Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Right To Repair? Maybe It Is About Time!

So-called "right to repair" laws are common in Europe, but not so in the USA.

I recounted before how the power switch on our Bissel model 1984 broke.  It was a tiny little thing, but when I went online, all I could find from Bissel was the entire power head, which cost about half as much as a new machine.  I kept searching and found the part on eBay UK and had it shipped over.  $12 for the part, and $6 for shipping.  Back in business!

But why didn't Bissel sell this part in America?  Because they didn't have to.  It is a strategy that I think will backfire for many companies, over time.  The "invisible hand" of the marketplace doesn't work in real-time.  We love that vacuum cleaner - it is light and easy to use, picks up a lot of dirt and it isn't very expensive.  But other people might not like it, particularly if the switch breaks. They would just throw it away and vow never to buy another Bissel product again.

So, the theory of the "invisible hand" of the marketplace is somewhat flawed.  My guess is, that since repair costs in the USA are so high, that it simply isn't worthwhile to sell parts.  If you had to take the vacuum cleaner to a "repair center" the first problem would be finding one.  Once you found one, their labor rate would be nearly the cost of a new power head.

I remember back in the 1980s, the local "stereo store" would repair stereos - but they wanted $50 up-front just to look at it and do diagnostics.  They didn't actually repair them onsite, though.  When I worked at UPS, I learned we took our oldest (older than me!) "package car" (delivery van) and parked it at the stereo store in the morning. They filled it up with boxes of broken stereos all day long and then we took it back to the "hub" and the boxes went to the actual repair center.  Back when a fancy "receiver" cost several hundred dollars, maybe paying to have it fixed made sense.  Less so, today.

Today, I am sure that one "shop hour" to diagnose and repair a vacuum cleaner would be a hundred dollars or more.  And for a vacuum cleaner that retails for $250 or so, it just isn't worth it, even to replace a $10 switch. Unless you do-it-yourself, forgetaboutit!  But you can't "do it yourself" without a supply of parts, and Bissel won't sell the parts in America.

What brought this to the fore, was my Brother-in-law just bought a secondhand RV trailer (rPod) and it is decent shape, but the awning is a little flaky.  It extends OK, but when you bring out the bracing arms, the clamps that are suppose to hold them extended don't clamp.  I inspected them and they use a spring-loaded device with a friction fit, and they were not frictioning.  The clamps come off with a couple of screws so it would not be a big deal to replace them - if you can find the parts.

I search online using the make and model number - a Thule 5200 10-foot awning.  Thule makes good bike racks, but I never knew they made RV awnings and apparently they don't - it is sold overseas as a "Omnister" awning and frankly, compared to FIAMMA, or Dometic or Carefree of Colorado (all of which I have owned) it seems kind of.... flimsy.

Lippert is apparently the only US distributor for these awnings, and Lippert makes a lot of RV parts, including the recalled windows on our Escape (ours are fine, but some delaminate and let out the argon gas).  The Lippert website has a parts diagram for the 8-foot version of the awning, but the diagram even notes that it is for information purposes only, and they do not agree to sell individual parts.

Lippert has "arms" for the awning for $95 apiece ($148 for a pair for the 8-foot version) but no photo, so it is hard to tell if it is the correct part.  Not only that, but $200 plus shipping is a lot of money to repair an awning that sells for $1000 new.

I keep searching trying different search terms and find that there is a repair kit with just the clamps, part number 1500601605 (shown above) for about twenty bucks.

Available only in Europe.

Some people who sell them, either through their own website or through eBayUK, will ship to America - for another $20 or so.

Now that I have the part number, I search and search and find.... nothing in America.  Apparently these "right to repair" laws are working overseas, as these parts are available there - but not here.  These clamps are held on with two screws and even a mechanically challenged individual could probably replace them.

But no, not in America!  Well, yes, if we are willing to pay for shipping. Which we probably will do.  I suspect we are over-paying for the part, and moreover, a Thule dealer would get in trouble for selling outside of their "zone" as several eBay listings explicitly mention they are not allowed to sell to our area.

The awning has other issues - a small tear in it, which will require new fabric (which is sold on the Lippert site and instructions are even provided!).  But for a five-year-old camper, it hasn't lasted long. I am kind of shocked Thule puts their name on it.  I do have a line for a 3rd party awning company that makes replacement fabric much cheaper than the factory brand.

Of course, RV awnings have a rough life - a friend of ours who bought a nearly $200,000 Class-B motorhome with a lithium-ion battery pack, drove off with the awning out.  Needless to say, that was an expensive day.  I've also seen people leave their awnings out, only to be torn off when a summer squall blows in.  RVing, like boating, can get expensive - particularly if you don't pay attention.

Speaking of which, an update on the sideswipe incident, the trucking company's insurance sent us a check for $2500, which was $700 more than the $1700 estimate we had for repairs.  I spent less than $350 on parts and repaired it myself.

It pays to be handy, though.