Bosch: “We Don’t Support Self Service”

If you’re wondering why we need right to repair laws, consider home appliance maker Bosch, which refuses to give customers service manuals, necessitating unnecessary and expensive service calls.

Bosch corporate offices
DennisM2 | Public Domain
Paul Roberts

Guest contributor

This is a guest post by Paul Roberts of SecuRepairs, a partner in our Right to Repair work. This story came from his Fight to Repair newsletter, and has been reposted, with permission, as part of our ongoing Junked by Design series.  

In the midst of the pandemic Wayne Seltzer, an Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder’s ATLAS Institute, realized that he needed a new dishwasher. The Bosch dishwasher that he had lovingly maintained for the last 20 years was on its last legs.

Seltzer did some research online, reading up on the best reviewed and most recommended dishwashers and decided on…a Bosch, once again. Bosch models ranked at the top of product review sites and got rave reviews from customers. Besides, Seltzer had a good run with his previous Bosch washer.

“I had brand loyalty,” he said.

Two decades of fixes

Not that his Bosch dishwasher was flawless. In its two decades of life there was along list of fixes to the appliance. But they weren’t a problem. Seltzer is handy – he volunteers at the Boulder U-Fix-It Clinic, which is run by Eco-Cycle, a “zero waste” focused Colorado nonprofit. And Bosch provided him with the schematic for his washer. That, and replacement parts ordered from Sears Parts Direct, were enough to keep his washer working. Over the years, he replaced the unit’s heating coils, swapped out a failed pump, replaced a solenoid valve, and more.

He ordered his new Bosch dishwasher – a 24” model with a hefty price tag. Mindful of his previous experience, he opted not to purchase the extended warranty on the device. “I think of those as sucker bets,” he said. “I like to fix stuff myself.”

 

Seltzer, a Colorado resident, volunteering at the Boulder U-Fix-It Clinic
Wayne Seltzer | Used by permission
Seltzer, a Colorado resident, volunteering at the Boulder U-Fix-It Clinic

Pandemic related supply chain disruptions were causing havoc on the kitchen appliance market. Eventually, however, Seltzer’s new dishwasher came. And it worked flawlessly…for a while.

Two words: Authorized. Service.

About 13 months after he purchased it – just past the legally mandated 1 year manufacturer’s warranty – the washer stopped draining properly. A red light meant to indicate the washer was running properly blinked as dishes sat unwashed and water pooled in the bottom of the washer. Seltzer consulted the user’s manual that came with the washer, which advised that a blinking light may indicate the door is not properly shut. But when Selzter looked, the door appeared to close properly.

The next recommendation from Bosch: call Bosch authorized service and have them fix the problem. That wasn’t an option for Seltzer, so he emailed Bosch support directly, in the hope that they could point him to a service manual for his new washer. The email he got back surprised him. It read:

Thank you for reaching out to us today.  This would not be a document we would have available. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.  We would not have any documentation to support self service

The email contained a screen grab (below) of language from Bosch’s product documentation discouraging customers from attempting repairs on their property or using independent repair, and disavowing any responsibility or liability for repairs that are not successful. Notably: the language does not state that Bosch will not provide service manuals.

Photo by Staff | TPIN

The email was signed by “Porfirio,” a representative of BSH Home Appliances Corporation, Bosch’s parent company, and included links to a list of Bosch authorized service providers and a website selling Bosch replacement parts. (How is a customer supposed to know what parts to order without the benefit of a service manual and schematic? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )

Seltzer wasn’t surprised. As a volunteer at local repair clinics, he had seen more than his share of instances where manufacturers made it hard – or impossible – to repair their products. But this was Bosch—a highly respected manufacturer. And Seltzer is a repair enthusiast. He decided to escalate the issue, sending an email in response seeking clarification.

“I am not at all satisfied with your response,” the email read. Seltzer asked to escalate his request for a service manual for his washer. “I expect service manuals are available for appliance repair technicians, correct? Why not make them available to the consumers — those who actually own the product? As a consumer and voter, I strongly support the #righttorepair.

He closed his email with links to the Repair Association’s policy position on making products repairable.

Rhymes with “gosh!”

That didn’t go over too well. In an email response, Bosch wrote that…

the Repair.org language Seltzer provided “…is a motion. It is not a law.” The company reiterated its policy. “We do not provide or support self service. We do apologize about the inconvenience.”

Bosch spokespeople did not respond to multiple efforts to contact them for comment. We will update this story should the company respond.

In the end, Seltzer was able to get his dishwasher working without the manufacturer’s help. Looking closely at the door, he noticed that a rubber gasket dislodged, throwing the Bosch’s door sensor off. After he pushed the gasket back into place, the dishwasher ran properly and completed its cycle. But he is worried about what happens the next time, when the problem isn’t as easy to diagnose and fix. In the meantime, he wants the company to have to account for its policy.

Pssst! Lookin’ for a service manual?

Bosch’s miserly approach to customer service and repair manuals is well documented on customer support and repair sites online, which are full of messages from frustrated Bosch owners in search of repair manuals. Bosch isn’t alone in restricting access to service manuals – though there are also kitchen appliance manufacturers make service manuals, schematics and other repair information available to customers.

Manufacturers’ unwillingness to share repair information and materials drives customers to independent repair sites that sell black market copies of service manuals. Many of those are obtained second hand from authorized repair professionals who received them from the manufacturer, according to Matt Ziemenski, a Product Operations Manager at iFixit.com.

Seltzer said he found a copy of a Bosch service manual for a “close cousin” to the Bosch dishwasher he purchased from one of those web sites, servicemanuals.net, where Bosch service documentation can be purchased for between $16 and $30.

Whereas the user manual simply told customers to “call authorized service” for issues related to the washer door not closing properly, the service manual Seltzer found had much more detailed explanations of why a Bosch dishwasher might start and instructions for how to address that issue. Those included checking the door latch with a magnet to test whether the door latch sensor was working properly and checking to make sure the door seal did not become dislodged or misaligned – the very problem that caused Seltzer’s problems.

“This could have easily been in the user manual,” Seltzer wrote. “It seems like many people could follow these instructions and avoid an expensive service call for a simple problem.”

But that’s the point, Seltzer acknowledges. “Service revenue is a big part of the business!”

A right to repair to ‘end the silliness’

If you wondered why right to repair laws are needed, Seltzer’s experience is Exhibit 1. Absent a legal requirement to provide customers with the information and tools to repair the products they sell, manufacturers currently have almost total discretion about whether or not to distribute the materials and information needed to conduct repairs falls to the manufacturer, with the public paying a price.

That’s why OEMs hoarding product and service information is one of the main ills that proposed state-level right to repair laws try to correct. Of the more than 100 such bills that have been introduced in more than 40 states in the last eight years, most include language requiring manufacturers that provide service manuals as well as parts and diagnostic tools to authorized repair providers to also make them available to consumers and independent repair providers.

“Those of us fighting for Right to Repair have yet to hear any good reasons why owners shouldn’t fix their stuff,” wrote Gay Gordon Byrne of The Repair Coalition.

Bosch was right that the right to repair policy statement Seltzer sent to them “is not a law,” at least in Colorado. But it is the law in Minnesota, where omnibus legislation signed by that state’s Governor last week contains language enacting a muscular right to repair law that includes home appliances like Seltzer’s dishwasher. Under the terms of the new law, OEMs like Bosch need to provide their customers with the same information, tools and parts they provide to their authorized service providers for all products sold since 2021.

“One state law should end the silliness,” said Gordon-Byrne.

And, in the case of service manuals, giving consumers in one state access to that kind of information will likely make it available to consumers in other states, as well. (It’s called ‘the Internet’!)

The Biden Administration has also taken aim at unfair anticompetitive restrictions on third-party repair or self-repair. Executive Order 72, issued in 2021 asked the FTC to crack down on “unfair anticompetitive restrictions on third-party repair or self-repair of items, such as the restrictions imposed by powerful manufacturers that prevent farmers from repairing their own equipment” leading to a number of crackdowns against companies from Harley Davidson to Weber.

Federal legislation is also pending in Congress that would create a national right to repair for kitchen appliances and other devices.

Gordon-Byrne sees the struggle to make repair information available to consumers as part of a larger social push to quash tech-enabled monopolies after decades in which the FTC and courts have looked the other way at anticompetitive practices in the marketplace.

“Bosch is on the wrong side of anti-trust law by monopolizing repair; ignoring patent, copyright and trade secret laws under which the owner is supposed to be able to choose whom to trust for repair,” she wrote. Manufacturers like Bosch may also be guilty of Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices law by failing to mention their policy on not supporting self repair to customers prior to purchase.

Consumers want to fix their stuff

Suffering under high inflation and increasingly wary of the environmental impact of “stuff,” consumers are increasingly interested in doing repairs themselves.

Demand for service manuals and information on repair has grown rapidly, said Elizabeth Chamberlain, Director of Sustainability at iFixit. “For someone with lots of experience and know-how like Seltzer, DIY repair makes perfect sense. But he’s not really an outlier,” wrote Chamberlain. “One-third of appliance owners opt for DIY repair.”

Dishwasher owners come to iFixit every day looking for help fixing their own machines—the information Bosch refuses to give out. When Right to Repair becomes the law of the land, “manufacturers will finally be compelled to give us the help we need,” Chamberlain said.

As for Seltzer, he said he is pushing Bosch on its position not to hurt the company, but to help it. “I’m not trying to be antagonistic, but (Bosch) managed to produce a dishwasher that people love. (They) have a competitive advantage,” he said.

As a result, the company should take a broader view of the market, rather than trying to maximize profits at the expense of their customers.

“They should try to think about how right to repair can have an advantage and business value. They could miss out to someone else who comes along with a repair-friendly product line,” Seltzer said.

 

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Paul Roberts

Guest contributor

Writer, advocate, journalist and publisher of the Fight to Repair newsletter and the Security Ledger, and founder of SecuRepairs.

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