back to article Manufacturers could be forced to include repair instructions

In yet another sign the right-to-repair movement is gaining ground in the United States, manufacturers could be forced to provide fix-it guides and maintenance instructions with certain products. The FTC this week said it's seeking public comments on this proposed rule change. Those proposals also include a shakeup of those …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh Yeah, and the punishment for failing to do so should be the CEO spending quality time strapped in Ole Sparky until the room is filled with a blue haze.

    Today's meds already? You are too kind to me nurse.

    1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

      Or you could just force the business to provide the repair at a cost that is similar to what it would have been if they has actually made the device repairable. It would not take long for the redesigned product to come out that is actually repairable.

  2. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Steps have to be taken to help fixing stuff instead of throwing it and buy a new one:

    - Make notices freely available

    - Make catalogues of spare parts freely available

    - Having spare parts available for a mandatory duration, the duration can vary according to the category of the equipment.

    - Make programmed obsolescence an offense, with the CEO made responsible.

    == Bring us Dabbsy back! ==

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      How much of this is fashion led development; must have the new shiny?

      I have tools over eighty years old; I have domestic electronics pushing thirty years; and I'm embarrassed if a product *I've* designed is non-functional after a couple of years. I know I'm fighting entropy (and the bean counters in the purchasing department) but there's no reason why solid state electronics, used within their stated parameters, shouldn't last pretty much forever - excepting using sensitive parts such as some non-volatile memories and some capacitors.

      1. Triggerfish

        I feel software bloat and upgrades are an issue. I have some old smartphone the electronics are good but they are painfully slow.

        My laptop did however come with upgradeable RAM and HD slots and that has added a few good years on to it.

        So saying there are some improvements also some of the newer phone cameras especially the higher end there is a lot of difference. Not enough to warrant a yearly cycle though.

    2. KittenHuffer Silver badge

      Vote with your wallet!

      Or you could just buy a Fairphone mobile phone.

      And a Framework laptop.

      If enough of us do this then the mass-produced mobile/laptop manufacturers will start to get the idea.

      P.S. I have already, and I'm glad that I did.

      1. Patched Out

        Re: Vote with your wallet!

        After looking at their website and offerings, I think the Fairphone is a great idea. I would buy one if they would sell to someone in the USA, but right now they will/can only sell to customers in Europe.

      2. Oglethorpe

        Re: Vote with your wallet!

        Fairphone lost me when they dumped the headphone socket.

        1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

          Re: Vote with your wallet!

          Most of the manufacturers lost me when they dumped the removable battery!

        2. Snake Silver badge

          Re: headphone jack

          Most phone manufacturers have dropped their headphone sockets; I am using a small external USB-C DAC dongle, a few are excellent and work very well at a very minimal cost (but you can drop loads of £££ if that's what you want to do).

    3. An_Old_Dog Silver badge
      Flame

      "Steps to Be Taken" - Outlaw Outlandish Procedures and Bizarre, Factory-Only Required Tools

      A long time ago I bought the Chilton's Manual for my 1980s Dodge Omni 024, and flipped to the section about doing a tune-up. One of the steps was, "Connect a 900 CFM source of (propane? butane? I don't recall which) to the carburetor inlet..." Oh, yeah, that's something I'll find on my local auto-parts dealer's shelf -- not!

      (Icon for propane-fired tune-up procedure)

      1. Snake Silver badge

        Re: Chilton manual

        You had a Omni? I remember the days when the GLH / GLH-S were the talk to the hot hatch town (too bad Chrysler couldn't, even then, put in a decent interior worth a damn).

  3. dvd

    Dell

    My Dell laptop (about 10 years old now and still going strong) came with a manual telling you how to completely disassemble the thing. It's a great help if you need to swap a peripheral or keyboard or something.

    1. MrDamage Silver badge

      Re: Dell

      Nowadays, most of the Dell laptops are so well designed, you don't need a manual to take them apart. Maybe to put them back together again in the right order, but certainly not to take it apart.

      But on the same note, the ONLY reason I give HP a modicum of respect, is because they have a lot of their service manuals and parts lists available online.

      1. J. Cook Silver badge

        Re: Dell

        Lenovo also publishes their service manuals online, which include all the FRUs for the entire product line.

        Dell requires you to be part of a service organization in order to get access to the service manuals for their products, but that also comes with the ability to order parts when the product is under warrenty as well. (there's a fee the organization has to pay for this privilege as well. )

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Dell

          > Dell requires you to be part of a service organization in order to get access to the service manuals for their products,

          I've always been able to search 'dell blah service manual' and get the direct link from Dell.com, I assume it was through the support site but I really couldn't be bothered to go in the long way through the front door and 200 pages of JavaScript.

          I've also ordered warranty parts without any kind of subscription, just complaining to the support line. Of course now I don't have anything under warranty so it's been a while...

          I usually stick to Latitudes, maybe it's different for other product lines?

    2. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Dell

      On a related note, what of standard but OEM parts? I'm looking at you HP with your OEM version of the Samsung PM981 (basically a 970 series SSD). No software or firmware support when removed from a HP device.

      Really odd state of things for those of us who upgrade one machine and drop the now spare drive into another machine (I mean my motherboards got 2 Nvme slots - why shouldn't I jam this now redundant drive in there?)

      What next? Memory chips or CPUs that only run at full speed on original OEM motherboards?.....

      I've just answered my own worry haven't I?

  4. badflorist Bronze badge

    What they have; with "reasonable accommodation"

    I'm not sure where it would end for "repair" documents considering there could be a bazillion things to go wrong but, you should _FREELY_ have access to everything the manufacturer has for repair.

    What about the running specs? There's sometimes no way to repair something without the specs of what a device runs and there is plenty of specs that cost thousands or more. I guess there would have to be "reasonable accommodation". Manufacturers could/will hide behind that for why not to supply the documents.

    1. Snake Silver badge

      Re: What they have; with "reasonable accommodation"

      The FTC's idea is a pretty good one but in many industries it fundamentally doesn't really matter much. For example, while the story mentions refrigerators, here in America all the imported refrigerators use DC-driven inverter technology to allow easier adaptation to worldwide voltages and increase efficiency.

      And some of the manufacturers, the Asian ones especially - Samsung and LG - discontinue their replacement inverter boards around 5 years or so after the model is discontinued. This is a known issue in the repair industry and the dirty little secret that most buyers don't know before they plunk down their hard-earned money.

      So having repair manuals won't help you, when you can't get the parts.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: What they have; with "reasonable accommodation"

        My Samsung washing machine came with a 10year warranty on the drum motor - but not on the motor controller PCB

      2. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

        Re: What they have; with "reasonable accommodation"

        There was a bit in there about requiring parts to be available for X number of years, which in my mind on a fridge would be 20 years after the warranty runs out on the last one sold.

  5. Totally not a Cylon Silver badge
    Boffin

    Voltage test chart

    For most electronic stuff all we would need is simply a list of what voltages/waveforms should be at the various test points.

    When the item is one monolithic board, just knowing how far the voltages are correct would tell a lot about whether it was worth trying to repair.

    Bad capacitors are the death knell for most and can be replaced simply/cheaply.

  6. Michele.x

    I remember old TV sets and radio, "Made in West Germany" but also "Made in Italy" or "Fabriqué en France" had the user manual, the warranty card and the schematic diagram, TV sets even in transistor era had the PCB layout and the realignment guide in most cases.

    Nowadays even complete user manuals are hard to find, and even the complete user manuals that one has to download the manufacturer site are lacking and somewhat generic.

  7. Kev99 Silver badge

    It's bloody well about time. When I was farming I could repair anything on our tractors or combines with a set of wrenches, drivers and a couple BFHs.Pretty much the same with our cars and appliances. Now if something pukes it's throw away or pay a couple grand to replace a panel. Case n point - We had a GE dishwasher that wouldn't start. In the "old days" I could have removed a couple screws, swapped switches, and buttoned it up again. This time, it would have cost more to repair because the entire control panel had to be replaced. Once again it strikes me that wall street and their back pockets are more important than customer friendly products.

  8. Alistair
    Windows

    Floating around somewhere there is a manual for a 69 Corvair that my parents owned. It had instructions on how to replace the exhaust system and indeed how to tune the spark plugs and distributor amongst several dozen other things that would need doing periodically in the life of the vehicle.

    In the manual for my neighbour's Chevy there is a warning (SERIOUSLY) *not* to drink the brake fluid, but literally *nothing* on maintaining the engine other than changing the oil every 5,000km. Lots about how the radio bits work, and where to put the windshield washer fluid etc. But nothing, absolutely nothing about FIXing it. In fact, it advises taking the car to the dealership in order to REPLACE THE %@$#%@ taillights.

    So, yeah, maintenance and fixing things in manuals, I'm all for that stuff. Perhaps start with executing the executives of that tractor company to start with.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    An implementable proposal

    The FTC should require that repair manuals and parts catalogs which are available to dealers and authorized repair centers should be posted online for the public.

    They should also require that a mechanism for ordering OEM parts at dealer/repair center prices be made available to the public.

    But this will primarily help independent repair centers. Anything with an LCD/LED panel is beyond the reach of the general public (doubly so if it is 'smart').

    Besides, even for me (and I used to do all my own car maintenance and have built my own computer), it's a matter of convenience. Stripping down an appliance to replace a circuit board isn't fun, it's tedious, and I'd rather pay someone to do it for me.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: An implementable proposal

      It does help the consumers, by giving them options.

      I can take my broken thing to a repairer of my choice, and they can get the info and bits to repair my thing.

      It worked for cars, mostly.

  10. Grinning Bandicoot

    Once I was on the USN safety center publication list. The number of accidents that were published that were due to the lack of sense was astonishing; these were people that had training no less. One that 20+ years later that sticks was the EMSN (apprentice) while troubleshooting an exhaust fan. He climbed on the grill wrapped one arm around the fire sprinkler system and attempted to measure the voltage at the leads. Second and third degree burns! Or during the copper theft get rich days the clown who climbed upon a large power bank with a hack saw: cooked pieces everywhere. I will confess to one while hurrying at the end of day of initially ignoring that bad feeling and trying to tie in 220 with 120 device. So what happens when one yahoo that grabs some adhesive tape to make up a splice and the inevitable happens. The liars offer to the family their services in a tort action because the repair instructions did not emphasize that tape is not tape is not tape. Or the chowder head that ignores torquing instructions on his diesel engine. As a child I heard the term 'no kavesa' a lot as I pulled back bruised, singed or otherwise marked body parts - I got some kavesa after a time. However there is now three generations of protected children not cognizant of Murphy or that the Rules of Thermodynamics are ironclad laws that might be cheated once or twice but not forever.

    The FTC being lawyers will make with full knowledge that it will contribute to the full employment of all members of bar. The manual will either be so dumb and laced with warning it can be used as a soporific Else it will be obtuse with calls to use a Milspec type torque wrench, 4 channel 350MHz oscilloscope with special calibration devices. While writing this I drifted over to Saelig and checked the price on an automobile basic analysis kit runs USD 1615 (Euro 1375) so yahoo gets a single jack to open the case, puts a VOM on the test point given in repair instructions, finds the voltages don't agree so goes to see a liar-lawyer.

    I admit something is needed but it should be at the consumer end. If it's a piece of crap, spread the word, loudly and widely, truth is an affirmative defense against libel and soon crap makers won't have any market or the quality that is expected will become the norm.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm not entirely in agreement here.

    Be ready, ye olde downvoters, because I'm going upstream with this one.

    There are plenty of devices (and that includes phones) which have components which can be actively dangerous to the great unwashed, big letter warning signs in manuals in bold red letters regardless. As a simple example, batteries do need to managed with a degree of care (although that one is a tad extreme), some devices take a while to drain high voltages and so on - and that's before we start talking about warranty.

    I think it should be understood that inexpert opening a device before the warranty has expired should imemdiately result in the warranty being void, but at least there is a nice point where you can turn things around: once the warranty is expired, it should be possible for the moderately competent to do a repair to parts that are not critical (and batteries are not, provided you treat them with care).

    So, right of repair, fine, but I think the manufacturer should then be kept free from any responsibility for the result unless it's done via an authorised or at least a competence-recognised entity.

  12. bernmeister
    Holmes

    All you got to do is...

    I used to work as a technician in a commercial repair facility. Our supervisor was famed for his comments such as, "Why is it taking so long to repair, all you have to do is replace the faulty components". Providing repair information is fine but some stuff is so difficult to repair down to component level a general approach like that doesn't work.

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