FTC Hits Harley-Davidson On Right To Repair

from the fix-your-own-stuff dept

Following through on a request by the Biden administration to defend right to repair, the FTC has demanded that Harley Davidson and Westinghouse stop voiding customer warranties over repairs. In an announcement, the FTC noted that both companies used fine print to void a customer’s warranty if they used independent dealers for parts and repairs:

“Consumers deserve choices when it comes to repairing their products, and independent dealers deserve a chance to compete,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “These orders require Harley and Westinghouse to fix their warranties, come clean with consumers, and ensure fair competition with independent providers. Other companies that squelch consumers’ right to repair should take notice.”

Voiding your warranty if you (gasp) try to obtain (usually less expensive) third-party parts or assistance is just one of countless strategies companies use to monopolize repair. It’s an issue that plagues not just auto dealers and tech companies, but the medical sector as well. The combination of mindless consolidation and attacks on independent repair have consistently driven up costs for everyone.

If you’ve not skimmed it yet, the FTC’s recent report, “Nixing the Fix,” is a worthwhile read.

While U.S. consumer rights have been a bit of a depressing mess for years, watching the right to repair movement go from nerdy niche to mainstream has been one of the few high points. New York recently became the first state in the nation to pass a full right to repair law after growing consumer anger.

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Companies: harley davidson

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Comments on “FTC Hits Harley-Davidson On Right To Repair”

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Samuel Abram (profile) says:

On a theoretical level, I’m far more okay with companies voiding warranties if they repair their hardware themselves or take it to an unlicensed repair shop. Voiding a warranty just means “we won’t pay for repairs” whereas putting DRM on its parts means “We’ll sue you and/or put you in jail if you try to repair it without our permission.” The former is a preferable scenario for me. That being said, it’s nice to have unauthorized repair paid for by the manufacturers, but (once again, on a theoretical level) why should they?

James Burkhardt (profile) says:


The issue is not the manufacturer paying for an unlicenced repair. The issue at hand is when a non-warranty repair is performed outside licenced dealers, all warranties are automatically considered void.

This contrasts with the law, which requires that a manufacturer who offers a warranty actually determine if the repair impacted the warrantied component(s). For instance, consider a device with a partial warranty. if a third party repair replaced a component, say a capacitor, not covered under warranty, that impacts a warrantied component. If they used a out-of-spec capacitor, the warranty could be void. If the capacitor was improperly installed, it could void the warranty. However the warranty is not Void simply because the capacitor was replaced.

This prevents warranties being used to create repair monopolies, where to maintain your warranty you must also have non-warranty repairs performed by the manufacturer’s network.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Those automatic warranty cancelations for third-party repairs or parts have been illegal in the USA since 1975, under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.

This isn’t a case of a law that was just enacted, or a law that is totally obscure. it’s a law that has been on the books since the 70s. Why should it tale a presidential order for the agency in charge of enforcing the law to actually enforce it?

And why is it just a sternly-worded warning rather than heavy fines for violators?

Under the law, those contract terms are illegal and unenforceable. Trying to enforce them anyway is warranty fraud by the company!

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Im simply explaining a distinction in the issue at hand that appeared to be missed by Samuel, I have no idea why you are angrily asking me to explain government apathy regarding enforcement. im a nobody private accountant on the west coast. I’m only explaining the facts at hand not speculating as to motives.

That said, the FTC is underfunded and has limited power to enforce its rules, further limited by decades of precedent undermining what authority they should have. Techdirt has covered this before, particularly in the context of the FCC offloading ISP regulation to the FTC.

Naughty Autie says:

Re: Re: Re:2

…particularly in the context of the FCC offloading ISP regulation to the FTC.

That should be a shared responsibility, with the FCC regulating the communication side and the FTC regulating the sales side. In the UK, there’s been no such abdication of responsibility by the relevant authorities such that Trading Standards regulating sales of ISP services and Ofcom making sure we get the speeds promised by Plusnet et al.

Scott says:

Are they though?

So I own 3 HD motorcycles, and I haven’t seen direct evidence of this. I’ll assume that the FTC has examples, but they weren’t noted in this article.

It could be more complicated in the case of HD. Most “repairs” that HD owners perform outside of the dealer network include performance upgrades (e.g., replacing exhaust, EFI, tuning, etc.). Many times, these parts are designated “off road” or “race use” only by the manufactures (even HD) for legal reasons. They are not direct replacement parts in most cases like you would see in most auto repairs.

I know and ride with a lot of HD owners. I don’t know of any in my immediate circle that have not made these performance modifications. A quick trip to any motorcycle event or rally will show that the vast majority of HD owners have done the same.

So yes, most HD owners void the warranty on their engine and drivetrain knowingly. In these cases, isn’t HD within their rights? I have not heard of warranty on other systems on the motorcycle being voided by aftermarket parts.

Naughty Autie says:


So your argument is, “They break the law, so they should have their warranties voided”? Yeah, good luck with that. The fact of the matter is that warranties shouldn’t be voided because of third-party repair or fitting of aftermarket parts unless the issuer of the warranty or related parties can prove that’s what caused the need for a warranty repair. Dipstick.

Scott says:

Re: Re:

That’s not what I said.

The end user made changes that directly affect the performance of the drivetrain system, taking it out of the original manufacture specifications.

HD doesn’t have a right to void the warranty because the actions may or may not have been illegal (depends on where you live), but because the modification changed the original system. They aren’t “repairs,” and are known to cause additional stress/wear on the system which could contribute to failure.

Now if they are voiding warranties for a repair where an equivalent aftermarket item is being used, that’s a different story.

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