CHOICE membership

Right to Repair - Productivity Commission Inquiry

The Productivity Commission is holding an inquiry into the consumer’s Right to Repair. Anyone can make a submission by the closing date. Further information and how to make a submission can be found on the Productivity Commission website:

Choice is also preparing a submission and would like to hear from you about experiences you have had (see @ErinTurner’s post below).

Other useful background that community members have had in relation to repairing, or lack their of, consumer products can be found in this thread…

To repair or replace, that is the question.

Please post any comments or experiences below.

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Hey @phb short answer: yes! I’m working with our policy team on a submission but we’re still figuring out what we need to cover.

It would be great to get ideas from the community. Especially interested in any products or companies that you’ve had issues with.

Have you had a product that you wanted to repair but couldn’t?
Have you repaired a product yourself but then had issues with a company giving you a refund or replacement later on?
Have you had a product that didn’t last as long as you expected?

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with two salient points, the cost of repairs/parts and the durability.

Regardless of product there is also a litany of complaints about the prices of spares such as for cars, and sometimes the basic availability in our market. I and some mates have had to import spares over the years that are readily available in the US/UK/EU that were not available locally, and sometimes when available the local prices had a significant Australia Tax burden making them uneconomic (back to importing or sending ‘it’ to the tip).

Parts?

and to revisit my earlier link

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I understand this is a growing issue, not just for domestic users but also in industries like farming. In the latter many farm machines have encoded in their computers services and repair constraints that mean servicing and repairs can only be undertaken by the manufacturers with the necessary passwords AND analysis /support software. That is likely to spread to domestic machines, cars, white goods, etc.

My first example is for bicycles. There are 3 major manufacturers of components and hence parts, Shimano, Campagnolio and SRAM. Shimano are now the leader by a large margin.

There are two related aspects. Many bike manufacturers, globally, have no option but to source their components from these 3 companies. Hence, new bikes imported/bought in Australian bike shops are effectively OEM products. Many of the components are NOT marketed by these companies in Australia, so when a component fails you can’t source the part from a local bike shop. You have to buy a new bike!

I have for years designed and built my own bikes. But it has now become almost impossible because I can’t obtain components from Australian sources. For example Fork rake can make a significant difference to a bikes handing, but in Australia you can now only source virtually a single rake for all carbon forks. Global bike manufacturers operate on efficiency of scale, not necessarily the best brand/model of a component.

As a specific example, I bought a cheap ALDI MTB bike. After about 18 months a wheel bearing became noisy. I tried multiple local bike shops, but they didn’t have a spare part, ie, cone for the ball bearings. Eventually the Australian supplier for ALDI, ended up sending me a complete new wheel, as they couldn’t source spare parts, either. Changing the cone for cup/cone bike wheel is a basic maintenance job for every bike! Bikes have always had and need the ability to be repaired by the user.

Australian bike shops have huge mark ups, not uncommon to be 2-3 times a recommended price. A bicycle tyre costs more than a car/4WD tyre!

Also another product area that suffers the same limitation as bikes, is desktop computers. There are a number of commonly reported review companies, eg, Tom’s Hardware. The vast majority of the recommended parts aren’t sourced at all in Australia, worse, the links to the overseas sources from these sites, let you get as far as placing the order, only to fail at the last step of payment/delivery to Australia. Yet many of the components are merely replacement of the original equipment. A motherboard fails - don’t fix that, buy a whole new desktop! When we all started to use ZOOM, ie, for the pandemic, to get a background of your choosing you need a higher spec graphics card, can’t buy overseas!

I’m worried that this is the thin end of the wedge for all repairable/serviceable products.

This is now much worse as these companies, constrain sourcing from overseas, and in fact a growing number of companies for any product not just bicycles. So, I think this constraint also needs to be part of the Choice submission.

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It seems to me there are two quite separate issues here. Manufacturers deliberately locking up essential software so that some categories of work must be done by their representative and lack of components in this country.

They both make DIY maintenance difficult or impossible but the way they work, the reasons for them and the possible solutions are quite different. As you point out in the case of the bike parts even the dealers and distributors cannot get replacements in some cases.

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It isn’t just the software locking up, that can even stop 3rd party replacement. I think the classic HP printer ink cartridge issue has been corrected, but it took years!

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That is yet another issue, manufacturers trying to force you to support their razors and blades marketing model by preventing third party cartridges from working or refill of cartridges is not a repair problem. We can combine all manufacturer misbehaviour into one lump if you like but that will not help obtain legal redress or other solutions.

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Probably a grey zone for some.
There are numerous examples where regulation locks away specific tasks to prescribed occupations.

As a consequence there are some tasks that could be done by the average or experienced home owner, that are not permitted by law. In particular in rural areas where trades are hard to find and expensive many very basic tasks are under taken by the home owner or on property resident.

Getting the required replacement parts can be a bit of a game at times.

As an example the classic enamel lined steel tank hot water services are fitted with a sacrificial anode. These need to be inspected and or replaced on a regular basis. 5-10 years typically. It’s not a difficult task, and one many may actually have as a skill from another trade background, but not one that is applicable under the licensing rules. The anodes cost from $30 to $60+ trade price.

Two concerns.
Firstly that I’ve been fobbed off by at least one brands supplier when enquiring about buying a replacement anode for our gas HW storage system. I was told it was not necessary and the system (for which I provided a copy of the approval plate, model and serial no) did not have an anode. I know from the manual for the HWS this was a lie. It does seem a little narrow minded. Especially when one can readily purchase replacement electric light fittings, GPOs etc at Bunnings etc. And with full knowledge they need to be installed by an licensed electrician.

Secondly the issue around where demarcation within trades and legislation serve to provide more than a reasonable level of safety. They also extend unreasonably to secure protection of employment. The committees and parties on the committees that provide advice and guidance on the legislation are not consumer focused. At the very least I’d like to see outside members that represent the general community EG Choice on all these committees to ensure a broader test of what is reasonable for DIY, and also how different circumstances should apply.

P.S.
I’ve not mentioned tap washers, or the TV series the block. The first you can change yourself (Qld unregulated task), the second you can do very little of yourself, but then that would destroy all the drama of mis-styled rooms.

And as for anodes, replacement can extend your storage HWS life significantly - decades, which might explain the desire of said supplier not to offer the right answer or product. I have an alternate source, and there is nothing wrong with having the anode there for when I next need a plumber for a more important task. The extra five minutes to change will cost next to nothing after I pay for the service call, travel time, and hourly rate to the next half hour.

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Right to Repair also applies to the way the goods are manufactured, if they are made in a way that makes them more repairable (even if done by a skilled other but not a linked to the manufacturer one) this means that the life of the good/goods can be extended well past what the manufacturer would like or covers. Made in a way that makes the task difficult to an extreme or irrepiarable is also against the idea of Right to Repair and is probably much more to the liking of the Manufacturer and is less environmentally friendly ie the idea or use and toss.

Your example of an anode replacement is typically a job that only a plumber may undertake as the unit is part of the potable water supply to the house. You could do it yourself but if something untoward happened you could face the cost of repair without insurance coverage, or even penalties from the Authorities. It however remains a repairable issue even if a licenced person has to do the repair, you don’t need Rheem etc to do it.

A light switch if broken can be replaced but not repaired due to the nature of possible faults occurring, however why can’t elements in jugs be replaceable, retaining the jug but only repairing the fault, same for toasters and a heating element failing. Then we get to mobile phones (which I still sometimes repair if they aren’t glass backed), I know they streamline the batteries to make the phones smaller, but why do they insist on making some of the batteries so hard to get out (next to if not impossible). Some of my acquaintances who do it professionally say some phones they warn customers that they may break the phone and while they will take all care they cannot say it won’t happen. Screens are another on them, some have decently long enough connectors to safely lift off the glass others are just a nightmare. The litany of these difficulties across many things in the home needs to be addressed.

My goto for advice and walkthroughs is https://www.ifixit.com and they often are a great help, even if I do have to take it to a specialist repair tech. Of interest has been a current call about copyright restrictions limiting the Right to Repair even if using a tech, again another thing that could be addressed by Right to Repair Laws and changes to copyright limitations.

The actual Zoom Conference from iFixit regarding Copyright Law and the right to repair:

Please note this discusses the US Law and Copyright, but the issues would be similar here.

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Agree. That is how it is legislated.
The question is whether it should be in that instance or whether the design could be changed to make it more practical as a DIY! It can be no more difficult, some might suggest similar to changing a tap washer.

A right to repair becomes meaningless if a $50 part to extend the life of an item costing $200 requires a $100 specialist trade.

In mentioning jug elements, or toaster coils, replacement is prescribed electrical work. It was a routine occurrence in our household of the 50’s and 60’s to be able to purchase jug elements. Two screws with washers and nuts to replace in the old yellow ceramic and black bakelite lid Sunbeam or Hecla. The elements were on the shelf of every hardware store. The same can be said of the toaster elements. Amazingly the spare parts cost much less than a new electric kettle or toaster. It was almost as if they were intended to be routinely replaced by the owner.

I’m not suggesting this was a good outcome or a bad. It’s open to ask whether there is any value in improving repairability of lower value items, no matter the environmental saving, if the cost of the labour required negates the benefit. The right to repair is otherwise pointless.

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I agree that cost of repair may negate any value in repairing, some of this however is design issues/choices by the manufacturer of goods that make it labour intensive rather than quick to replace. If your phone has a user replaceable battery then they only need to buy a spare and insert it, if however it is glued to a case at the far back with wires and circuitry in front with less than adequate length of wiring and other issues that adds significant time to a repair that is what I think is bad design from a repairability view even perhaps a design choice to make it that way.

Consider as another the control board for a washing machine or any other white good that uses them, why are they so hard to get to, to replace. Why not build a loom and bracket so it can be pulled out and another inserted from a relatively easy to remove panel on the device.

Anode replacement indeed could be easier with a smarter design, even if still a plumber’s job if you cut the time you cut the cost.

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If only in our case.

The top of the ground mounted storage tank is 1.74 metres high and the centre of the top is only 80cm below the soffit so it will be impossible to inspect or replace the sacrificial anode without disconnecting the water lines to the roof mounted collectors, the mains water input, the hot water outlets, and the mains electricity supply, draining the tank, and tilting the tank over.

Whoever installed this system either did not know and/or did not care about sacrificial anodes, and as it is almost 7 years old, we will have to do something very shortly before disaster strikes.

image

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It’s worth doing some research. Perhaps this is what you might be able to locate.

In this instance the one anode is known to fit a wide variety of HWS. Residential plumbing fittings and sizes are predominantly standardised.

Notes:
Of course being in Qld you will need your plumber to install. Comes with instructions.

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There are flexible sacrificial nodes which overcome this problem. We have used them for a hotwater system installed under a house.

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The call-out fee won’t be reduced and could include enough time to do an anode swap. It is not always so that less time necessarily yields reduced costs.

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Great advice. I had thought that a flexible anode would be great but did not think such existed.

image

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Thanks for that.

I had to love this blatant hypocrisy regarding Rheem.

Where to Buy Flexible Sacrificial Anodes

Buying flexible hot water cylinder sacrificial anodes are no longer a hassle in the country. Companies like Rheem, a New Zealand staple since 1958, sell products that are at the leading edge of hot water heating technology that benefits not only residential areas, but also the commercialized areas of the country.

Rheem who build hot water systems without any advice regarding checking the sacrificial anodes so as to ensure they fail.

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I believe all products over a notional retail value (say $200) should be designed in a way where is a component fails, it can readily be replaced. Manufacturers/distributors should be compelled to hold spare parts and also allow non-OEM parts to compete with OEM parts.

All products irrespective of value should have spare parts for consumable components. Consumable components are those which are known to fall before the design and expected life of the product. Examples would batteries in devices or rubber seals and o-rings on fittings. Such consumables often fail and can’t be replaced or there are no spares available causing the whole item to become waste.

Maybe manufacture could also be responsible for their products at end of life. This may push manufacturers to design and make products which are reliable, repairable and long lasting.

Consumers should also have a legal right to make a repair, where such repairs, are safe to do.

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This Right To Repair topic has come up in regards to the new Virtual Reality Head-Mounted-Display (VR HMD) from Occulus - the Quest 2. You’ll find it on Amazon for AUD$479. I tried a friend’s the other day. It’s truely amazing.
However, Facebook bought Occulus back in 2014, and in October 2020 stipulated all users must login to Facebook. There’s no longer the independent Occulus user login. Furthermore, users cannot invent a private Facebook account. They say it must be you. They will close accounts not in good standing. There goes your investment! They’re so creepy.
If I bought one, I’d like the right to enjoy the $479 purchase, without Facebook creeping on me. In fact, I don’t want to be on FB. This sounds like a right to repair - to unhook it from Big Brother. To be able to use it away from Social Media and Advertising & without the threat that FB might disable it for some reason - for not participating in FB.
I can understand there might be restrictions in the use and modification of a mobile phone, but at what point can FB decide my use is outside of their terms? Who owns it? Am I within my rights to apply a “root kit” to retake control over the hardware I purchased?
There are cameras all over the device. Am I within my rights to privacy to “repair” the device so it doesn’t send this data back to FB? Photos from inside my house?

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