California law would require manufacturers to help you repair your belongings

ByMichael Finney and Renee Koury KGO logo
Tuesday, April 11, 2023
CA law would require manufacturers to facilitate device repairs
When your appliances break down, do you get them fixed? A report by a consumer group says repairs are so expensive, we often opt to throw them out.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KGO) -- When your appliances break down, do you get them fixed or just buy new ones? A report by consumer group CALPIRG says repairs are so expensive, we often opt for throwing them out.

A bill to make it easier to get repairs is heading for its first hearing in Sacramento.

Lawmakers proposed this so-called Right to Repair bill last year -- and it failed. But now, supporters are more confident. Twenty other states are considering similar bills, and New York state passed one. The idea is to bring back the old-fashioned repair shop -- giving them the tools they need to repair today's appliances.

"Suddenly, it started filling up with a bunch of water, and it started beeping and we couldn't really turn it off," said Toby Ngo. He recalls how water kept flooding his family's dishwasher -- fixing it seemed too difficult. "We knew it was gonna be really expensive to repair it."

Then there was the time Ngo's smartphone went blank.

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"The camera was still amazing. But it was just that one thing where my bottom half of the screen stopped working," said Ngo. The repair cost was so high he bought a new phone instead.

"That shouldn't be the norm, especially for a $1,000 piece of equipment, we should be able to repair that," Sander Kushen of consumer group California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG). Kuchen says companies make it too hard for customers to fix their own devices.

Now, California lawmakers are reviving a so-called Right to Repair bill. It would require companies to provide tools and instruction manuals so repair shops could fix their appliances.

"A lot of people, if they had the option, they would want to just repair it, it's just people are being pushed into buying new again, because repairs are so expensive, prohibitively so. Or the manufacturers just, you know, encourage us to buy new instead of repair and replace," said Kuchen.

Manufacturers have pushed back, saying modern machinery is too complex for third party repairs. And companies own rights to their patents and software.

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Still, proponents say manufacturers shouldn't stand in the way of consumers trying to repair their own belongings.

"They restrict access to the manuals that repair shops need to fix things like tablets or computers. And then there's software locks, where they can electronically lock you out from repairing the thing. So we actually don't have the right to repair in a lot of instances," said Kushen.

Kushen says consumers throw out more appliances than ever.

"One really scary fact is that in California, every day, we throw away 46,000 cellphones, just every day, just in California. And that's insane," said Kushen.

CALPIRG found Americans spend an average of $1,700 a year buying new gadgets -- while throwing out nearly 7 million tons of broken ones, piling up in landfills.

A Right to Repair bill failed last year, but advocates say similar bills could give California a boost.

CALPIRG listed bills in twenty states that would give new access to tools and manuals for everything from farming equipment to wheelchairs to TV sets and cars.

"By repairing your products, instead of replacing them, the average household could save approximately $382 every year," said Kushen.

And if repair shops had new tools, he says it could be a return to the old days.

"You're gonna see a resurgence of these independent repair shops and consumers will be able to take their TV or whatever it is to a repair shop down the street," said Kushen.

The bill faces its first hearing in the state senate on Tuesday. It comes as State Attorney General Rob Bonta joined his counterparts across the country urging national Right to Repair laws. So how important is it for you? If you've had trouble fixing an appliance, contact 7 On Your Side.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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