By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
Appliance repair is on my mind at the moment.
The dishwasher at our winter rental beach hideaway , where my husband and I have sequestered ourselves to avoid the pandemic, died last Friday.
Leaving us to do the dishes.
I know, I know, a first world problem. And a task I’ve done before, and no doubt will do many times again.
We didn’t have a dishwasher in the flat we lived in for three years while my husband and I were both doing post-graduate studies in Oxford. Ditto for the over-priced Harvard University flat we lived in during three years of law school. Nor did I in the cabin in the woods where I lived during for five winters spent as a ski bum in Whistler, BC.
And long before any of these, my parents only acquired a dishwasher sometime during my middle school years, but it really didn’t make a dent in the dirty dishes our family of seven generated and which I, as the eldest, was charged with cleaning up. Our machine was temperamental, and couldn’t handlepots or heavy soiled items; even dinner plates needed to be more or less spic and span before they went into the dishwasher.
So, the last week of sudsing up has brought unleashed a flood of many memories….. And ias like many others, I’ve been doing lots of cooking and baking while sequestered, and I’ve come to rely on the dishwasher. Which is suddenly not there.
Within this context was particularly receptive to yesterday’s press release from US PIRG’s Nathan Proctor, the campaign director for their right to repair efforts. enclosing an updated survey his organization has conducted of the repair policies of major appliance manufacturers., Warranties in the VOID II.
Over to that report:
When you buy a new appliance, you have an expectation that it will work, at least for a few years. But sometimes, it breaks down quickly. So you call up the manufacturer to see about getting it fixed under your warranty. Sometimes they fix it, but other times they refuse. Sometimes their remedy takes so long you are forced to find another way to fix the product — or you might just give up and buy a new one.
In 2018, US PIRG conducted a study, Warranties in the Void, in which it found that most U.S appliance manufacturers claimed their warranties would be voided i consumers availed themselves of independent repair services or self-repair. This despite Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines affirminging:
[g]enerally, the [Magnuson- Moss Warranty Act (MMWA)] prohibits warrantors from conditioning warranties on the consumer’s use of a replacement product or repair service identified by brand or name,”
The full report discusses some exceptions to this provision.
Nonetheless, the 2018 report found that 45 of 50 manufacturers surveyed asserted a right to void warrantees in these conditions, despite the statutory prohibition.
Now, as a result of the pandemic, the use of repair services has surged. Again, as per U.S. PIRG:
“[g]enerally, the [Magnuson- Moss Warranty Act (MMWA)] prohibits warrantors from conditioning warranties on the consumer’s use of a replacement product or repair service identified by brand or name,” with some exceptions explored later in this report1.
Alas, virtually all appliance manufacturers continue to insist that use of third-party repair services invalidates their warranties:
Unfortunately, in our survey, conducted in the fall of 2020, we found that all of the 43 companies we surveyed indicated that warranty would be voided due to independent repair. These companies either had clauses in warranties which claimed repair would void coverage, or their warranties were unclear and their customer service representatives, when asked, stated that independent repair would void the warranty.
This state of affairs continues, despite that making a valid warranty dependent on forbidding independent repair is generally understood to be a violation of Magnuson-Moss.
I won’t get into praising the details of the US PIRG report in this short post. Interested readers do that themselves, by looking at the full report, to which I have linked.
I merely ask the simple question: where is the FTC on this issue?
President Biden has signalled a willingness to beef up that agency, by for example, nominating antitrust expert Lina Khan and Big Tech critic to fill an empty commissioner’s chair.
As with so many other U.S. legal issues, the problem here isn’t lack of statutory guidance.
The issue is enforcing laws already on the books.
So I ask again, FTC, where art thou?