Choose Repairability—Why and How

Choose Repairability—Why and How

Let’s face it: stuff breaks. Whether from accidental damage, like sharing a drink with your keyboard; or from wear and tear, like a cracked screen or a drained phone battery, stuff eventually stops working. That’s normal. The components in our devices have a finite lifespan, which means that at some point they break. Some wear out faster than others: the filters in a vacuum cleaner may clog before the motor or the battery on your laptop may lose charge before the storage drive fails. But regardless of how it happens, at some point, stuff breaks.

We rely on our stuff day in and day out to move through our daily lives. So, repairing them makes sense. Yet, deciding on whether to repair when something breaks isn’t always easy. There are often barriers to repair. Poorly designed devices are hard to get into. Lack of access to tools, parts, or instructions can make repairs impossible. Not to mention the sweet seduction of purchasing that shiny new device. All of which make device replacement a more attractive option. So, what makes repairing more compelling than replacing our devices?

Repairing is good for the planet and our future. Keeping devices in use instead of buying new ones reduces waste, minimizes the burden on material resources, requires less energy, reduces pollutant emissions, and honors the efforts of the device creators. As you might know, there are a lot of ethical concerns around mineral extraction and manufacturing of electronic devices. So, repairing the things we own–instead of buying new ones–is an effective way to contribute to sustainability. It means making a more responsible use of the Earth’s resources, reducing demands on unfairly treated workers, and taking a step toward a brighter future with less waste.

We all want to do what’s right for the planet, but that’s not the only reason to repair. Repair is more economical than replacing a new device. Whether we do the repairs ourselves or seek professional assistance, repairing a device is generally cheaper than buying a new one. Thanks to the internet, we now have access to repair instructions shortly after a device breaks. All we need to do is find the instructions and wait for the spare parts to arrive. No appointments, no waiting in lines, and no need to travel to the store. Moreover, repairing devices also means that we are making the most out of them—and we are not replacing them too soon. Despite marketing strategies that tell us differently, devices are designed and built to last longer than we often guess. Research shows that we tend to underestimate the expected lifetime of our appliances, leading us to replace them sooner than necessary. By repairing them, we can keep them valuable and usable for longer, and make the most out of them.

Apart from benefiting the planet and our wallet, repairing our stuff benefits us as well! Repairing devices enhances our confidence, patience, and skillset to repair more devices. Repairing devices is a learning opportunity. Practicing repairs teaches design, engineering, and how devices work. For instance, do you know why batteries can be hard to replace? How many different components are in a smartphone? Or that it is possible to make a phone’s structure to be an antenna? Diagnosing and repairing our devices, such as our phones, can teach us all of that. Repair manuals are a good source of technical knowledge about a device’s inner workings. By diagnosing and repairing our devices and reflecting on the process, we not only repair a device but also gain a deeper understanding of how it is built. This knowledge helps in further understanding how a device works. And the more we repair, the more we learn.

And it’s not just all about us. Repairing our stuff is also a way to build and support our communities. Every fix offers the opportunity to interact with and support the local community of repairers. When we don’t have the time, motivation, or expertise to repair our devices, we can take them to local repair stores or events. These venues bring together a diverse group of interesting people, including real-life repair heroes, creating a melting pot of knowledge and expertise within the neighborhood.

Despite all these compelling reasons to repair, barriers still exist. Not all mainstream devices are designed to be repaired–yet. Many lack manufacturer support for repair. So, for many devices, it is still difficult to get a hold of the spare parts, diagnosis and repair information, and the necessary tools. Thus, choosing the right manufacturer before purchasing a new device is crucial.

To pick the right one, we need to consider device purchases as investments rather than acts of consumption. Would you buy an expensive iPad Pro or a laptop knowing you won’t be able to replace the battery or the screen if they break? Probably not. To ensure we are investing our money wisely, it makes the most sense to add repairability and device longevity as criteria when selecting a device. Unfortunately, repairs are not yet mainstream, so checking whether a device is repairable takes a few steps.

The first thing to consider is what parts in the device are likely to break. Find information on which device parts are prone to failure. For instance, in a phone, the battery will wear out, the screen and back cover may get damaged, the charging port can become dirty, and buttons can get stuck. Do manufacturers offer repair support for these parts? At which price? Ideally, pick a manufacturer that supports both authorized and self-repairs. This way, the device will surely be repaired no matter what, no matter where, either by us, an independent repairer, or the brand itself.

Next, check if the manufacturer has diagnosis and repair information on their website or in the service manual. Check whether you can access it, and whether it’s free. In the manual, check which tools you will need for the repair and how much they cost. Hopefully, they will be standard tools commonly available in your household, and not proprietary.

Then, check if spare parts for other device models are for sale at the OEM’s site and if they are fairly priced. We all know that a single replacement part should cost less than the whole device. Also, if the device runs on software, check which software they run and for how long it will be supported. Repairing a device with outdated software will not significantly extend its lifespan. You need functionality and security updates to keep it running for a long time.

Finally, you may also check whether there are independent repair shops available around you that could take on the repair. And the kind of warranty that comes with your product. If chosen well and made for easy repairs, the reasons to repair devices are compelling. The choice is ours—will we build our own repairable future?