Image: OpenMedia

How would you feel if you couldn’t repair your car at any independent shop? What if your car broke down during a road trip and there was no authorized dealer near you?

Would you buy that car?

For most people, the answer would be no.

Repairing, upgrading and tinkering with cars is a tradition as old as cars themselves. Many car owners pride themselves in being able to keep a car on the road after 10, 20, 30 or 40 years of use.

Many more have an established relationship with their local independent mechanic, who charges less for repairs and parts than the dealerships. In fact, most rural communities rely almost entirely on mom-and-pop shops to keep their vehicles running.

Why, then, do we not expect the same from other things we buy, like our smartphones, laptops, washing machines, refrigerators or even farm tractors?

Product manufacturers are making it increasingly difficult for us to repair products we buy. They use software locks, copyright law, non-standard parts and tools, warranty restrictions, restrictive design and planned obsolescence to prevent you from repairing goods you own. All in the name of profit.

Manufacturers from Apple to John Deere are doing everything in their power to monopolize the repair market of their products. This way, they can profit by both charging you outrageous prices for simple repairs and by forcing you to buy new products when the cost of repair is too high.

Products like the iPhone have become infamous for how hard they are to repair. A simple cracked screen can cost iPhone users upwards of $300 to repair through the Apple store.

If you don’t want to pay that price, you may be out of luck, because independent repair shops can no longer make some of these simple repairs due to software locks iPhones use to prevent third-party repairs.

But this goes beyond smartphones. It applies to home appliances, computers, power tools and even farm equipment.

Farmers have for years been the subject of the predatory repair monopoly John Deere has over its tractors. The company forces farmers to repair their tractors through authorized dealers by using software locks and warranty restrictions. These restrictions can have major impacts on the ability of farmers to afford their equipment or even get timely repairs during harvest season.

Ultimately, these repair restrictions are leading to increased e-waste, higher cost of ownership for basic products like computers and smartphones, and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs as independent repair shops close down.

The right to repair

What differentiates the auto industry from tractors or smartphones is that the auto industry is subject to right to repair laws and agreements.

The right to repair is the idea that people and independent shops should have access to the information, diagnostics, tools and parts necessary to do repairs on products at a reasonable price.

Unfortunately, these policies don’t exist outside of the auto industry. But that’s changing.

Right to repair bills are being considered in 20 U.S. states, the European Union, Ontario and Quebec to give people back the full ownership over the goods they buy.

The bills currently being proposed in Ontario and Quebec would go a long way in making products last longer, reduce the cost of ownership, and reduce the amount of e-waste going into our recycling facilities and landfills.

But the problem is that these bills would only apply to consumers in Ontario and Quebec.

As the right to repair movement grows, the time has come for the federal government to seriously consider national right to repair legislation that covers the whole of Canada.

With an election coming up later this year, parties have an opportunity to back popular, common sense right to repair legislation. But they will only do this if they see that this is a priority for people in Canada.

That’s why OpenMedia has launched a petition calling on Minister Bains, who is in charge of Consumer Affairs, to table right to repair legislation in Canada. It’s time for government to put reduce waste and boost the economy by putting people first.

Rodrigo Samayoa is a digital campaigner at OpenMedia and lives in rural northern B.C., where there are no Nissan dealerships or authorized electronics repair shop. All repairs on his car, bike, electronic devices and appliances are done by independent community shops.

Image: OpenMedia

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Digital Freedom Update

A monthly column from OpenMedia looking at digital policy issues, including free expression, access to the Internet, and online privacy. OpenMedia is a community-based organization that safeguards the...