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Manufacturers and why we can’t rely on their commitments — a DIY repair story

Kitchen appliance repair

Here’s a story of a simple DIY repair that nearly did not happen.

Why does this small story about a soup maker matter? Because we focus on a product made by French manufacturers Tefal, who a couple of years ago made great fanfare about the repairability of its products. And specifically, long-term access to spare parts.

In its loud public commitments, Tefal sounded great. But in practice, a qualified electrician had to pressure the company to gain access to a very uncomplicated spare part.

This is a tale of why voluntary commitments by manufacturers are simply not enough, and why enforceable product standards requiring access to spare parts are needed. And we would argue not just for professional repairers, but DIYers like Ray who had all of the skills required.

Ray, his soup maker and the manufacturers

On its website Tefal claims to be “committed to keeping for 10 years on average after purchase all technical parts for virtually all products marketed since 2012”. However, upon scrutiny they are quite vague about what access consumers will have to these parts.

Qualified electrician Ray contacted us on our online community when he spotted our questions about what Tefal’s policies would be like in practice.

He wrote on our community

OK I purchased a Tefal soup maker approximately 3 years ago. The same model BL841140 is still for sale on their own site. One of the main reasons for purchasing was their policy of making sure that the products would be backed up with a repairability for 10 years…

But now it has failed. The part I need is a small plug socket on top of the handle that the top section plugs into. So I contacted their customer service. At first they told me it would have to go to one of their recommended repairers. After I told them that I am a certified electrician they sent me the parts diagram to pick the part I needed. So I did and they replied that the part was obsolete.

So I went through the promise they have given with the 10 year back up. At which they replied that they would give a 20% reduction on a replacement [product]. Which I think is a absolute insult and I told them so.

We’ve seen Ray’s actual correspondence with Tefal and a couple of things struck us about their tactics.

At first, they provided him only one option — their own repair. (This is no different than the vast majority of manufacturers.)

This is not a part we can give out to consumers.

Then, when he then told him he was a qualified electrician, they told him the part was no longer available and tried to sell him a new product at a discount. (This is also a common practice.)

The part is obsolete and no longer available.

This turned out to be a lie, because after further pressure and threats to make formal complaints, they agreed to provide the part. Ray says “as if by magic” the part appeared.

Our recourse in this case

In thinking of how to respond to Ray’s case before Tefal relented, we thought we really only had two options:

  1. Name and shame — either via a tech journalist or via a consumer rights organisation or media outlet.
  2. Pursue legal action in relation to advertising standards. Here the best outcome would be a  referral to Trading Standards.

But in reflecting on both options, is either a good use of our time as concerned consumers and citizens? Both seem to place us into an infinite whack-a-mole scenario. Think of the thousands of companies adopting similar confusing policies in relation to repair. These problems are endemic in the industry.

The Right to Repair — not voluntary initiative by manufacturers

Ray’s soup maker is a perfect case study in why, as a UK Parliamentary Committee recently stated, “the right to repair must be enshrined in law”.

Other manufacturers, not just Tefal, make noise about their expanded repair offerings: larger authorised repair networks or extremely controlled offers of spare parts to independent repair shops.

Ultimately, they are trying to undermine a global move towards binding standards which guarantee access to spare parts, repair documentation and tools, and repairable design.

Europe has so far only extended Right to Repair to “professional” repairers — and in many member states, manufacturers will still be able to condition access to these professionals. Will the process be straight forward? Or will the goalposts move, as they did for Ray?

And why shouldn’t talented DIYers — for example qualified electricians — be able to fix their kitchen appliances?

These are all important questions for us to address as we push for a Right to Repair enshrined in law, not one merely published on a website by manufacturers to look good.

4 responses

  1. Who decides on qualifications? If left to the OEM — the definition will be only their employees.

  2. janetgunter

    Are you referring to the European right to repair regulations?

    In the European right to repair regulations, it has to be all professionals. And member states can create permanent, public registers of professionals that will make it easier for them to get what they need from all manufacturers.

    But the “default”, when the regulation is transposed to national law, will be to let manufacturers vet professionals and control access to documentation.

  3. Gordon Sim

    We have several problems here !.
    1. The cost of purchase will make many items “throw-away” !. Why because parts to stock/buy will be too much.
    2. New items usually have a warranty.
    3. Refurbished items need to be as safe as when new, therefore need safety testing (PAT) as/if required.
    4, Safety Liability, insurance ?.

    Some of this liability has cropped up earlier. There is a tendency to “Blame” and big business will not want us “restart” to succeed, they may lose money !.
    Therefore I think we have also to forward plan. That means if no parts etc, then to get those parts, we have to recycle more to break down and recover parts and store parts.
    This requires storage BUT it can also be a low cost means of retraining others.
    This could therefore be an opportunity for government investment ?.
    This would also help us to Lobby MP’s and Council to recycle more.
    Collect recycling/landfill monies.
    We need to monetize our activities in order to market our abilities on “Greening the Planet” .

  4. janetgunter

    Not sure we entirely get what you are saying. But we know there are companies using the same argument to prevent us from changing the battery in our mobile.

    Warranties are laughably short. Liability can be easily dealt with, and in any case these companies have armies of lawyers to protect them from the likes of Ray. The same companies use “just in time” supply chains to produce these products, surely they can figure out how to supply parts at lower cost. They just don’t want to.

    As for refurbishment/resale, this is an entirely different issue and we agree there should be standards for that too.

    We also agree that more investment is needed in recycling infrastructure, but again, this is separate from the issue of repair. Repair is higher up the waste hierarchy and always preferable to recycling.

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