We’re Afraid of Warranty Stickers, but Really, Manufacturers Should Be

According to a survey published today by consumer group U.S. PIRG, 45 out of 50 appliance manufacturers automatically void the warranty of a device if it has undergone “unauthorized” repair. And worse, they aren’t even upfront about it: 31 of the companies surveyed discourage independent repair in the language of their warranty, but don’t explicitly disclose whether or not doing so actually voids the warranty. PIRG reached out to the customer service teams at each of these organizations and found that 28 of them would still automatically void a warranty. They even included a couple of screenshots from a customer support chat with leading appliance brand Bissel, where they asked point-blank:

“So independent repair would void the warranty?”

“That is correct.”  

Warranty agreements exist largely to give manufacturers a monopoly on repairing your stuff. And their scare tactics are working: When I talk to people—at repair events, on our site, in the comments of our Youtube videos—their number one fear about trying a repair for the first time is that they’re afraid of voiding their warranty. That fear has translated into a fear of fixing our stuff—and it’s become so deeply ingrained in us that we’ve become increasingly disconnected from our stuff.

Chat with Bissel costumer service about warranty and independent repair
Image courtesy of U.S. PIRG

Un-stick it to the Man

If I had a nickel for every time I came across a “warranty void if removed” sticker, I could easily buy the newest iPhone. Manufacturers have been heavy-handed with slapping warranty stickers on all of our stuff, including: Xboxes, the PSP Go, Asus laptops, and even NVidia graphics cards. And I’d bet my nickels that you’ve run into a few warranty stickers at some point, too.

Most consumers don’t know that these stickers are actually illegal—and that’s because manufacturers don’t want you to. Under the 1975 Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, the Feds mandated that you can open your electronics without voiding the warranty, regardless of what the language of your warranty says. That makes all of that inconsistent (albeit crafty) language used by the 50 manufacturers surveyed by the U.S. PIRG illegal.

Manufacturers have been waging a quiet war against tinkerers for years. That’s terrifying. It challenges the very idea of ownership. It runs counter to the very human trait of identifying a problem and figuring out what’s wrong—just like when you get under the hood of your car to see why it won’t stop making that gurgling-noise. Fixing is a part of our legacy—and we’re letting manufacturers ride roughshod over our repair rights.   

Up until April of this year, manufacturers have enjoyed this repair-monopoly uncontested. But consumers found their first warranty win when the FTC sent letters to six major manufacturers warning them to knock that “warranty void” shit off. A small victory in the ongoing battle for the right to fix our stuff, but apparently not enough to scare manufacturers from scaring us out of our right to repair.

FTC warning letter about warranty void if removed stickers
FTC Warning Letter from Motherboard, Vice

Scary stickers to share in the dark

We’re lending the FTC a hand in giving those manufacturers a fright—by re-opening our #VoidIfRemoved contest. When the FTC sent out their first round of letters in April, I fueled their fire by calling for a good ol’ fashion witch sticker hunt—asking netizens to post photos of illegal warranty stickers on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #VoidIfRemoved. We collected those submissions and turned them over to the FTC—but apparently, the fight is just getting started.

So from now until All Hallows’ Eve, I’m asking everyone (again) to post photos of “warranty void if removed stickers” using the hashtag #VoidIfRemoved—so we can easily find it and send it to the FTC. In addition to your photo, please let us know what device you found the sticker in so we can categorize our entries by manufacturer. In exchange for your photos, I’ll be passing out a few treats—in the form of iFixit toolkits—to the best-dressed entries. Enter as many times as you want. The more entries the better.  

We want everyone to know that warranty stickers are just crafty trickery from manufacturers. Don’t fall for it. The Feds have granted you a license to tinker—now let’s make sure we use it.