/ Sustainability

New right to repair rules: what do you think?

New rules to make household appliances more sustainable have been announced by the EU, but will they end up benefitting consumers?

As part of a continued effort to reduce Europe’s carbon footprint and to make energy bills cheaper for European consumers, new ‘right to repair’ rules have been announced.

From 2021, EU firms – and any UK firms wishing to sell to the EU market – will have to make products such as refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers and televisions longer-lasting.

Under the new standards, manufacturers will have to supply spare parts for these household appliances for up to 10 years.

The manufacturers must ensure spare parts can be replaced with the use of commonly available tools, without permanent damage to the appliance.

But under the new rules, only professional repairers – not consumers – will be supported by manufacturers to carry out the repairs.

Should we all have the right to repair?

Are the repair rules good or bad?

There’s been a long-standing view that new products just don’t last as long as they used to, with built-in obsolescence a growing concern for many.

As a result, the call for white goods to last longer than a couple of years is one which will surely be welcome news to most consumers.

But what about those of us who want to save time and money by purchasing our own spare parts and mending our own goods?

The pace of change in the industry, which now includes many products which have intricately mixed and increasingly complex digital and physical components, means many owners are usually either unable to source the right parts or repair the machines themselves.

Replace vs repair

Finding a professional repairer to carry out the fix at a decent price is often difficult. This means many turn to a replacement rather than a repair.

And we all know getting a replacement after a short while is just as wasteful from an environmental standpoint as it is a waste of money.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that warranties and guarantees can sometimes be more generous than your statutory rights, and give you an extra option to resolve problems with a product.

Ultimately the move to improve the longevity of white goods could be positive, but the monopoly on who repairs is a concern – especially if it’s going to become impossible for consumers to perform what would have been simple fixes themselves.

With all that in mind, what do you make of the new rules? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Gordon says:
11 October 2019

This doesn’t change anything, the cost of repairs from a trader are so high that it will probably still be cheaper to replace than repair.

Gordon Thompson says:
11 October 2019

As an inveterate d.i.y.er, I do replace washer drum bearings, fix car brakes and other failed parts such as heater fans etc, so the move towards “sealed for life” items is not always to be applauded. I’m particularly opposed to the ” professionals only”. This is a juicy plum for a manufacturers distributors and risks taking us back the the situation Which (and others) fought against in respect of car repairs a few years ago. There has to be a balance of power between makers and menders otherwise we’ll be exploited to the hilt. I also fear a concomitant rise in off market parts suppliers to fill the gaps, not all of whom adhere to acceptable product standards.
Surely manufacturers can make products at minimal cost whilst retaining repairability?

In order to make their business case for parts and labour, they will become so expensive after a period of time that a repair will not be affordable and so a replacement will be purchased. They should allow the public to fix, its cheaper some people , like myself like that challenge & it is out of warranty. Roll on 3D printers

Rodney says:
11 October 2019

The first question would be correct if the symbol denoted greater than 5.
Em’s point on car maintenance is moot. Like wavechange, espares and their videos have come to the rescue several times.
Making parts changeable with standard tools then insisting that only professional repairers can carry out repairs is fairly contradictory. Surely that should include the caviat “without invalidating the manufacturer’s warantee”. After all, we are allowed to change electrical installations, such as sockets. We can even rewire our houses provided the works are inspected. I realise that the main cause of household fires is electrical appliance, especially in the kitchen, but I would guess that the % of these attributable to self repair would be vanishingly small.
No mention of how 3D printing could allow manufacturers to produce trim, knobs and similar parts to order without needing to maintain large stocks – could even sub out to regional hubs, saving delivery miles.

John Mabbett says:
11 October 2019

As an ex-service engineer I feel I am more than capable of replacing failed household equipment and the cost of parts should be reasonable. When we have to pay tens of pounds for little plastic parts is questioning our intelligence. However I was in despair when I read in this months mag regarding new TV’s the passage that stated; “the remote’s mute button doesn’t work anymore and the speakers whine like the Coronation Street theme if you push the volume past 14. You need a new TV”. No Martin Pratt we need to be able to repair the TV not subject it to another land fill site. Come on ‘Which’ you are supposed to be environmentally friendly.

The remove mute button can be repaired by opening up the remote and checking if moisture/dirt etc has caused the contact to build up a film of resistance –cleaned many that way using electrical contact cleaner .
Second —of coarse the TV will sound terrible when the volume has been turned right up has anybody seen the absolute rubbish tiny speakers inside ??
I have the audio connected to a quality audio amp and floor standing Tannoy speakers —world of a difference !
I absolutely agree with your comment on the price of plastic control knobs , I repaired plastic injection moulding equipment –costs the manufacturers buttons / knob.
I converted old valve radio knobs to work on them.

Looks like we need more organisations like this one:-https://www.swindon-makerspace.org/ where we can all club together and make stuff, or make bits to fix stuff with.

I agree with all the previous comments and as a diy repair person have fixed washing machines, carburettors, replaced car braking systems, replaced wooden framed and double glazed windows……
A toaster broke recently and I cannot get into it to fix it without damaging the item so an otherwise perfectly good device is now scrap!
An additional consideration is items run by or augmented by software. The problem with this needs to be considered too – updates not available after 3 years for example. I have a £1500 digital audio interface/mixing desk which works perfectly and has for several years. I now cannot update the software to cater with a new computer yet need to update as I need a faster computer with more RAM but cannot as the mixing console will not work with it.
I think industry and government have to make this move to longer life, easily maintainable products and have stocks of manufacturer components and/or pattern spares readily available at little more than cost price.
Hope it happens soon!

I did not know that the problem with “smart ” TV,s applied to digital audio mixing desks Ron.
Audio is something I specialized in, in relation to high end power amps/preamps , building and designing them –all analogue of course.
After a few years manufacturers wont pay the software engineers to update their TV apps as they want the public to buy new ones and its made a lot of software engineers angry.

Yes and my problem is not unique as an ex-student and now co-composer had the same issues with a Midas console – he has after a lot of forum ‘digging’ and through another sound engineer found a sort of solution by going through a chain of adapters and some s/w jiggerypokery to get a mostly useable but intermittently unstable signal flow.
Though the problem is essentially caused by Apple and dumping i/o’s for various perfectly good interfaces in the name of ‘progress’ – only have to look at the state of the planet to see where progress has led us!
Parts of the A/V industry was pretty underwhelmed by some new developments especially where Mac’s are involved.
It is an interface problem. The consoles and computers as they evolve, simply stop ‘talking’ to each other – ergo perfectly good O/B’s and kit has to be replaced.
Looks like you have an interesting history.

Thanks Ron hope to hear more from you on Which ? website the heading is Technology.
Yes I had communications with WW & EW magazines and I am a follower of John Lindsay Hood ( sadly now departed ) so fell out with D.Self .

Ron, the software problems you mention are a consequence of using closed source proprietary software. In practice, it is much easier to guarantee long term support for open source software, because any will individual or group can take on such tasks if the original developers stop supporting the software.

I used to own a media player that used an embedded version of Linux and third party upgrades were available from an enthusiastic owners group.

Thanks for your comments. I do understand this. But as with many negatives and admittedly some benefits, it’s the manufacturers that create the excessive – in many cases – profits basically to please their shareholders. Considerations for open source software will always challenge this. So unless globally, governments get the balls to force changes, nothing will happen and people like me and others, not just sound designers/engineers will end up with thousands of pounds worth of very technical kit being redundant or unreliable. This also ties in to the destruction of the environment for the raw material extraction and the resultant dumped, obsolete produce – double whammy!

Bob Alexander says:
11 October 2019

Its typical of the big companies to continually increase their profits at the expense of consumers. Only appropriate legal regulations will force them to abandon their greedy motives.

Too damn right!
We have all been deluded by the prevailing dogma that we have to throw away our ‘toys’ when they stop working or look tacky.
We are groomed by the adverts of greedy manufacturers who see consumers as cash cows by making their products almost un-repairable so that we have to buy new when items fail to operate.

JJMMWG DuPree says:
12 October 2019

Standard connectors should be just that. I had my tablet stolen, I couldn’t find an exact replacement even 2nd hand so I replaced it with the new model. They’d switched to a different USB. This has upped the number of USB leads I now need to 6. This is not my idea of a standard. If they really have to install a smaller socket there then they should supply an adaptor that will fit a standard cable.

Meanwhile, upstairs I have a RiscPC and laser printer both purchased in 1990 and both still working. Unfortunately the monitor has given out and guess what, new monitors don’t have the same connections. Downstairs my inkjet printer gave up the ghost after just one print. I’d love to replace it with the laser printer but… You know what’s coming next, don’t you?

In 1998 I built myself a PC and ran it with Linux. It too still works (But unfortunately also worked via the defunct monitor), and I haven’t had to keep buying new Windows which require updated computers to run them. I should be happy about this, but no, because every time I upgrade the computer to keep up with the speed and complexity of the internet (Yes, and games…) I find that the CPU has grown another leg or two so I have to buy a new motherboard as well, which then requires an almost complete rebuild. Why can’t the motherboard already have the extra leg holes in them? Until a major improvement is made in chip technology the manufacturers know exactly how their incremental improvements are going to go, why not future proof the motherboard?

Incidentally, if you think I’m going a bit overboard on the standards issue, my sister, who is far more courageous than I am, oh all right she knows much more about this stuff than me, frequently dismantles ‘phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, whatever, to fix what she considers to be substandard construction or mismatched parts, or indeed just to keep something going because stuff that costs this much should last a whole lot longer than just over the two year guarantee period, and you should hear her banging on about the lack of standards.

Unfortunately electronic components grow smaller as microminiaturisation increases as time goes on , this saves the industry money as well in components ( one chip for many actions ) and USB is no exception .
I have a new PC and its got USB-C and I haven’t used it yet but I have the latest SSD on it this connects directly with the motherboard and is just a flat PCB taking up little space but its 500G and the bigger one is 1T so even the card size SSD,s are obsolete (or will be ) .
The new video card is very slim compared to the old types but contains the latest video techniques everything is watercooled so no big CPU fan as its overclocked to 4.5 .
DVD drives are no longer fitted and I wanted one so I bought an expensive external blue ray writer/player via the USA for playing DVD,s –I know obsolete and writing LInux ISO,s .
The distro a version of Arch is a rolling system ( continual system updates so its never out of date).

From what I’ve seen of typical recent inexpensive laptops, it is very hard to repair or upgrade them, because all the major components are now soldered onto the motherboard. So the skills for board level repairs will become more important in the future. On YouTube, it is great to see folk like Jessa Jones and Louis Rossmann showing off the possibilities for carrying out repairs at that level, even if some specialist equipment is required. I doubt that many homes will end up with the sort of soldering stations (etc.) that are needed. But, as Jessa and Louis show, it makes great sense for community businesses and other local organisations to operate with such kit.

More traditionally fabricated computers are still relatively easy to repair and upgrade. In Swindon, their local charity Scrapstore includes Project Reboot (see:-https://www.scrapstore.co.uk/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=45:reboot&Itemid=215) which overhauls and resells donated computers.

Ian Birch says:
12 October 2019

While I’d like appliances to be easily repairable, and by me rather than a ‘professional’, I also wonder what the effect will be on the initial cost of the applaince and safety of a personally repaired item.
Manufacturers who can no longer snap an appliance together but must use standard fixing will inevitably incur additional costs that will be passed on to the consumer.
And I’m not sure that I want certain repairs to my neighbour’s electrical equipment to be done by an odd-job man just because he’s cheap, and take the risk of burning both our houses down.

Perhaps the way forward is to require all manufacturers to dispose of their appliances instead of local councils (Dispose not by dumping in landfill, but by recovering and recycling the appliance components). Those who create highly reliable appliances will have low recycling costs. Those who make their appliances easily repairable likewise (and this probably makes them easily recyclable too).
The consumer will inevitably pay for this in the purchase price – but we pay for this anyway via rates/taxes.

This approach may well give us more reliable and more repairable appliances as well as encourage manufacturers to get us to hang on to our equipment for longer.

Modifying assembly methods to ease repairability will add extra cost but I believe it should not be substantial; the benefit of being able to economically extend the life of an appliance would, I suggest, outweigh the initial cost, let alone the benefit to the planet.

Safety might be an issue for those less competent or careless but so is lack of maintenance, careless use of an appliance, and there are other diy activities that are potentially hazardous, including car maintenance. I doubt that the “normal” home repairs to an appliance would be a fire hazard if done incorrectly.

Companies do exist who collect and refurbish discarded appliances and this may be good for major rebuilds. The products are not cheap. Good to be able to resurrect your own appliance where possible.

Ewen Cameron says:
12 October 2019

It’s not just about immediate cash costs. We haven’t paid for the damage our lifestyles do to the environment for at least 80 years. We have all been using an “environmental” credit card for decades and we haven’t even been paying the monthly interest – we have just let the REAL COST build up and seem happy to leave it to our children and grandchildren to pay that whopping bill. This discussion is about sustainability and we have all – probably Which included – in obsessing with getting immediate costs as low as possible without much thought for the massive bills we are all running up. Time everyone woke and realised that bill are starting to come in and they will be big – – and we have no one to blame but ourselves for being so selfish and short sighted. No wonder young people like Greta Thunberg as so angry with us.

Lewis Jones says:
12 October 2019

I have no interest in supporting the EU’s scientifically illiterate war on carbon.

das62 says:
12 October 2019

Many moons ago I can remember my grandad my dad and my mum going out to buy spare parts for their kettles,washing machines even the old type of electric cookers where the rings were easily available. I have always been concerned by our throw away society and parts not easily available because manufacturers don’t make products repairable. My parents kept their electric goods as long as possible anything up to 10yrs because spares were available. As far as I’m concerned the worlds manufactures should be forced to make products repairable and the general public encouraged to consider repairing their white goods instead of being able to buy a washing machine for less than £200 when if we went down the longevity/reliable/spares availability route it would go a long way towards conserving our earth’s materials, spending less effort and energy in collecting goods and using energy to recycle everything. No white goods mountains and less dumping. I’m as guilty as anybody in buying a throwaway product, I buy a £4.99 kettle but have to throw it away because the on/off switch doesn’t last much longer than the 12 month warranty even though the element is in working order, if a switch was available I’d be happy to buy a switch. If the kettle was a little more in price but they made the switch available I’d still buy it and I wouldn’t need to throw away plastic body and a working element.