. That’s a problem when your appliance breaks—virtually no appliances have publicly available repair documentation. And more and more appliance repairs involve accessing the machine’s control board via software only available to manufacturers’ own technicians.
We’ve made great strides at iFixit in our effort to build a free repair manual for everything, but we’ve got a long way to go when it comes to appliances like the ones the rule would cover. There just isn’t widespread consumer access, on iFixit or anywhere else on the internet, to the sort of information that authorized appliance repair technicians take for granted. That needs to change.
This change is part of an ongoing groundswell of public support for right to repair, which has been noted even by business news outlets like CNBC, and which has contributed to, among other things, the improved repairability of the new iPhone models. (At least two of them, anyway.)
The FTC proposal—and call for public comment—comes one year after the FTC’s “Nixing the Fix” report, which was delivered to Congress in 2021, concluded that there was “scant evidence to support manufacturers’ justification for repair restrictions.” This was a blow to companies like Apple and John Deere, which had long argued against making repair instructions public. The FTC effectively determined that such practices are a harm to consumers, and primarily serve to facilitate the growth of in-network repair services and to discourage consumer repair.
In a statement, FTC chair Lina Khan explains that the basis of the new proposed rule is the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, a law created in response to the oil crisis of 1973. The law requires that manufacturers provide consumers with “information relating to energy consumption, including instructions for the maintenance, use, or repair of the covered product.” But until now, Energy Guide has not enforced that requirement. Khan is committed to using the FTC’s power to enable repair: “I believe it is vital that the Commission use every tool available to it to vindicate Americans’ right to repair their own products.” With today’s skyrocketing oil and gas prices, the FTC’s announcement is aptly timed.
This may not apply to all products, but it does cover the most energy intensive home appliances. Khan notes that it “could help consumers more easily repair everything from refrigerators and dishwashers to washing machines, air conditioners, water heaters, and televisions—products currently covered under the Rule—as well as new products that the Commission is considering adding to the Rule, including clothes dryers, air purifiers, humidifiers, hearths and outdoor heaters, cooking tops, and electric spas.”
This doesn’t go into effect just yet: Federal agencies have to notify the public 60 days ahead of making rule changes. But it’s possible that this could become the law of the land by the end of the year.
The FTC is seeking public comment, which means it wants to hear about your experiences, and challenges, in attempting to repair appliances. They want to know “whether lack of access to repair instructions is an existing problem for consumers; whether providing such information would assist consumers in their purchasing decisions or product use; and whether providing such information would be unduly burdensome to manufacturers.” As of this publication, the regulations.gov form for posting comments is not yet available—we will update with the link as soon as it is.