Imagine being stranded at a gas station, trying to figure out why your car won’t start. Then it hits you: your windshield wiper fluid. You refilled it yourself, using unofficial fluid. You didn’t want to buy a delivery subscription or drive to the dealership, so you’re stuck until a technician shows up, or you pay for an override on your car’s app.
That’s the kind of scenario you can expect if people give up on their Right to Repair. But you can help us all avoid it.
Like a lot of things that involve the words “movement” and “legislation,” getting involved with the Right to Repair can seem daunting. Maybe you get what it’s about, but you don’t feel like carrying around a clipboard and asking strangers to care about batteries. You just want access to fixing instead of buying; how you get it seems like a job for folks who know how to lobby.
But fear not, for you can pull the levers of change right from your chair. A lot of what the Right to Repair movement needs is a change of thinking: from people, from companies, from governments. With that in mind, here are five things you can do to help the movement, the environment, and gain a greater sense of ownership over the things we buy.
Swap a friend’s phone or laptop battery before they upgrade
Let’s start off with the thing that most benefits someone, maybe even you: proving that you can open a modern phone or laptop and replace the battery, regardless of what the device maker wants.
Doing a battery swap on a friend’s phone or laptop, especially when it’s suffering and they’re thinking about upgrading (usually 18-24 months for a phone, 3-4 years for a laptop) is an expertly timed strike. You save them from setting up apps or transferring files, buying a new case or screen protector, and plopping down $1,000 on a phone that’s only slightly better than the one they have. Simply proving the viability of repair is probably enough, but you can bring up the environmental cost of manufacturing new devices if you like.
Most laptop battery swaps are straightforward, especially on Dell, Lenovo, and HP computers. It gets tougher inside all-in-one/hybrid/tablet-like devices. For phones, it’s easiest to start with an iPhone. If it’s for a friend and we rate the job as “difficult” or harder, make sure there’s a backup plan. If you want some practice before you do it live, take a look inside your gadget junk drawer and try a repair project on a non-crucial device.
Contact Your State Legislator
This is the meat and potatoes of advocacy, because it works. Legislators are supposed to work on things their constituents care about. You’re not a news outlet, and you’re not likely to get them in a one-on-one chat. But by contacting your local state assembly person or senator, and telling them why you want to fix the things you own, you can help push things forward for everyone.
The Repair Association can help you get started. Click on your state, enter some information, and they’ll help you write a personalized e-mail or letter, or hook you up to call an office without having to touch your phone. Having a personal, relatable story about a fix gone right (or wrong) helps. So does having a story about a small business helped or hurt by the current state of repair. The worst that can happen is your legislator not responding (but they usually do). It’s worth a shot, and every story makes the movement feel more human and local.
Buy Used Devices and Upgrade Less Often
You’ve probably bought a thing or two off Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or Ebay. Maybe with the advent of fast and free shipping and two-year “upgrade” cycles on cell phones, you’ve lost the habit of looking for something used before buying something new. That’s a shame, because a big part of the Right to Repair movement is ensuring things get reused rather than recycled. Recycling consumes energy and destroys materials; it’s a last resort, not a go-to solution.
In a healthy repair economy, buying a used device shouldn’t feel brave or stingy. If you don’t want to run any risk at all with buying (and maybe fixing up) something locally, consider buying something refurbished online. Some manufacturers run their own refurbished storefronts, like Apple, Dell, Lenovo, HP, and others. There are also marketplaces that specialize in used devices, with more precise condition descriptions, normalized prices, and even some guarantees and insurance, like BackMarket and Swappa. Amazon itself has Warehouse, Second Chance, and Renewed (refurbished) storefronts, though you’ll want to check out the individual seller and their warranty and return policies.
Post About Your Right to Repair on Social Media
The official hashtag for the movement is #RightToRepair—on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or wherever you hang out. But posting about your own fixes, frustrations, and feelings is just as effective, and maybe more so, than re-broadcasting news posts.
Many companies have spent decades convincing us that the only tool we have when something breaks is our credit card. Showing your friends and followers that regular humans can grab tools, look through manuals, and fix stuff is a viral move. Once it goes well for you, you start looking at your stuff in a different light. Plus, being low-key inspiring is more fun than having to constantly figure out good selfie lighting.
Consider repairability in your purchases
A heroic repair, pulled off against the odds and with the most delicate of maneuvers, can feel great (ask me, I replaced the display and battery on a Galaxy S8 Plus). Even better, though, is voting for easy repairability with your wallet. Look for companies that support repairability with parts, manuals, and devices that make sense to get into.
Our Repairability Scores for laptops, smartphones, tablets, and other devices take into account not just how easy it was to get in and replace something, but how likely you are, overall, to be able to make something work once again if it stops working. That means availability of parts and manuals, durability of parts that aren’t so easy to replace, and an overall design that lends itself to human hands and tools. A high repairability score means your device is likely to last a long time, whether or not you have to help it along with the occasional fix.
Opening electronics may sound scary, and influencing legislation sure sounds complicated, but you don’t have to be an Apple Genius or a lawyer to make a difference. Repair is for everyone, from elementary schoolers and teens, to farmers, to moms. It can be as simple as saying “New battery, please,” instead of “New phone, please.” Whatever you can manage can have a huge impact—so why not give it a shot?
This post was originally published Jan. 21, 2020.