Right to repair: FTC forces Weber to tell grill masters it’s okay to use third-party parts

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My Weber grill came up with a warning: “The use and/or installation of any parts on your WEBER product that are not genuine WEBER parts will void this warranty.”

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That’s not cool. In fact, it’s been illegal since 1975 — and soon Weber won’t be doing it again. Under a new settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, Weber Stephen Products will not only have to remove such sentences from the warranty terms within 90 days, but also proactive, clear and striking tell customers via email, email, websites and apps that the exact opposite is true.

Seriously, Weber will have to use this exact phrase: “Use of third-party parts does not void this warranty.”

According to the order (pdf), Weber must also post a public notice on its website, send a notice to customers for the past decade (assuming they have registered their warranty), and keep records for the next five years, in case the FTC wants to check (for example) whether Weber is wrongly refusing warranty service.

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Unfortunately, there is no mention that Weber should do anything for customers who may have already been denied warranty service. While the FTC says it could have sued Weber for violations of the FTC Act and the Warranty Act, this settlement appears to be taking place rather than a lawsuit.

Weber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While this is a minor victory for the right to repair, similar to the FTC’s actions against Harley-Davidson and Westinghouse generator maker MWE last month, let’s be clear it’s not quite the same “right to repair” that most proponents of talk about today.

The modern battle for the right to repair is where advocates are urging companies to make available parts, repair manuals and software tools to repair highly sophisticated gadgets. But “Smart grills” and intelligent ovens aside, my Weber is about as dumb and easy to fix a tool when they come. Almost every part of a standard Weber grill is designed to be replaced—a single screw, a twist, and a jerk to change a burner, for example—and Weber is one of several companies already happy to sell you new ones.

And again, what Weber did with the warranty was illegal since 1975, when the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act first entered the books. The original text of the law contained these words:

No consumer product guarantor shall make its warranty, written or implied, for such product conditional upon the consumer’s use, in connection with such product, of any item or service (other than the item or service provided free of charge under the terms of the warranty) identified by brand, trade or company name

Both the courts and the FTC have clarified over the years that, yes, this means you can’t tell the customer that they are voiding their warranty by using only an unauthorized part. That part, or the customer installing it, must be responsible for damage to affect the warranty. So this new settlement is just the FTC getting Weber back in line.

However, the bigger battle for the right to repair is about to set: New York state last month passed the country’s first-ever right to repair electronics. And the legislation of other countries has already prompted many smartphone manufacturers to embrace the beginning of a right to repair as well.

If you like grills and are entitled to repair enough to read this far, I think you’ll be happy to hear too: Jeremy Andrus, the CEO of Traeger, whose company produces the popular wood pellet smokers, promised our editor-in-chief Nilay Patel that it does not add DRM to the pellets.

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