Rich Rebuilds and Tesla’s opinion on the Right to Repair

If you “own” something but cannot “repair” it, do you really own the thing?  The legal concept is the Right to Repair, that we all should have the right to fix or even upgrade the widgets we buy.  Unfortunately many technology companies put up roadblocks in the way of the customers right to repair the things they buy.  Tesla is not alone in this regard, many others have similar practices.

Rich Rebuilds is a YouTube channel run by a guy in Massachusetts who specializes in rebuilding wrecked Tesla’s and getting them back on the road.  Below is a profile of this guy published recently by Vice Motherboard.

The basic idea here is that Tesla’s cars are amazing feats of technology.  Therefore it’s a shame to see a wrecked Tesla rotting away in a junk yard.  The parts on that car should go into rebuilding another car.

Further, there is a long tradition of folks (guys usually – lets face that) taking cars apart and repairing or upgrading them.

The concept of electric vehicles might have died if there were no such tradition.  What if nobody was allowed to perform electric car conversions?  After the last commercial electric car was made in the 1920’s (or whenever), wouldn’t the idea of electric cars have died?  It was the Right To Repair that allowed us to build EV conversions, and kept a few electric cars/motorcycles/etc on the road even when the manufacturers wanted nothing of it.

When I got into electric cars in 1998, the game was to buy an older car that perhaps had a blown engine, take out all that gasoline junk, then install an electric drive train.  I read and re-read Mike Browns book Convert It and got hooked, as did so many others.  I and many many others have done this over the years, and we kept alive the idea of electric cars.  (I’ve built electric bicycles, electric scooters, electric motorcycles, and a 1971 VW Karmann Ghia conversion)

One of the co-founders of Tesla Motors, JB Straubl, came from that same culture.

In the video below, Rich makes some excellent points.  Is it sustainable to simply throw away the parts of a car that’s been junked?  Nope.  Tesla is all about ushering in a period of sustainable transportation, so shouldn’t Tesla be interested in supporting the repair of the cars they’ve manufactured?  Instead, Tesla’s actions are consistent with seeking to dominate/control the repair of the cars they’ve manufactured.

On the flip side there is an obvious issue of untrained shade tree mechanics — like myself — creating an unsafe car by performing my own repairs or upgrades.   The end of this video contains a statement from Tesla which includes that caution.  However that issue is not unique to Tesla, since the risk is there for anybody repairing or upgrading cars from any manufacturer.

Wiring harness and drive train parts from a Tesla Model S – source: Vice Motherboard

I write this using a 2012 MacBook Pro.  I chose this computer because it was the last model made by Apple that can be completely disassembled and every part is replaceable.  I upgraded this computer to its maximum, in order to have the longest possible service life.  I have repaired and upgraded several computers — for example we determined the other day the battery on my girlfriend’s computer is on its last legs.  Rather than throw the computer away, I’ve ordered a new battery, which will be a 10-20 minute job to replace after which the computer should have another 3 years of service life or more.

This model – of repairable devices, where individuals can work on their own repairs or upgrades (if they choose) is far more sustainable than the paradigm of building products to be thrown away as soon as they break.  The manufacturer needs more sales, and therefore feels the incentive to build products that must be thrown away.  But that model is not sustainable because it causes a rapid consumption of natural resources.

Getting to a system of sustainable transportation is more than just changing out the drive train.  It must be a wholesale rethink of the transportation system.

 

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

One Comment

  1. David,
    Another very interesting column on a tricky subject. In a few words, you are discussing “Right To Repair” v. “End User Licensing Agreement” (EULA). In the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision of Impression Products v Lexmark (https://www.eff.org/document/supreme-court-opinion-impression-products-v-lexmark), the principal of ownership and right to repair was upheld. (see https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/05/supreme-court-victory-right-tinker-printer-cartridge-case). Still, typically EULA’s contain language that legally provides rights to the manufacturer over the purchaser, and which may need to be legally defeated should push come to shove.
    Thanks.

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