BOSTON — A new survey from U.S. PIRG Education Fund finds all 43 appliance manufacturers we surveyed would consider voiding the warranty if a device had “unauthorized” repair, despite a 2018 warning from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Three years ago, the FTC warned six companies that placing stickers saying the “warranty would be void if removed” on their products is forbidden under warranty laws. A U.S. PIRG Education Fund report at the time found that 45 of 50 appliance companies also were voiding warranties for independent repair. Since then, appliance companies haven’t made things any easier, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Appliance repair requests spiked in the pandemic, which caused delays for many people seeking to fix a fridge or dishwasher. Many would have chosen independent repair at their own cost to prevent down time, but manufacturers have been telling people they can’t without voiding a warranty,” said U.S. PIRG Education Fund Right to Repair Campaign Director Nathan Proctor. “It’s totally unacceptable that the FTC hasn’t cleaned this up. Consumers should be able to repair the things they own, and manufacturers should follow federal warranty laws.”
The findings underscore the need for the FTC to step up its enforcement and for broader Right to Repair protections as manufacturers seek to elbow out independent repair people and mom-and-pop fix-it shops.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act establishes guidelines that bar “warrantors from conditioning warranties on the consumer’s use of a replacement product or repair service identified by brand or name.” If a manufacturer revokes warranty service because service was not provided by an authorized service provider, this is generally understood to be a violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.
After finding out that 45 of the 50 companies we checked in 2018 were informing consumers that repair attempts would void the warranty, we wondered if the FTC’s warnings had changed things. We tried all 45 of those companies again in recent months, and were unable to contact only two.
Of the 43 who we either reached or who had clear policies on their websites, all of them said they would inform consumers they would automatically void the warranty if their products receive “unauthorized” repairs.
Eleven of the written warranties we read, such as the examples below, clearly dissuade consumers from trying self-repair or independent repair at the expense of their warranty.
Of the remaining 34 companies, we reached out to customer service and asked “would self-repair or independent repair void the warranty?” We attempted three contacts each. Twenty-two of the companies informed us on all three attempts the warranty would be voided, and the remaining 12 had mixed responses.
Consumer Reports contributed to the report’s analysis.
“Consumers benefit when they can choose where to take their electronics for repair. This important report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund reveals that some manufacturers may be duping customers into believing the warranty requires them to use only repair services that the manufacturer authorizes. This is contrary to the law,” said Maureen Mahoney, Senior Policy Analyst at Consumers Reports. “We urge federal authorities to investigate and take action to ensure consumers are getting the full and accurate information. We also urge states to pass their own Right to Repair laws to expand consumers’ options for getting independent repair.”
The report recommends that the FTC should enforce the prohibition on this practice and also recommends lawmakers improve access to non-warranty repair options by passing Right to Repair legislation requiring fair access to parts and service information.
“When manufacturers get to decide what gets fixed and what doesn’t, it adds to waste and consumer costs. We should pass Right to Repair reforms to make sure Americans have choices when it comes to repair,” said Proctor.