Right to repair or despair‽

Right to repair laws are a good thing on the face of it, but don’t go anywhere near far enough to give the public back control over their appliances.

As you might expect, I’ve been keeping a weather eye on our neighbours in France over the last couple of years and was pleasantly surprised when they announced a Repairability Index scheme, on the 1st of January 2021, the first European country to do so.

The scheme in France will make it easier for consumers to assess the longevity of some products on the market. But I nearly choked on my custard cream, when the UK Government announced a Right to Repair bill for UK consumers, which came into force on the 1st of July 2021.  The news report made it sound as if a magic wand had been waved by the Brits, and that all our gadget maladies had vanished.  Sadly not.

There’s always a backstory to any announcement like this, and the new UK ‘right to repair’ laws, are on the face of it, a good thing. However, don’t for one minute that the new laws passed will help the public directly.

The laws will make it compulsory for manufacturers to provide spare parts and documentation to professionals, whoever they are, for at least ten years. Consumer items such as TVs, fridges and washing machines, will in theory, be given the opportunity to last longer.  But there are problems, and here’s why. The legislation doesn’t specifically cover planned obsolescence, parts prices and consumer accessibility or product durability. These are all issues generally accepted as the main barriers to repair. Let me explain.

During the many years I’ve spent locked away securely in the workshop, I’ve regularly been presented with items which were designed, made and sold with no attempt on the manufacturers’ or retailers’ part to design-in repair. In other words, many items that I see are not meant to be repaired at all, and there’s usually no support network in place, when the product is out there in circulation. Sometimes I can fix these things, sometimes I can’t and many-a-time, I’m working without certainty. Over the years, I’ve built-up knowledge on certain products and have a working knowledge of various spares providers for many items, but this trainspotter knowledge, isn’t easy to acquire. It takes many shed-years and a limited social life.

Items such as complicated coffee machines and toasters do have some spare parts available, sometimes long after they’ve gone out of production, but prices for spares are often so high that repair might not be cost-effective.  I once attempted to repair my own UK made Triton shower as the heater inside had failed.  The shower was 10 years old and parts, were available here in the UK, for delivery next working day.  Price of a replacement boiler £80.  Price of the same brand-new complete shower from Screwfix, £50 with a new warranty.  Now, as much as I’m passionate about repair, I’m not daft.  I had a bath instead.

The new legislation, which is regarded by me and others in repair circles, is a step in the right direction and certainly highlights the current issues around our throwaway society. But it doesn’t scratch the surface of the problem. Not even close.

A true Right to Repair would enforce proportionate parts prices, sensible repair accessibility, free documentation and accessible repair support from manufactures and retailers directly to consumers and independent repairers.  Luckily though, there is good news.  Repair initiatives such as therestartproject.org, repair.eu and the Repair Café movement are actively campaigning, organising petitions and actively lobbying governments for change, and you can get involved. Repair Cafés operate in my own area of Adur and Worthing (Sussex, UK) and are home to dedicated repairers and tinkerers.

And there’s more good news. Over the last 20 years or so, eBay has revolutionised the second hand domestic goods parts market. If you need a cost-effective part for your vacuum cleaner, coffee machine or washing machine, you might just find the part you need online from parts breaker, on eBay. I’ve saved many a vacuum cleaner using a second-hand motor for a tenner and recommend it, if you know what you’re looking for and have the nerve. If the government is serious about right to repair, the circular economy and its goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions, the process needs to include all stakeholders. Honest and transparent consultation with robust legislation that includes the second hand parts market and the home repairer is the only way to truly gain back control of our appliances.

Matt, July 2021.

Nilfisk GM80 industrial vacuum cleaner

This ‘vacuum beast’ from the 1960s gets serviced, ready for today

Sometimes big is best and when it comes to longevity, this machine is tough to beat.

I wasn’t born when this machine was made, but good quality designs and engineering foresight, means that new parts fit retrospectively.  Why aren’t all machines made this way?

Make and model: Nilfisk GM80 (large)

Fault reported: Poor running

Cost of replacement: £600-800 (approx.)

Manufacturer support:  8/10

Cost of parts: £14.94, inc. carriage

Hours spent on repair: 1.5 hours

Tools needed: Screwdrivers, test meter, soap and water etc

Sundry items: Silicone spray, WD-40, cleaning materials, wire wool

Repair difficulty: 3/10

Cups of coffee:  X1

Biscuits: X2 Chocolate Hobnobs (that don’t dunk that well in coffee, truth be told)

Recently, I got the opportunity to tackle an industrial vacuum cleaner in need of a proper service, which had been in continual use since the late 1960’s.  Judging by the condition it was in when I first received it in the workshop, I doubt that some parts of the machine had received any care since its first day at work.

The machine in question is a Nilfisk GM80 (large).  It’s a ‘large’ as it has a milk-churn sized base to it, which means it can swallow a lot of dust.  The large base has long been discontinued, but you can still buy the current smaller base, should yours be damaged.  Indeed, the Nilfisk GM80 range of vacuum cleaners are all quite modular and feature different levels of filtration, depending on the specific environment they are put to use in.  This means you can easily swap parts from donor machines to keep older machines going. The design means that parts seldom go obsolete, new parts just get improved and fit older models.  Great news for sustainability.

Back to the machine in question.  It had been covered for many years under a service contract, but for whatever reason, that company were no longer taking quite as much time as they should and applying as much care with each inspection.  This ‘serviced’ machine had recently had a new motor (hence later model motor housing) but the basics of vacuum principles had been overlooked.

I won’t go into the repair blow-by-blow, so here’s a summary of the work completed:

  • clean of all rubber seals and mating surfaces, essential to avoid air leaks
  • check and adjust all housing clips and adjust as necessary (all of them in this case)
  • wash motor diffuser (this had been changed within the last year)
  • wash main cotton filter (this had never been done, it was so clogged)
  • wash motor intake filter
  • check condition of motor brushes and bearing end-float (all fine)
  • check and tighten electrical IEC connection
  • inspect flex for damage (all OK)

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The previous service agent had stated that the damaged hose (original 1960’s rubber item) was now unavailable and that a replacement was impossible.  Impossible eh?  That’s two letters too long.

Upon taking the old hose connectors apart (and removing layers of gaffer tape), I discovered that the internal diameter was similar to a Nilfisk-to-Numatic aftermarket adaptor and with a little adjustment, this 1960’s Nilfisk machine could be made compatible with Numatic’s vacuum cleaner hose design, which is much more abundant, here in the UK.  So, with a little jiggery pokery, this machine is ready to work for its living, once again, with a shiny new hose.

So yet again, when an ‘expert’ tells you that something cannot be repaired, don’t necessarily take their word for it.  A second opinion can sometimes save you time and money.

The repair didn’t break the bank either and I have since taken on more machine service work for this organisation.

Nearly flaming 1986 Yamaha XT600 Ténéré

Beloved Yamaha XT600 Ténéré nearly goes up in smoke.

I’ve had my beloved Yamaha XT600 Ténéré for about 8 years and have deliberately kept it away from these pages as I’m always doing something to it.  It could have its own website with the amount of time, not to mention money and effort I’ve spent on it.

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FixItWorkshop, Jan’18, Yamaha XT600 Ténéré.

This story is note-worthy as it’s a lesson for me and others who ride and maintain old bikes!

I don’t use the bike that much at the moment, but I always keep it ready for the road, just in case I get a chance to take it out.  Whilst doing a few checks recently, I decided to fire it up and get the oil pumping around the engine, so that things don’t seize up.

The tank was pretty full (over 20 litres) and upon opening up the manual fuel valves, giving it a bit of choke, the engine fired-up on the second crank.  It sounded quite sweet.

However, after about 30 seconds, I heard ‘running liquid’ before smelling the intense scent of super unleaded.  Looking down, I was standing in about 2 pints of fuel, on the wooden shed floor with a hot exhaust casually burning the fuel that was dripping on to it.  Nasty.

I won’t repeat what I said, but suffice to say, I hit the bikes’ kill switch virtually instantly.  I shut the flowing fuel off and wheeled the bike out in to the open air.

After several cups of tea, I found the cause of the problem.  The small fuel feed pipe which runs from the float chamber to the main jet on the carburettor had failed causing the leak.

When I bought the bike, I thought I’d changed all the fuel lines, but I’d missed one, quite an important one as it turned out.  It goes to show that even enthusiastic mechanics make mistakes.

The cost of the repair was £1 for a new piece of fuel hose, but the point of this story is:  If you have any petrol-powered things, especially old motorbikes; don’t run them in an enclosed wooden space.  Always run them outside.

Flimsy Bosch Athlet 25.2V cordless vacuum cleaner

I quite like the idea of this vacuum cleaner in that it’s lightweight, easy to use, highly portable and easy to maintain. All things that make a great product.

The particular vacuum cleaner came in to the workshop, just outside of its warranty period and had been looked after well.  However, it had developed a nasty intermittent cutting-out problem when in use.  I also noticed that the charger’s flex had also cracked near the wall plug, making it dangerous while charging.

First things first and it was off with the rollers and filters to clean any obstructions that might make a device like this overheat.  Nothing obvious there, but all items cleaned and washed as a precaution to allow the roller to move freely and the vacuum to breathe easily.

Closer inspection of the handle area revealed a weakness in the design which had meant that the quick-release mechanism had caused an electrical connection to degrade, causing the cutting out.

The only remedy was to address the handle’s weak point with a mechanical fix and make good the electrical contact.

I hope Bosch take note and make an improvement in this area on an otherwise nicely engineered item.

I also did a small repair to the damaged flex on the charger.

Cost of a new vacuum cleaner, circa £250.  Cost of screw… less than 50p (without my time of course!)

Here’s a little video of the repair…

 

 

fixitworkshop.co.uk repair service and blog

The diary of a tinkerer: Stories, advice, tips and sometimes the odd failure to inspire your own repair.

Repair shop | Repair blog | Repair information source | Making everyday things last longer

The tinkerer at FixItWorkshop.co.uk is Matt Marchant

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, July 2020, Matt with a load of food mixers

You can follow me on Twitter (if you want)

I also write occasionally for Bangernomics (a car website)

I write for Inside Magazines (Worthing area) every other month

  • I write about things I fix and even those I can’t
  • I offer a repair service for a small fee
  • I occasionally volunteer at Repair Café and similar events in Sussex and surrounding area

I love repairing things and hate throwing things away that can be saved. There’s far too much waste in the world.  Many things that can sometimes appear unrepairable, are indeed repairable, with a little tinkering.

I want to encourage people who doubt their own ability to repair their things, to give repair a go.  After all, if ‘that thing’ isn’t working, grab a screwdriver, take it apart and investigate.  What have you got to lose?

I’ve been tinkering with bikes, cars, coffee machines, toys and vacuum cleaners and pretty much anything that can be dismantled since I could hold a screwdriver.  I’ve worked for BT as a senior engineer, and I’ve studied design, business and electronics.

Enjoy the repair diary of a tinkerer.  I hope it gives you a nudge to repair your broken thing.  If you can’t, I might be able to help.

Scroll through the repairs