Remember when we used to repair our gadgets?

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US and EU laws show Australia’s Right to Repair moment is well overdue.

In many cases, it just seems easier and cheaper to replace than repair broken devices. But it needn’t be that way. Shutterstock Leanne Wiseman, Griffith University and Kanchana Kariyawasam, Griffith University

Australians are buying more and more gadgets and devices. Our homes and workplaces seemed to be filled with smart phones, drones, Fitbits, internet- connected fridges, air-conditioners that turn off when people leave the room: anything that makes our lives more convenient.

Behind the scenes, of course, there’s a growing pile of discarded, broken devices. The software that makes these devices so appealing also often prevents us accessing a cheap and easy fix.

But as the US and EU experience has shown, Right to Repair legislation – laws that make it easier for consumers, repairers and tinkerers to fix their broken goods – can offer an attractive alternative to the problem of overflowing, dangerous e-waste.

Read more: Design and repair must work together to undo our legacy of waste

Easier to replace than repair
More often than not, broken devices must be sent to the manufacturer for diagnosis before repair can even start. In many cases, it just seems easier and cheaper to replace than repair.

Local repairers often do not have access to either the relevant technologies or the information needed to repair a broken device.

And it’s not just about hand-held gadgets.

As the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has observed:

today’s new cars contain in excess of 10 million lines of computer code — more code than is used to operate the avionics and on-board support systems of modern airliners. New cars are now effectively “computers on wheels” and require sophisticated software to work.

Cars also contain complex software difficult to fix. Shutterstock

As one mechanic told the ABC:

We could spend up to $300 a month on data, just to be able to fix a certain model of car. It’s not cheap and there’s a lot you still can’t get from the dealers.

The same mechanic said he often worked 12-hour days mostly researching how to fix technical equipment in cars.

The Australian government has said it will work toward a mandatory scheme for the sharing of motor vehicle service and repair information, saying the ACCC will enforce it and apply penalties after a transition period.

Change may be coming, albeit somewhat slowly. In 2018, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission brought an action against Apple for telling consumers their warranty would not be honoured if they took their iPhone to a third-party repairer.

This was found to be a breach of consumer law and Apple was fined A$9 million. The finding sent a strong message to the community that manufacturers should not be controlling the aftermarket to the exclusions of others.

Naturally, consumers are also frustrated by the lack of repair options and more people are beginning to realise the environmental damage of a system that preferences replacement over repair.

Economy-wide change is needed. Australia can look abroad for inspiration.

Read more: Why can’t we fix our own electronic devices?

A global Right to Repair movement is growing. Shutterstock

A global groundswell
Globally, there has been a groundswell of support from motorists, farmers, designers, repairers and environmentalists for a Right to Repair movement.

The US has recognised the right to repair since legislation was passed in 2012 giving motorists access to car spare parts and repair services in Massachusetts. The law had a ripple effect across the US, with at least 20 states now proposing or passing Right to Repair legislation.

The EU has a Right to Repair regime through the EU EcoDesign Directive, which comes into force next year and requires manufacturers to create repairable goods and provide spare parts for up to 10 years.

In Australia, we have a number of great repair initiatives including the Bower Reuse and Repair Centre in Sydney, the Victorian Repair Cafe and many passionate repairers. And Australia’s consumer affairs ministers last year promised to consider laws allowing the repair of phones.

More broadly, we need a community-wide dialogue with consumers, motorists, farmers, repairers, manufacturers, designers, legislators and policy makers about how an Australian Right to Repair scheme might look.

As resources grow scarce, recycling options wane and our rubbish dumps overflow, there is no time to lose.

The Conversation

Leanne Wiseman, Professor of Law, Griffith University, Associate Director Australian Centre for Intellectual Property in Agriculture (ACIPA), Griffith University and Kanchana Kariyawasam, Senior Lecturer, Griffith University, Adjunct Research Fellow, Australian Centre for Intellectual Property in Agriculture (ACIPA), Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Total Comments: 14
  1. 0

    I bought a mobile phone about 3 years ago for roughly $320

    I dropped it and cracked the screen so took it to one of those mobile phone repair shops which you see in the wide corridors in the shopping centres. I was expecting a repair cost of maybe $90 at the most.

    I went to 4 or 5 places and the price to replace the screen ranged from $195 to $225. There is no way this is cost worthy. I am still using this phone, now with extra cracks, and it’s working fine.

    Right to repair sounds great but if the cost of the repair is going to be nearly the cost of a new item then I’m guessing most people would rather pay a little extra and get a brand new item with a new guarantee with it.

    • 0

      Alan, that’s what they count on, ” nearly as much” = well, actually probably twice as much, but they count on your lethargy and ignorance.
      Now there are very fine oils that repair glass cracks very quickly and cheaply but you then must not drop it down the toilet or drive over it, – as was the case with the original item.
      Lethargy is the biggest problem, it not only loses your gadgets but your brain as well.

  2. 0

    US (and so a lot of Australian) cars have had mandatory diagnositic interfaces since the early 2000’s (here) and nieteen ninetys in the US. OBDII was the first, where all cars made after a certain date HAD to have the same interface. This was so that independant service people could buy a diagnostic scanner that would work on all cars. The standard has evolved soemwhat since then, to encompass more modern aspects of diagnosis. This all makes it far easier for an independant mechanic to pinpoint a problem in the complex machines we call cars.
    As for repairability of other devices, I have always “had a go” at repairing all manner of so-called unrepairable devices. Most are, to a degree, repairable. And a LOT of repairable devices get thrown out because it costs too much (mainly in labour) to repair them.
    Fans, toaters, TV’s, computers, laptops, phones, – the list is almost endless, of devices that CAN be repaired.
    Use your retirement (free labour) to learn how to safely fix these items! Conduct classes (men’s sheds) to teach and repair other people’s devices.
    Although, often a “broken” device is an excuse for really “wanting a new one”… (So be careful what you fix!)

  3. 0

    There is one way our consumer laws could be simply changed to make a big difference. Under Australian law The Trade Practices Act says that the warranty for products is valid ‘for a reasonable period of time’ and that replacement parts will be available ‘for a reasonable period of time.’ If sellers were forced to state what these periods are, it would enable buyers to more easily compare products based on expected life.
    It would be quite easy to to state that replacement part will be sold at a reasonable price and no part will cost more than say 20% of the original cost of the item to be repaired. This would at least overcome the present situation where it can cost $400 for a control switch for a $600 washing machine when you can buy a computer for less. It would also encourage manufacturers to sell spare parts rather than complete replacement assemblies.
    I won a case with a major camera importer when my $1,000+ camera totally failed after three years. They claimed it was outside of the warranty period, I argued that if they advertised their cameras with only a 3 year lifespan they would not sell many and it was this that determined what a reasonable period was under consumer law. They replaced the camera with a far better one at no cost.
    If we had ‘right to repair laws not only would less stuff go in the tip, we could reduce imports and create thousands of skilled jobs in specialised repair workshops, spawn some local innovation because repairing often leads to reinvention, design improvement and possibly even reduced cost of living.
    If we had a government that was more concerned about the betterment of the country and spent less time defending its indecision and blaming the opposition we might have a body worth voting for.

    • 0

      Could not agree more with your whole post, Mondo.
      Especially the last sentence!
      Re the parts availabilty timeframe, a case in point woould be the latest “Commodore”. I am not going to go into the reasons it wont sell, but for my money, given the prices they are available for at the moment, a bloody good buy.
      But what of the future? GM does say parts and support will be available for ten years. But what does “available” mean? A part my well be available overseas (where they are made and still marketed) but are customers liable for freight? And the time delay? Is that reasonable?
      Dealers keeping a stock of parts on hand may be ok, but what if a common fault on all models develops? Will GM import a shipment of parts into Australia at their cost?

      Hopefully the current senate inquiry into Holden’s demise mght extend to cover these questions.

    • 0

      On the Ball. I fully understand where you are coming from on the Commodore, buying one would be a gamble but there is always the likelihood too that they will become a collectors item – one day. However, I bought a used VW Kombi some years after the old traditional model was discontinued. We did around 30,000 km in it over several months around Australia, went bush along thousands of km of bush roads and tracks with no more than a shovel where we saw no 4WDs all day. A few years later I had to do some fairly major repairs and was amazed how easy it was to find parts and VW made nothing in Australia. I think where there is a demand there will always be supply and some of the after-market dealers are often more efficient and cheaper at sniffing out parts than the original dealers. Good luck if you decide to buy a Commodore, I’ve had two Kingswoods and five Commodores, nearly all had problems – the biggest relief was to buy a Honda which went for nine years with no more than oil and filter changes.

  4. 0

    Umpty ump years ago, far sighted people, – engineers, designers, etc, foresaw these problems so set up mandatory Standards, – so you can use any tooth paste for your tooth brush, and the Australian Standards were one of the highest in the world.
    Whilst still up there, corruption, – especially from the ‘monied’ party has allowed aggressive companies to sell their products despite not quite up to standards, nor pretending even that they were.
    Whist i am one of those, – a Designer, that often can’t achieve a good solution because of an old AS Standard, forbidding a really helpful new product, there seems no way to dialogue with these standards groups to achieve a new helpful product, it almost seems that old ‘Guildmasters” from the 17th century have found a home, doing what they always did and to hell with the hindmost.
    I suspect the way for the future is to expunge mindless ‘Blockers’, but supervise the “solutions at any price” – er well “Solutions if you pay me to implement them” crowd and institute very tight mometary watching over those ones, – with extra tight to such things as banking, future trading, etc.

    • 0

      When I think back to the many years and tortuous processes in getting products approved and the numerous inspectors walking around our building products factory with micrometers, I just wonder how we have now got to the stage where hundred of building have lethal flammable cladding, not to mention brand new blocks of units ready to self destruct.
      I am convinced however those old ‘standards setters’ set this country’s economy back by decades and quashed innovation. I recall our company designing a new ceramic seal hydraulic valve but for years the Water Board would not allow us to market it because it would give us an unfair advantage over the competition. Every State had a different standard and approving authority. Some years later a German company came in with a copy of our design and swept the market. I am sure that many of the standards were good but some were so unique they were incompatible with overseas standards so made exports impossible even to markets which we would regard as naturally ours.

  5. 0

    Fans, if you see one at the tip, grab it, – the motor in modern fans has no permanent lubrication, and no intention that you will lubricate it.
    When a fan gets slower, – runs hotter, takes you flicking the blades round to get it started, – take off that little panel/cover at the very back (unplug it of course) and put some good quality lubricant in there, – you might need a syringe to get it in exact.
    While you are at it, take off the dust catching air-slowing grills at the front, – and put a bit in that side as well, – although it is more often the back one, it is the same shaft, and if possible, leave off both grids at the front,- the fan will work much better without all that resistance, you will be amazed how much better it is, and much easier to keep clean.
    And if you touch that unprotected blade it will not damage you, maybe a bit of a sting, gone in one minute, – and the grand kids? same for them, they will probably learn not to stick their fingers into spinning blades in the future, = cheap easy lesson.
    So save that old fan, – if you can’t get oil into it, the base or the propellor may be damaged in the future, so you have free spares.

  6. 0

    A significant reason for the growth in non-repairable consumer goods is that micro-engineering is achieving things that were previously regarded as impossible. Many of the electronic and computer components actually have an almost infinite life, but there is often a mechanical interface or housing that is not as durable. Meanwhile the original core of the device has been superceded by advances in other aspects and with the scale of production, many tens of thousands of the device have already escaped around the world. Sub-component electronic parts can be recovered from old devices, but apart from a comparatively limited hobbyist market, they have no further cost viable destination.
    The final comment from the authors of this opinion piece that we are in a situation of diminishing resources is patently wrong. We are not running out of any essential minerals or other resources. To try and spread such a falsehood is mischievous and misleading.

    • 0

      From the planet wreckers’ point of view there will always be something, somewhere, that can be dug up, preferably for free if you know who to pay, – even it is the reserve of the last Koala left, but that point of view is completely destructive, and people who attempt to point it out are not mischievous or misleading, – they are just taking a wider point of view, a point of view more in keeping with keeping our planet habitable, and a point of view more appropriate for human beings to have imho.

    • 0

      Couldabeen, Well if that is true it is not reflected in many of the consumer items on sale today. Our first Aussie made Simpson Pope washing machine lasted 28 years. After around 20 years I could buy replacement solenoid rubber seals for less than $2.00 but later they only sold the complete solenoid assembly for around $86. When I finally took it to the tip the recovery centre eagerly grabbed it for spare parts. Our next washing machine lasted around 12 years and the next six years before a major repair was needed. Our fridges followed a similar pattern. We had a Moulinex grinder/ liquidizer as a wedding present 50 years ago, it still works. I bought a Breville coffee grinder a few years ago it lasted 18 months, the next one two years. Our National Panasonic TV lasted around 25 years and was only replaced when we had to go digital and it had no video port because video players had not been invented when it was made. The next TV lasted 8 years. Three years ago we bought a Samsung smart TV but after 14 months it was no longer ‘smart,’ Samsung did an online upgrade that made no difference and said that was as far as they could go, if we wanted the ‘smarts’ back we’d need to buy a new TV so I bought a $400 laptop computer which is infinitely upgradeable and connected that to the TV and loaded all the
      TV sources we needed which now works perfectly. The technology may be there but this is over-ridden by the corporate drive to build in early obsolescence for continuous sales and profits. This is further reflected in the almost irrepairability of so many appliances.

  7. 0

    Re electrical or electronic repairs – by the time your pay for service / labour and parts it is often cheaper to buy new ones.
    Re motor vehicles – Insurance companies often made the decision whether or not it is viable to repair them or write them off. e.g. The chassis could be bent. Sometimes they are damaged more than the appear to be just looking at them. Sometimes it is not financially viable to repair them and they are then an economic write-off. Parts bear in mind most of them now come from overseas and could take awhile to arrive in Aust- often about a month. labour, parts, repainting of vehicles is very expensive. Even storms can cause a lot of damage. If water goes into the interior of car it means the interior is damaged. You may never get rid of the stench in your car. Rust is an issue too. Hailstorms can cause huge dents in the bodywork, smash windows etc.

  8. 0

    This is an extract from a Bloomberg USA article today.

    “Big Tractor companies say farmers have no right to access the copyrighted software that controls every facet of today’s equipment, even to repair their own machines. Farmers are calling for laws to guarantee them the right-to-repair.”

    This mirrors companies like Monsanto (now Bayer) who won’t allow growers to use the seeds from their own production.Its pretty serious when someone who has bought maybe a quarter million dollar tractor or a half million dollar combine cant repair their own machine when it breaks down at a critical stage of harvesting or whatever. This goes to show the lengths big business, you know the ones that pay their CEO’s $10 million annually will go to protect their own interests at the expense of the customer. It’s quite clear that replacement parts pricing and poor availability is aimed at achieving exactly the same result.



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