Make use of your right to repair and bypass built-in redundancy
‘We should be conscious of choosing brands and products that are built to last’
Getting to know your local repair shop is probably the best way of discerning what products have that key quality: longevity. File photograph: Getty
The fact that appliances don’t last as long as they used to was a matter of mild annoyance until our enforced seclusion. Now that we find ourselves without the option to rush out and buy a new stick blender, mower, smartphone or car, it becomes more urgent.
One of the few certainties in these uncertain times is that our electronic appliances and gadgets will fail us. Their built-in obsolescence has been a feature ever since Osram in Germany worked with GE in the US and Associated Electrical Industries in the UK to reduce the lifetime of their lightbulbs to 1,000 hours in the 1920s. (For a livestream of a bulb that has worked unceasingly since it was first lit in 1901 see centennialbulb.org/cam.htm)
At this time, when we need our ovens and electric showers and vacuum cleaners to keep working – especially for our cocooning elders – the practise seems more dangerous than just exasperating. It’s about time we stop allowing manufacturers sell us equipment that is purposefully designed to fail soon after the guarantee is up.
Fortunately, the European Commission just last month released its Circular Economy Action Plan, which seeks to compel manufacturers to design products that are sustainable, long lasting, and capable of being repurposed at the end of their lives. A key component of the plan is to establish a new “right to repair” as part of EU consumer law, so that repair services, spare parts and repair manuals are available for all products. But to ensure concrete initiatives are implemented to match these aspirations requires consumer pressure from us.
The fight isn’t easy. For the last decade American farmers have been battling for the freedom to fix their John Deere tractors as they have been doing for the last century, until the company computerised the engines to such a degree that they can now only be altered using proprietary diagnostic software that is connected to the John Deere mainframe computer back in Illinois.
Farmers are prohibited from making alterations or fixing small faults. It’s a battle over who really owns the piece of machinery, as, while the farmer pays for it, John Deere claims that what they are actually paying for is “an implied license to operate the vehicle” for the duration of its life.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren and still campaigning Bernie Sanders had weighed in on the side of farmers, calling for federal “right-to-repair” legislation. But while 23 states considered implementing legislation in 2019, none of them actually passed a law. We’re more fortunate with the EU, but the struggle to reassert autonomy over the things we purchase will be long and hard.
In the meantime we should be conscious of choosing brands and products that are built to last. Internet reviews give a good sense of the longevity of an item. We know, for example, that Neff and Miele appliances are likely to last longer than cheaper brands. Although, even these are now opting for cheaper materials – such as plastic buttons as opposed to metal ones that can cope with the heat and strain over many decades.
The best option of all is to get to know your local repair shop. They have delved into the belly of every electric beast in your home and can discern the great ones from those that are heaped in a pile outside their back door ready for scrappage. Ask their advice on the best brands, or better still buy a reconditioned device from them. Inquire locally about who the best person in your area is, or check out the repair people listed on myappliancerepairs.com, who have all been vetted by the site owner Ray Kelly.