Right to repair: what can you do if your mobile phone breaks? | Money

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If your phone screen smashes or phone won’t charge anymore, what options do you have? Do Australian rules and the phone manufacturers make it easy for you to go get it fixed?

The Productivity Commission is currently inquiring on the right to repair in Australia, and how easy it is for consumers to get their phone fixed by anyone other than Apple or Samsung, or any of the other device manufacturers.

A chief complaint among submissions to the inquiry is that as new generations of phones are released, the manufacturers are designing them in such a way that they are becoming much harder to repair, with very few options other than taking it back to the manufacturer, or to buy a new phone.

So what are your options if your phone breaks? It will depend on the type of phone, the age and the type of breakage.

What phone do you have?

The repairability of your phone will depend on the type of device you have, and the age of the device.

If you have the newest model of iPhone – the iPhone 12, for example – it is going to be near on impossible to get anyone to repair it other than Apple right now.

Older devices may be more difficult to repair if manufacturers stop making those parts. Fix2U, for example, does not repair pre iPhone 5, or Samsung S7.

Is it still under warranty? Have you paid for extended warranty or insurance?

If it’s a fault in your phone and not something you’ve broken yourself, like your screen, and it is still in the one-year period of warranty since purchase, the manufacturer has an obligation to repair, replace or refund.

Extended warranties may not cover as much as you believe when you signed up for them. Consumer advocate group Choice told the inquiry “most extended warranties offer little or nothing beyond the existing rights in the [Australian consumer law]” and in many cases retailers were misleading customers about what the extended warranties provide.

Choice has gone as far as to recommend extended warranties be banned if they offer nothing more than what ACL provides for.

Insurance could cover whatever damage was done, but check the fine print.

What is broken?

The most common phone breakages are: screens, batteries, charging ports and cameras. iFixit repair site journalist Kevin Purdy tells Guardian Australia those four issues are the most searched on their repair site.

It will depend on the make and model of the phone as to how easy it is to repair, but beyond those four issues, repairability will be more limited, again depending on the device.

Is it expensive to repair?

Australian repair company Fix2U’s founder Sam Walker tells Guardian Australia prices for screen replacements, battery replacements and camera replacements cost generally between $79 and $200, depending on the repair.

If you take it back to the manufacturer, the price is higher.

The cost to get Apple to fix a screen out of warranty can cost $219 for an iPhone 5S, or up to $519 for an iPhone 12 Pro Max.

For Samsung, screen replacements can cost between $140 and $460 out of warranty, depending on the device.

If it is a battery, those too are often easily replaced with the right tools. Gone are the days when people could swap out batteries themselves.

Battery replacement by Apple costs between $79 and $109, depending on the model of phone.

If it is anything other than a screen or battery replacement, Apple itself is likely to charge you close to the cost of replacing the phone outright, and will provide a refurbished model for you.

Purdy says an increasing issue in repairing phones is the cost of parts. One way manufacturers are increasingly pushing people out of repairs is by making the parts prohibitively expensive.

“The cost of the repair itself needs to be some reasonable fraction of the total replacement cost of the device or people just won’t bother with the repair, and in our testing and surveys that number is usually somewhere around a third,” he says.

“If it costs much more than about a third of the price of the new device, people tend to gravitate towards just buying a new one, rather than investing in a repair.”

The director of repair shop Phone Spot, Nicholas Muradian, told the PC inquiry Samsung wasn’t making it any easier for repairers due to the cost for parts.

“They make their LCD screens that are used to repair mobile devices available but at a price that is too high. That makes it hard for a consumer to justify the repair,” he said.

“I am finding that for the same price I am purchasing a part for, Samsung offers the repair to the customer at the same cost. This is an indirect method of putting a stop to third party repair.”

Should I try to repair my phone myself?

Sites like iFixit have manuals and video walkthroughs on how to repair phones, and you can order kits to fix phones online, as well as parts.

Walker says it is best left to people who are “mechanically minded and have some confidence in working with small components”.

“Do you really want to risk it? We do receive a lot of bookings … where people have maybe asked us whether they can supply their own part, because effectively they’ve purchased that part, maybe had a go at doing the repair, and realise they’ve bitten off more than they can chew,” he says.

“[But] I think it’s certainly possible if you’re a technically minded person.”

But Purdy says some of the easier repairs do-it-yourself fixers can usually attempt include screen replacements, battery replacements, camera replacements, and to a lesser degree USB/charging port replacements, but it depends on the model of phone.

An increasing issue facing repairers is not having access to the software Apple uses for repairs in iPhones, which means when a part is replaced it can limit the features, or throw up warnings.

“The challenge has been in the software and then increasingly difficult construction of a lot of these devices,” Purdy says. “Something that is simply screwed together is a lot more accessible to a first timer than something that is glued and potentially destructive to try to separate and disassemble.”

As part of a move to encourage companies to make devices that are easier to repair, France recently brought in a “repairability index”, which makes it a legal requirement for manufacturers to rate devices out of 10 on how easy it is to repair based on criteria including the availability of spare parts and the ease of disassembly.

Why can’t I get newer phones repaired by third parties?

As Guardian Australia reported earlier this month, the ability for people to repair their own devices, or to find a third-party repairer who can repair it at a price below that offered by the phone manufacturers is slowly diminishing as newer phones become harder to take apart, and parts will only work when installed by authorised repairers.

Apple, in particular, has begun using serialised parts which, when replaced by third party repairers, will send warnings to users about unofficial replacement parts when switched back on. Only authorised repairers with special diagnostic tools provided by Apple can fix it. Walker says Apple has not commissioned any new independent repairers in Australia in the last five years.

Apple did not provide a response when asked, but the company still has 91 Apple authorised service providers in Australia, and has an independent repair provider program in the US, Canada and Europe, where repairers are given the same price for Apple parts, and training in how to repair Apple products.

iFixit’s head of policy, Kerry Sheehan, says the independent repairer agreements Apple requires those in the program to sign are a disincentive for many to get involved, including handing over customer information to Apple, and submit to regular audits from Apple, including up to five years after they leave the program. Independent repairers can face substantial fines for using what Apple considers unauthorised parts, Sheehan says.

“So it’s really not worth it and it also limits the repairs that they can do so … the techs are really limited to doing some of the most basic repairs like screen and battery replacements, and anything else has to get sent back [to Apple].”

Is there a phone I can get that is easily repairable?

The iFixit experts Guardian Australia spoke to say Fairphone 3 is the best on the market for repairability at the moment. The Android device comes with a screwdriver, and is made from 40% recycled parts. On the French repairability index, the Fairphone 3 scores 8.7 out of 10.

What if the manufacturer won’t repair my phone?

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said in its submission to the inquiry that it is difficult to force a manufacturer to offer a remedy required under Australian consumer law without a customer taking the matter to court.

“In many cases the costs and effort involved in doing so will be greater than the value of the product in question,” the ACCC said.

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