If you like to fix stuff when it breaks (and I sure do), then you may have noticed that the task has become harder and harder to do. The exterior boxes that protect the innards of your toaster, washing machine or speakers are more likely to be welded shut, when in the past they used to have screws, which allowed you to access to the inside. And your new items probably don't come with information about how to fix them. If you look at old instruction manuals, they almost always include basic repair information behind the more simple "troubleshooting" section.
Even if you don't like fixing things and prefer to let someone else do it, products today are less accessible to anyone, even experts. This is one of those problems that really gets my goat. Why? Because fixing things saves money, keeps stuff out of landfills and, by extension, means less stuff needs to be made in the first place.
But besides the more practical fiscal and environmental concerns, repairing broken machines is empowering. It makes me feel pretty awesome to be able to take something from not-working to working again. I develop a stronger relationship with the things I have brought back to life, and I'm more likely to care for them well in the future. Over the years I have fixed my dishwasher (with the help of an incredibly useful YouTube video not made by the manufacturer, but by a generous soul); numerous tape players (I'm in my late 30s), several lamps, a toaster, wall outlets in my house (my much-younger roommate was blown away), various bikes, a vacuum cleaner, door locks, two weed whackers and a lawn mower engine.
That's why I'm excited about a new French law, which is on the side of fixers' — and, by default, consumers. The law outlaws planned obsolescence and "... manufacturers will have to label products with information about how long spare parts will be available," according to FastCoExist. "Next year, manufacturers will also be required to offer free repair or replacement for the first two years after purchase."
Some say this law will benefit manufacturers in the long run.
"Right now, manufacturers have been caught in a downward price spiral where consumers want cheaper and cheaper products, and so they reduce material, and they make parts out of plastic instead of metal to reduce costs," Kyle Wiens, founder of iFixit (a site dedicated to making repair manuals to every gadget on Earth available to all for free) told FastCoExist. "I think that this sort of trend [to mandate more durable products] is actually a good thing for manufacturers, because it will allow them to compete on quality again. I expect it will probably cause a bit of a price increase in product prices, but I think that will be far more than offset by quality increases."
Both Germany and Norway (where it falls under "reklamasjonsrett" or the "right to complain") already have similar laws, and the United Kingdom has the Sale of Goods Act, which covers some of the same territory: According to Redditor danltn on the Buy It For Life subreddit, the U.K. law "... mandates retailers specifically to refund, repair or replace goods with an inherent fault for up to six years after purchase (albeit less if six years is not reasonable). Knowledge of this makes some people feel more confident (and safer) shopping and hence buy more," danltn writes.
An unintended side effect of mandating that broken items get repaired is that someone has to do that work — so it's also a job creator. The specialized knowledge needed to do repairs would be a skilled job, and one that you don't need a college degree for. It's exactly those types of jobs that America has been losing rapidly in recent years, so a law like this could create local jobs in every community.
The Digital Right to Repair organization wants to see a similar bill passed here in the U.S. I like it. Let's bring tinkering back as a pastime. After all, that's how many of our favorite inventions were created — they started with someone who was fixing something, and then decided to make it better.
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- Aussie toy menders specialize in creepy doll repair
- Watch this: 'The Story of Electronics'