On June 23, 2022, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission took a big new step in the right-to-repair battle. The FTC is taking action against Harley-Davidson, as well as MWE Investments, the company that makes Westinghouse outdoor generators, due to what the FTC says are illegal restrictions on customers’ right to repair their products.
A big part of this complaint is warranty language from both companies that say the warranty is void if customers choose to use independent dealers to either perform repairs or supply parts. According to the warranties as currently written, use of aftermarket parts and taking your bike to any place other than an authorized Harley dealer for service could void the warranty—which the FTC says is illegal.
What happens now? The FTC is ordering both Harley and Westinghouse to fix their warranty language by removing illegal terms that restrict a customer’s right to repair the items they’ve purchased from the company. Another problem the FTC discovered is that Harley, in particular, did not fully disclose all warranty terms within a single document. Instead, it said, customers were asked to contact an authorized dealer for full details—which is a violation of the FTC’s existing Disclosure Rule.
It gets better for customers, though. Not only is the FTC requiring both companies to fix their warranty language, it is also—very crucially—requiring both companies to “come clean” to customers about these changes. In other words, the companies can’t just quietly change the language and then not tell anybody about it, relying on customers to just happen upon the knowledge at some random point in the future.
Instead, the FTC says, both companies must proactively reach out to customers to notify them of these changes, and of their right to repair their own possessions under the law. Furthermore, customers can and should do so as they see fit—using the parts they deem appropriate, which may or may not have the company’s brand name on them.
Now, obviously, Harley-Davidson and Westinghouse aren’t the only companies for which right-to-repair issues have been a major focus of ire among customers. Large and extremely public legal back-and-forth has been going on for some time with both Apple and John Deere, for example. That’s why this decision is an important step, and a positive one for regular people who buy things, and then have the crazy idea that they can do what they want with them because they now own them.
In a statement, FTC chair Lina M. Khan said, “Illegal repair restrictions can significantly raise costs for consumers, stifle innovation, close off business opportunity for independent repair shops, create unnecessary electronic waste, delay timely repairs, and undermine resiliency—harms that can have an outsized impact on low-income communities in particular. It is critical that unlawful repair restrictions continue to be a key area of focus for the Commission and that we continue to use all of our tools and authorities to root out these illegal practices.”
Of course, unsurprisingly, aftermarket parts makers are also pleased with this news. "This action taken by the FTC is a huge win for motorcycle riders,” Vance & Hines president and CEO Mike Kennedy said in a statement.
“While we still need to see how this plays out, we anticipate that riders will have more choices in how they repair and update their motorcycles during the warranty period, which is clearly a big deal for companies in the motorcycle aftermarket, too. I hope that the "it will void your warranty" threat for someone who just wants a better sounding or smoother running Harley is a thing of the past,” he concluded.