What California’s Right to Repair Law means for fixing home appliances and more

What California’s Right to Repair Law means for fixing home appliances and more

When one of Elizabeth Chamberlain’s pet rabbits chewed through the power cable of her LG washer, the director of sustainability for iFixit faced a major dilemma. 

“There were no repair sites in town that would do it. Nobody in town that had the parts,” the San Luis Obispo-based Chamberlain recalled on a recent video call. “I would have had to drive down to L.A. or up to San Francisco to find a part.” With no local options, Chamberlain turned to eBay. “I ended up having to wait several weeks and Febreze my clothes, basically, for a while.”

Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation. Your household appliances or electronics break suddenly and you’ve struggled to find replacement parts, or the necessary tools and guides, to make the repair. But that frustrating quest to fix your gear may be slowly coming to an end. Last October, Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB244, the California Right to Repair Act, into law. It’s the latest legislation in a movement growing across the country to empower consumers to repair what they already own. 

California isn’t the first state to pass right-to-repair legislation, but it goes a step further than laws in Minnesota and New York. What makes California’s bill different is that it requires the parts, tools and documentation to be available for a specified period of time, which is three years for items that cost between $50 and $99 and seven years for those that are $100 and up.

“That’s a big advancement,” says Chamberlain.

The relatively short lifespan of home electronics and appliances has made a big impact on the environment. EPA data from 2018 indicates that just a small fraction of the 2.2 million tons of small appliance waste is recycled and that 2.1 million tons of major appliance waste ended up in landfills. 

It’s not only waste that concerns right-to-repair advocates. Based on data from 2021, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group found that U.S. households are spending an average of $1767 on new electronics, including both consumer devices and appliances, every year. Their research also shows that families can save 21.6% of their spending on electronics and appliances through repairs. 

“A huge part of changing our throwaway culture has to be a cultural change,” says Chamberlain. “It has to be people being willing to fix things and changing our mindset from, when something breaks, thinking, ‘Oh, I need a new one’ to thinking, ‘What can I fix here and how?’”

In order to fix our stuff, though, the tools and knowledge need to be accessible. That’s where groups like iFixit, which has made about 100,000 DIY guides available online and has been a major advocate for right-to-repair legislation, come into the picture. 

“Manufacturers have trained us for a long time not to think that way because they’ve made it harder and harder and harder to fix things. It’s been harder and harder and harder to get parts,” says Chamberlain. “There are only so many times that you can look for how to fix something and hear no parts available. No tools available, no instructions for how to do that. If you hear that a couple times, you’re going to stop wanting to try, even.”

So, what does California’s right-to-repair law mean? Chamberlain suspects that people will see some of the biggest improvements in regards to cell phone repairs. “Particularly for lower-cost cell phones, like cell phones that cost in the $200 range, right now there is basically no repair option for those things,” she explains. “Manufacturers aren’t doing parts overrun. They may or may not be able to buy parts for them at an independent shop.”

Appliances are also an area where consumers should see some relief. “This means that instead of having to get someone’s harvested part from a junkyard in Ohio, I should be able to buy the part directly from the manufacturer,” says Chamberlain.

However, if you, like me, have ever run into a situation where a part was more expensive than the cost of a new appliance, the Right to Repair law might not be able to help yet. “Unfortunately, this bill doesn’t have pricing controls,” says Chamberlain. “We haven’t even really tried to touch that in the U.S. It’s not a very popular idea here, but, my colleagues in the E.U. are pushing for pricing controls on spare parts in legislation.”

Ideally, the right-to-repair legislation will allow more repair shops to stay in business and encourage more repair-minded folks to open their own shops. “That’s one of our primary goals with this legislation is making so that independent repair shops can stay competitive with manufacturer authorized shops and that they can get the parts and tools and documentation that they need to do repairs,” says Chamberlain. 

Note, too, that the law, which goes into effect in July of 2024, covers items made since 2021, so this will apply to more than just this year’s purchases. “We really wanted backdating because people do have things in their homes that need repair and because a repair bill looks at things that are broken and it takes time for things to break,” says Chamberlain.

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While electronics and appliances are generally covered by the new law, items like game consoles, alarm systems and garden/lawn equipment are not. There’s still a good way to ensure that the goods in our homes are repairable and multiple ways that people can get involved. Chamberlain suggests checking out repair.org, the website for the Repair Association, which is regularly updated with news about related bills and tools to contact legislators. She also suggests supporting local repair cafes, like the ones in Pasadena and on Los Angeles’ Westside

“My real call to people, to individuals who are able to try and get involved is to look for things in your own life that you can fix,” says Chamberlain. “to talk to other people about repairs and to look for events like repair cafes and so on where you can go meet people in the community who are doing repairs and share repair knowledge.”