What would the Right to Repair Act mean for repair shops

Right to repair is good for consumers, good for the planet, and good for small repair businesses.

Right to repair

Staff | TPIN
Tony Heupel, owner of iTech iPhone & Macbook Repair in San Diego, with CALPIRG Students calling for the California Legislature to pass the Right to Repair Act.

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California is on the verge of winning the Right to Repair. If signed by Governor Newsom, Senate Bill 244 will give Californians what we need to repair our devices so we can keep our stuff working longer and throw less into our landfills. 

Right to repair is good for consumers, good for the planet, and good for small repair businesses.   

Better access to parts, tools, and repair information 

Senate Bill 244 would require manufacturers of consumer electronics and appliances – from tablets to toasters, desktop computers to dishwashers, and more – to provide fair access to the parts, tools and information they make available for their authorized shops to independent shops and owners. In the case that a company doesn’t have authorized repair partners, any repair materials they use themselves must be shared.

Let’s look at each category in practical terms, and also what “fair access” means under the bill’s rules. 

  • Parts: Includes phone screens, computer batteries and dishwasher silverware baskets, and more. 
  • Tools: Includes any specialty screwdrivers, diagnostic software and “pairing” software used to complete repairs. 
  • Information: Includes service manuals and schematics diagrams. 
  • Fair access: What do we mean by fair access? Specifically, these parts, tools and information must be provided by the manufacturer at the same cost they already charge their authorized repair networks. Most documentation and diagnostic tools would be free, unless they are requested in a physical format.

Right now, it can be difficult for repair shops to find the parts or tools they need to help customers who seek repair. According to Elizabeth Chamberlin of iFixit, “manufacturers of products like vacuum cleaners and fitness trackers often don’t have any parts available at all and other products have only a very limited range of parts. But even when you can find a replacement part, repair may still be blocked.”

Increasingly, software locks make repairs difficult or impossible. Through a process called parts pairing, manufacturers link a part to a specific device and then limit the part’s functionality unless you run a specific software “pairing” process. Some parts pairing makes annoying warnings pop up, while other systems actually make a part impossible to replace. Even without parts pairing, at the end of a repair, you often need to be able to reset the software, which requires access to special software tools.

Tony Heupel, owner of iTech iPhone & Macbook Repair in San Diego has found this problem when trying to fix iPhone fingerprint scanners or facial recognition: “Even if I put a new one in there, it’s still not going to work. We’re constantly being blocked by manufacturers for little, small parts.”

The Right to Repair Act will give Tony and other repair shop owners in California what they need to help more customers. The law would require that manufacturers give customers access to the software necessary to make parts functional. Tony is especially looking forward to being able to use Apple’s software tools, which are increasingly necessary to complete even basic repairs, such as replacing a screen or battery.

A level playing field

One of the most significant advantages of Right to Repair laws for independent repair shops is that they level the playing field with large manufacturers. Currently, many manufacturers make it difficult for consumers and independent shops to repair their products by tightly controlling repair information and access to parts. This forces consumers into costly manufacturer repairs or replacements, and independent repair shops often struggle to compete with manufacturer-authorized service centers.

In a survey of California-based repair shops conducted by CALPIRG and iFixit, 67% of shops indicated that they had to turn away potential customers because of restricted access to repair parts, materials, software or information. Moreover, 59% of the shops surveyed indicated that they might have to close their doors if Right to Repair does not become law and manufacturers continue to restrict access to repair materials. 

Right to Repair laws can change this dynamic by requiring manufacturers to share crucial information, such as service manuals and diagnostic tools, with independent repair shops and consumers. This newfound access enables repair shops to offer a broader range of services, from fixing broken screens to replacing faulty components, ultimately benefiting consumers who are seeking affordable and convenient repair options.

More competition and better prices for consumers 

When our stuff breaks and our only option is to go to the original manufacturer, that means they can charge whatever they want, resulting in high repair costs for consumers. Right to Repair will bring more competition and consumer choice to the repair marketplace, which will in turn give consumers more affordable options.

When San Diego college student Mekayli Claros‘s laptop broke, she was told it would take six weeks and $800 to have it shipped out for a new screen. If more shops had access to that screen, she would have choices for where and how to get her laptop repaired. More choices, means more ways to get back up and running faster, and more competition for price.  

Saving money and our planet but keeping more things in use 

Mekayli had to pay $1600 for a new laptop because she couldn’t get her broken one fixed in time for school to start. That cost her more money and meant the old one was thrown out, joining the 772,000 tons of electronic waste Californians generate every year

With better access to repair, we could keep our devices working longer, saving money and reducing waste. If Californians used their electronics for 50% longer on average, something we can hopefully do if the Right to Repair Act is signed, it will save us an estimated $5 billion per year. And just keeping Californians phones in use for one more year would have the same benefits to the climate as taking 75,800 cars off the road across the state.

Right to Repair just makes sense – it’s good for consumers, good for small business, and good for the planet. 

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Authors

Jenn Engstrom

State Director, CALPIRG

Jenn directs CALPIRG’s advocacy efforts, and is a leading voice in Sacramento and across the state on protecting public health, consumer protections and defending our democracy. Jenn has served on the CALPIRG board for the past two years before stepping into her current role. Most recently, as the deputy national director for the Student PIRGs, she helped run our national effort to mobilize hundreds of thousands of students to vote. She led CALPIRG’s organizing team for years and managed our citizen outreach offices across the state, running campaigns to ban single-use plastic bags, stop the overuse of antibiotics, and go 100% renewable energy. Jenn lives in Los Angeles, where she enjoys spending time at the beach and visiting the many amazing restaurants in her city.