Meet the 17-Year-Old Fighting for Your Right to Repair

Sam Mencimer was 12 when his dad busted his iPhone.

“He came home one day and was like, ‘Sam, I broke my phone, what should I do? Should I go to the Apple store?’ And I was like, ‘No,’” Mencimer told Motherboard. Mencimer watched YouTube videos and figured out how to repair the phone himself. It was Mencimer’s first repair, but it wouldn’t be his last. Now, at 17, Mencimer runs a thriving repair business and recently testified before the Maryland state legislature about the importance of the right-to-repair.

Mencimer spoke to the Maryland state legislature’s Economic Matters Committee on January 27, 2021 via Zoom. He sat in a garage at his home that doubles as his office and workspace. Bins of electronics sat in the background. A circuit board microscope with its light still glowing rested next to a multimeter. 

“I’m here because I think right-to-repair is an incredibly important issue,” Mencimer said. “When people started working from home, work started revolving around electronics. Every kid needed a computer to go to school.”

Mencimer explained that the early days of the pandemic stressed repair stores across the country. 

“It’s also completely changed how people see independent repair shops,” he said. “People like me keep people’s electronics working while Apple closed all their stores…they were quoting a 4 to 8 week turnaround time for mail-in repairs. I was fixing people’s devices that were under warranty because these people couldn’t wait 4 to 8 weeks for Apple to fix their stuff.”

He picked up a stack of motherboards behind him. “This is a stack of motherboards from Chromebooks for a school district in Long Island, New York,” he said. “My job is to repair them because Acer will not sell replacement parts for them. There’s no documentation available for them so I have to use what I have here to reverse engineer these things. I try to figure out how second graders break them in ways I never thought were possible.”

Mencimer told the committee that he’d discovered he can’t repair the boards because Google hasn’t made the firmware available for one of the chips on the board. The chip is paired to the Chromebook’s…