Right to repair: Too many products being dumped

Too many products get dumped because spare parts aren’t available.

19feb spare parts hero

As environmental concerns mount, more consumers are opting to get products repaired rather than replaced. But efforts to repair items can hit a major snag when spare parts aren’t available.

So what are companies’ obligation to provide spare parts for their products?

The Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) requires goods to be of acceptable quality and that includes being durable.

If your fridge or TV fails before its time – and you haven’t caused the failure – you can go back to the retailer. It needs to sort the problem. That means either repairing or replacing the item or giving you a refund.

The CGA also puts the onus on manufacturers to ensure spare parts and repair services are available for a reasonable time after a product is sold. But there’s a loophole.

Manufacturers don’t have to do this if consumers are told when they make their purchase that parts and repair services won’t be available. This means a product with only a minor fault could end up being dumped because there are no parts to fix it.

Though you’re still entitled to get a replacement or your money back if the product isn’t of acceptable quality, it doesn’t solve the problem of goods being needlessly junked because they can’t be easily repaired. Products that get dumped because spare parts aren’t available not only waste money but also valuable materials.

Getting rid of the CGA loophole would be a step towards reducing the tonnes of failed products that become trash. We’d like to see the CGA amended to require all manufacturers to have spare parts for products for a reasonable period, especially for common faults.

What else could be done?

Manufacturers and retailers need to shoulder more responsibility for the environmental impacts of the goods they sell. Their obligations don’t end when their products leave the factory or the shop floor.

We’ve called for a product stewardship scheme for electronic waste – which includes everything from phones to fridges. These schemes make companies responsible for dealing with a product at the end of its life.

When you do this, manufacturers have a bigger incentive to design products that go the distance and can be easily repaired.

Electronic waste (also known as e-waste) is a major problem because it can contain hazardous substances, including heavy metals and flame retardants. It also contains valuable materials that can be reused to make other products.

A product stewardship scheme for e-waste is among the government’s plans to reduce waste, though details of what it will require and when it will kick in are yet to be released.

In the meantime, if you’re making a purchase, use our reliability surveys to find which brands are more likely to last.

Right to repair

Other countries are already moving to beef up consumers’ rights to get goods repaired.

In Europe, rule changes will soon force whiteware manufacturers to make spare parts more readily available and to improve the design of major appliances so they’re easier to repair.

In the US, the burgeoning “Right to Repair” movement has succeeded in getting proposed legislation in some states that requires manufacturers to make spare parts available to consumers and independent repairers.

A major focus of the movement is giving consumers the ability to repair products themselves or pick their own repairer, rather than being beholden to the manufacturer.

The issue is also on the agenda across the Tasman. Australia’s Productivity Commission has been asked to add it to its work programme.

Member comments

Get access to comment

Jane B.
21 Jan 2021
Disappointing response from Samsung on fridge

I've been arguing with the Samsung 'help' line for months now about a mid-range 322l fridge/freezer, bought in 2013 - it goes well but about a year ago, the bottle guard on the fridge door broke. It's a smallish fridge in a smallish kitchen used by a smallish family, so every part of it is used - it's a real pain without that bottle shelf. But low and behold, the spare part is not available - in NZ or overseas. I keep getting the brush-off - they'll 'call me back' but they don't. Very frustrating, and it all makes me a big fan of the right-to-repair movement. It looks like I will have to buy a new fridge just because of a small broken part.

Kane D.
07 Dec 2020
Where is the real problem?

I'm not sure if right to repair is necessarily as much of a problem as it's made out to be. I've followed this trend in the computing sector for about 20 years now, and it's only a small minority of people that would benefit from a much tougher right-to-repair policy framework. A much bigger issue is technical obsolescence... It is one thing to expect a refrigerator or a dishwasher to last 15-20 years... because those two products have not evolved significantly enough over that time for most people to justify upgrading them and so most people will only replace those items when they really do break down. But take a TV for example... In the old days, people would keep them for perhaps 15 years because broadcast TV was much simpler, and standards didn't change that much. But nowadays, TV's have got better in picture quality, they're more energy efficient, they support modern standards like freeview, 4K, 8K, have OnDemand Apps and so on... It's less likely that most people will wait for their TV to cark it before replacing and will replace it due to the advances in technology... A case in point is computers... Over the last 20 years, computers have actually got much much more reliable than they used to be - largely due to improvements in manufacturing processes. I would say the vast majority of computers that I drop off at the eWaste recycling centre are still in perfect working order... just that they are old, slow, and incompatible with current products to be of little to no use to anyone. Dealing with the technological obsolescence will only be achieved if we ditch the mass over-consumerism that society has become.

David C.
19 Sep 2020
Consumable proprietary part stock-outs as a planned obsolesence strategy.

While the right to repair is one thing, the rapidity with which proprietary consumable spares are going end of life, with no service stock held, might actually be a bigger problem than a lack of major repair parts.

Example. About 4 years ago I bought a Breville CBG450 coffee grinder, and I've finally got round to admitting the burrs - essentially a consumable item that foreseeably wears out - need replacing as it won't grind espresso-fine any longer. On consulting Breville, no spares are available, and as far as I'm aware the product only went off the market about 3 years ago.

Breville did offer to sell me (sigh) another grinder model at a discount and I told them not stocking consumables was poor form, and pointed them to the right to repair movement before I said "no".

FYI: I've bought a no-brand simple, small grinder that looks like it's out of the 1950's, is built like a tank, comes with an assembly diagram and fuses(!) - and the seller holds replacement burrs (which are chunky beasts) in NZ for about $40. It's also fast, tolerably quiet and cost about $190. Time will tell how durable it is.

Mike H.
01 Oct 2020
No brand simple

The no brand simple sounds like it should be promoted. Who supplies those?

17 Sep 2020
Product stewardship vs opening up parts and repairs

Kia Ora! I'm glad to see conversation about the idea of a right to repair. It's an idea that could give people more choices about the things we buy, including getting them fixed, or replacing parts rather than throwing them away.

There are some policy challenges, for example it might be important to look at whether current settings in patent and copyright law would let people do some types of repairs. It might also be important to think about how to enable open secondary markets in parts and repairs, so people have choices about who does their repairs and where to get parts. If this is not consciously thought about, manufacturers might want to turn product stewardship schemes into a way to control how repairs are done, and make more money or shut others out of the process.

I look forward to more thinking, and am happy to be in touch if a policy perspective would be useful too :-)

Bill F.
06 Sep 2020
F & P Dryer Model ED56

The circular glass window detached from the white door frame when the screws snapped the plastic screw sockets. Hot air leaked out into the room. I ordered a new door frame and fixed it myself for about $70. The dryer is 20 years old.

Gordon R.
29 Aug 2020
Great Opportunity

I am a fanatical DIYer. I try to repair everything that breaks down, I don’t believe in bumping anything..
I’m certain there are many like me who could provide an essential service if only we could get spare parts at a reasonable price.
A pat on the back for F&P. My wife and I lived overseas for a number of years and we took all our F&P appliances with us, we didn’t have a lot of problems but when we did F&P supplied parts, repair manuals and training videos. Let’s aim for that level of support.

John B.
19 Feb 2020
Parts manuals and repair manuals also needed as part of "right to repair"

I've successfully extended the life of 2 laptops by several years using parts bought at a reasonable price over the internet and information from youtube. But there were risks as the youtube videos weren't that accurate for the model laptops I repaired. The right to repair should also include manufacturers making the same troubleshooting, service and parts information available free or for a minimal charge (pdf files are essentially free) as they do for their repairers.

Kane D.
07 Dec 2020
Hidden Costs

Also, brand reputation needs to be considered in this discussion. A company like Apple for example spends significant sums of money on maintaining their leading build quality, and high customer satisfaction - and yet their products are among the least repairable by unauthorised people. The risk is that if products get readily repaired by third parties or DIY jobs by people with limited knowledge, or by using cheap knock off parts, then when those devices get recirculated on the second hand market (as they do), then when things go wrong... you're going to blame "Apple" because it's the brand name on the box. Think about it... If I buy a used Toyota, and a month later, the ABS Control unit packs up... are you going to bleat "That bloody useless Toyota"... or "That bloody useless Bosch"? That's right... the person who sold the car to you may have previously replaced the ABS unit with a second hand part from a wrecker which was a Bosch branded unit.... But you wouldn't have necessarily known that. I appreciate right to repair, but as with all such ideologies, there is the law of negative consequences.

Fiona B.
10 Apr 2019
Thank you for highlighting this

I feel very passionately that manufacturers should be held accountable to the durability of their products and end-of-life waste. We cannot keep going with the throw-away mentality towards appliances. We have a 13 year old Samsung fridge/freezer, and have had to have a couple of repairs done in recent years. I was told by the service technician that it's just as well our appliance is of that particular vintage, as the new models are just not lasting - he was seeing 5/6 year old models having to be dumped. This is just not good enough.

Graeme W.
05 Mar 2019
Cost to fix is the big issue

I have a samsung washing machine that sprung a leak at just over 3yrs old. The warranty was 3yrs. Samsung quoted a call out fee, from memory about $100 plus any parts etc, so likely to end up at several hundred. The machine was on sale for $700 new so we actually weighed up taking it to the tip, as this was likely to be the most cost effective option. We only gave passing consideration to the CGA as past issues (including twice where i've taken retailers to disputes tribunal over it and lost) have removed any energy i had to fight and fight and fight for my rights (because it's never one fight). When we removed it to get rid of it, i suggested a final run, outside, to see if we could locate the leak. Turned out to be a $30 pipe we could get from Mitre 10. But the point is, the CGA is just too hard, we need mandatory standards that a washing machine for example should be built to last at least 10years and MUST have a 10yr manufacturer warranty to give them the right incentives to comply.

Peter H.
04 Mar 2019
Spare parts - but at what price?

Many years ago at work a laser printer was damaged through faulty mains wiring. The supplier advised that a replacement circuit board was available - for significantly more than what we paid for the whole printer!

Any right-to-repair legislation will have to enforce reasonable costs for parts. Expect very heavy lobbying by all industry players against this.

Ross E.
05 Sep 2020

A number of times, I have bought spare printers when they are on sale because they came with a full set of ink cartridges, and the sale price was less than a set of replacement cartridges! You need to be careful though, as some makers only supply a greatly reduced volume of ink with new printers.

Graeme Robert E.
03 Mar 2019
disappointed Miele dryer owner. Ideas?

We bought a miele top end dryer 7 years ago because of the reputation for good quality metal engineering. The bearing has worn and we thought it was a bit soon however we assumed it could be replaced. It can but along with the whole drum and at an exobidant cost. We are advised a new dryer is a better option. Any ideas?

Peter H.
04 Mar 2019

I suggest you remove the drum (or get it removed) and take it to an engineering shop. If the first one you go to says 'no can do', try another. I have been amazed at what some people can fix.

Llyvonne B.
02 Mar 2019
Right to repair needed

A few years ago the door on my front loader broke. The hinge was a single piece of light metal. I tried to get a replacement but I could not even get a guarantee of the right model because it was a rebrand. It looked as though I would have to replace the entire machine because of one tiny part. Fortunately, I have friends who are good with their hands and tools and one was able to drill out the broken piece and had a tube that fit perfectly. Since then, the plastic handle snapped off. I now have to open the door with my multitool - easy enough to do. I do not see why perfectly good products that still have a good lifespan should need to be replaced because of poor quality parts.

Nigel V.
02 Mar 2019
What a fantastic initiative !

Timely article, the water pump in my 10 year old front loading washer machine gave up yesterday. A quick search on TradeMe located a replacement which was couriered overnight. What was good to see, is that there are now online traders locally who have replacement parts for all different makes and models of appliances, and there are others offering second hand parts from scrapped appliances. Obviously not everyone is going to repair their own appliances ... but, with the free guides readily available and a quick search by part number, swapping out a broken or defective part on an out of warranty machine isn't an impossible task.