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Year in Review: Right to Repair Put the Pedal to the Metal in 2021

December 30, 2021

There’s no question that 2021 was one of the biggest years to date for right to repair in the United States. From automobiles to consumer electronics and household appliances, industries across the board benefited from progress made this year, thanks to hard work from advocacy groups, businesses, consumers, and government officials alike.

As we look to 2022, it’s time we build on the momentum by enacting federal legislation that protects consumers’ right to choose where and how to repair the products they purchase, such as the Save Money on Auto Repair (SMART) Act.

Let’s reflect on some of the year’s most significant developments:

  • January-February: At the start of 2021, major news outlets, like VICE, predicted right to repair was “poised to explode,” citing a U.S. PIRG report noting that American families could save $40 billion annually by repairing more products.
  • May: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued its “Nixing the Fix” report to Congress, which shed light on the anti-competitive tactics used by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to “restrict independent repair” and “steer consumers” to their repair networks. In a research submission to the FTC, the Automotive Body Parts Association (ABPA) asserted that “[t]he misuse of design patents on repair parts to block competition from producing equivalent parts is creating an environment with less competition and a significant pricing increase in the marketplace.”
  • June: A bipartisan group of legislators introduced the SMART Act. This bill, currently sitting before the House Committee on the Judiciary, protects consumers’ right to repair their vehicles by amending U.S. design patent law to reduce the time from 15 years to 2.5 years that automakers can enforce design patents against alternative parts manufacturers.
  • July: President Biden issued an executive order on “Promoting Competition in the American Economy,” encouraging the FTC to address “unfair anticompetitive restrictions on third-party repair or self-repair of items.” Accordingly, the FTC unanimously voted to condemn repair restrictions, committing the independent agency to investigate manufacturer tactics “that may be illegal under both the nation’s antitrust laws” and consumer protection laws.
  • September: The CAR Coalition launched a multimillion-dollar campaign in support of legislative protections in the automotive industry, with a specific focus on the SMART Act, with backing from associations like the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety Coalition, National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, Auto Care Association, RetireSafe, and AARP.
  • November: Apple announced its Self Service Repair program, representing “a seismic shift” in the company’s position on right to repair. Alongside Microsoft’s October 2021 commitment to investigate easing products’ repairability, this marked growing tech industry support for right to repair. November also brought results from a national survey of vehicle-owning voters indicating an overwhelming majority (78%) support right to repair legislation for autos, like the SMART Act.

Looking to 2022, work remains to be done to restore consumers’ right to repair their cars with the parts they choose. Passage of the SMART Act would be a critical step forward in protecting car owners’ ability to choose from a variety of quality, affordable, and safe aftermarket auto parts.

Make 2022 the year to advocate for vehicle owners and get involved!