As with many an old adage, there’s truth in the Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix advice. But it is also true that if something is broken, it is harder than ever to get it fixed.
What was once quaintly called “make do and mend” is Not A Thing. Not any more. For a range of reasons. It’s often difficult to find someone to do repairs. Workshops that repairs broken appliances are few and far between.
Finding spare parts can be a challenge. Some have to be imported. Often a repair will require replacing major components, which can be so expensive that it ends up being cheaper to buy a new product.
Moreover, most people don’t expect anything they buy to last more than a few years. When something stops working, we have been conditioned to throw it away and buy a new one. Product prices can be competitive, often due to low labour costs. This can be another reason it’s not worth paying for repairs.
It is accepted in our throw-away society that we don’t fix things. We put them in the trash, and they eventually end up in a landfill. This can in turn generate a sub-economy, as waste-pickers collect saleable items.
Further motivation for trashing rather that repairing is the continual enticement to upgrade. Newer models are must-haves. Who wouldn’t want to move up to what is advertised as a better version?
It’s all part of the business strategy known as Planned Obsolescence. Something bought only a few years ago can now be labelled obsolete if spare parts are no longer obtainable. It’s how things work – when they don’t work.
A Human Right to Repair
A new phenomenon among manufacturers called Repair Prevention is the target of an emerging Right to Repair movement in the US. It brings together a range of interests from consumer activists to farmers.
”Major manufacturers are quietly attempting to outlaw the natural instinct of us humanoids to fiddle with and improve the material things we own in order to charge us to fix it… In addition to deceiving and/or intimidating buyers into believing they’re legally required to trek to the high-dollar Corporate Tech Genius Store for routine maintenance, powerhouse corporate marketers are increasingly forcing customers to bring all their repair business to them.”
Hightower points to manufacturers’ increasing use of No-Repair clauses in purchase contracts and Digital Locks on products. One of the most infamous No-Repair products is a tractor made by the world’s largest tractor maker, John Deere. Who won’t allow you to even fiddle with the fuel pump.
Another reason why it has become so hard to repair anything is all the new built-in features that bar access to the inside of appliances and devices. Screws in cellphones have been changed to make it harder to open the back covers. Car engines have been made more difficult to access.
“This is like the car company saying ‘We’re going to weld the hood shut so you can’t get in. We should have a presumption that we can get inside anything we own. We should be able to extend the product’s life if we need to. When you talk with manufacturers, they’ll throw out all these straw man arguments. They’ll say ‘Well, it’s not safe for you to go in and repair your phone.’ Fixing phones is an extremely safe endeavor; I’ve never ever heard of anybody hurt from fixing a phone.”
What’s more, you should be able to respond to any emergency while in your car. So you need access to the engine to try to fix the problem.
Repairing: Against the Law
Yet you can no longer legally do much of the above. If you take the casing off your phone to repair it, you will likely void your warranty. Generally your only option is to use the seller’s repair service. This often means sending it off to a workshop in another city for days or even weeks. Or you can buy a new product.
“Manufacturers make products unrepairable. They don’t sell parts because they don’t want people to repair their products.”
Why interfere with the time-honoured method of figuring out how things work by taking them apart? Surely, given the need for more scientists, engineers and technicians, it would make sense to encourage tinkering. As a result of such discouragement of efforts at repair, the repair professional is on the list of disappearing jobs.
There is also a generational angle on fixing things.Young people born between 1982 and 2004 are less DIY inclined than their elders. The Millennial generation is less able to change a tire than Baby Boomers. That is, in terms of hands-on knowledge. However, younger people easily Google a repair solution. On their phones, in the car with the flat tire. Millennials tend to also be better at following instructions on YouTube videos than Boomers.
There’s yet another angle on repairs, relating to gender. Stereotypes of men as Mr Fixit have been shown to be wrong. Many women can do repair work, sometimes better than men.
Lastly, an important consideration is that repair is more environmentally friendly than recycling. Repairing something generates less air and water pollution than replacing it, and leaves less waste.