How the ‘right to repair’ might save your gadgets—and save you money

Date of birth: 2017.

Cause of death: Water. So. Much. Water.

Second chance: Replaced corroded parts on motherboard.

Just call me the Mother Teresa of laptops. I saved that MacBook Pro from being just another sad hunk of metal in the e-waste cemetery. OK, fine, a computer repairman saved it.

See, with no AppleCare+ to cover accidental damage, Apple said it would repair the machine in five to seven days…for $999. Nearly its original price! The Apple Genius said buying a new laptop would probably make more sense.

Then I brought it to an independent repair shop. It was fixed within a day…for $325.

It’s exactly what Apple and various tech companies don’t want you to do. It’s exactly what proponents of the “Right to Repair” want to make it easier to do.

Welcome to the fight to give us more repair options. Don’t worry, you don’t have to roll up your flannel sleeves and get out your tool belt. This fight is mostly about giving independent repair shops the ability to fix without so many roadblocks—and saving you money keeping your older gadgets alive.

The movement has gained momentum recently. In June, the “Fair Repair Act” was introduced in Congress. It is very similar in wording to bills that have been introduced in over 20 states, including New York and Massachusetts. (None have been enacted.) Then in July, President Biden issued an executive order asking the Federal Trade Commission to “make it easier and cheaper to repair items you own by limiting manufacturers from barring self-repairs or third-party repairs of their products.”

Those efforts are different, but they all ask for something similar: that anyone—not just the megacorp that made your device—be able to access the information, manuals, parts and tools to make a repair. It can be your smartphone, laptop or TV—even your tractor.

I devised an experiment to see how this might affect us normal, nontinkerers. I asked my IT department for two broken MacBooks, and took them around to various repair shops.

What I learned is that replacing a dead machine—or spending its initial cost all…