The right to repair

Trent Ernst, Editor

I am not what you might call a handy person.

I am not a candidate for “Canada’s Worst Handyman, either, but my skills in fixing and repairing things is fairly low on the list.

I can, for instance, change tires on the car, but if the battery needs a boost, I still need to check the instructions to make sure that I’m hooking things up right.

If the pilot light is out on the hot water heater, I can re-light it, and I’ve learned how to replace the anode rod. Anything beyond that, though, and I’m lost.

My wife is the daughter of a high school shop teacher, and is far more practical when it comes to these sort of things, so when the dishwasher stops washing properly, she’ll be in there, pulling things apart.

We live in a disposable culture. Something not working? Just throw it out and buy another.

But this is an expensive, wasteful way to live. And it isn’t necessary, because a lot of times, possibly even most of the time, the problems are easily fixed.

For instance. About a month ago, our mixer, which had been acting up for a few months, finally gave up the ghost. The motor would run, but the mixing arm wouldn’t rotate.

A new KitchenAid would run about $300. But, out of curiosity, I Googled, “KitchenAid mixer not spinning,” and discovered that the most likely culprit was the worm gear.

A YouTube video showed us how to take the machine apart, and lo, what do you know? It was indeed the worm gear, a $11.50 part.

We splurged, and decided to replace the whole worm gear assembly, which set us back $47, plus the hour or so it took to disassemble and reassemble the machine. And now we have a working mixer again.

The fact that we can do this: that with a few minutes on Google I can find how to fix everything from my dryer (lint build-up) to my car not shifting (loose screw) to replacing the worm gear on my KitchenAid is phenomenal. It’s the antithesis of disposable living.

This is a marvelous thing. I know the small appliance repair people in town don’t like to hear this … oh, wait. There are no small appliance repair people in town, at least none with a business license.

The thing is, not everything can be fixed like this.

Technology is especially restrictive in what you can do to fix it. And, while I’m probably not going to be pulling my iPhone apart to fix problems anytime soon, I should have the ability to if I wanted.

Technology is becoming more integrated with everyday things. Tractors, once little more than engines on wheels, are now high-tech devices with computers and software, which the manufactures currently don’t allow farmers to fix themselves. Instead, they have to get certified technicians to fix them, and pay through the nose.

Many companies that provide technological devices argue that repair information is proprietary.

A few years back, a website that shared repair manuals for laptops was sent a cease-and-desist letter by Toshiba, claiming the site violated Toshiba’s copyright.

But there is a scrappy resistance being organized under the title “right to repair”. The movement is an odd blend of farmers, who want to be able to fix their tractors, and techno-geeks who want the resources to pull apart their gadgets.

There are now even right to repair acts being proposed in certain states which would give people the freedom to share repair information.

Currently, if something goes wrong with these tech devices, we are forced to go back to the company rather than fixing it ourselves, or taking it to an independent repair shops.

That’s sad. Because of this, electronic waste piles up, as people discard devices rather then fixing them or donating them for re-use. If we own it, we should be able to fix it. Or break it trying. It’s as simple as that.