Is witholding technical information morally correct or even legal?
On a daily basis we are asked by email, phone calls and in the UK Whitegoods forums what the fault codes on many machines mean. The simple fact is that, in many cases, it's nothing short of miraculous that we do know and this is down to several factors:
- We are not given access to technical information in most cases
- We are not given access to technical or safety notices
- We are not given technical manuals of any sort normally
- We are lucky to have access to a parts blow-out diagram and parts list
This means that when you ask for technical information on a particular product it is very likely that we don't have any, or very little. In virtually every instance there is no technical manual available in any shape or form.
Safety When Repairing Appliances
The issue of safety would very much depend on your point of view, the manufacturers will state that it is in the interest of safety and that only their own service engineers or appointed agents have the skills to safely repair the appliances. There seems little other reasons presented to justify withholding technical information.
We disagree, very strongly. In fact, we feel that by restricting information in this way that it actually produces the opposite effect in many ways.
The fact is that the independent trade is asked by customers to repair the machines that they buy, washing machines, dishwashers, cookers and so on and yet, when an independent engineer requests, often something as simple as a wiring diagram, they are refused access to this information.
More worryingly, neither consumers or tradespeople are allowed access to service bulletin or safety or recall notices, effectively meaning that a potentially hazardous appliance could be left, totally unwittingly, in a dangerous condition. This is very worrying and a huge safety issue for both the industry and the general public.
In reality, in twenty years experience of the industry, I have never once received a service bulletin or safety or recall notice for an appliance which I was not an agent for at the time. Some I only found out about when, like the general public, I read about a recall in a newspaper or someone told me.
Is this really a responsible way for a manufacturer to act?
We don't think that this is responsible, or even safe and most certainly not in the public interest.
Over A Barrel
What this means is that many manufacturers have you, their customers, over a barrel when it comes to servicing or spare parts. They can charge you almost whatever they like as you've no choice. Some may even consider this to be a monopoly situation, we think that some are actively creating one for themselves by this policy as well as restraining competition massively.
Quite worrying is it not that some manufacturers are prepared to place their customers at risk or simply overcharge for service and spares isn't it?
By creating a monopoly situation when it comes to service the manufacturer can charge whatever they like for spares, how can you argue? But if the machine becomes uneconomical to repair they will often happily supply you a new one at a discounted rate.
The fact is that you are not being given a choice in many cases.
Of course this means that many machines are being scrapped early due to the lack of technical information, over the top service charges and ludicrous spares pricing policies. That is hardly good for the environment.
In fact, the average lifespan of the humble washing machine has dropped quite considerably due to poor quality as well as the above policies. So the appliances break down more often and get repaired less, an environmental disaster
In the period 2001 to 2005 these policies have massively contributed to an additional (approx) 250,000 washing machines alone being scrapped prematurely in the UK. With an average weight of 50kg per machine this is a staggering amount of unnecessary waste, 12500 metric tonnes in the UK alone and, is equal to 33 Boeing 747's going to landfill, every year.
The biggest shock of that is that's only washing machines, no other appliances are included in those figures at all. We still have to add tumble dryers, fridges, freezers, cookers and so on.
An awful lot of needless damage to the environment that is easily avoidable.
What Can Be Done
UK Whitegoods has launched a campaign to encourage the Office of Fair Trading to investigate this matter as we feel that a restraint of trade is being placed upon businesses outside of approved repair centres and OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) service, or "“direct service" as it is known.
It is anti-competitive as there can be no competition where the manufacturer has their own service as they will not supply the information outside of their own service organisations.
It creates an monopoly in effect for the manufacturers as nobody can service many of their products without the relevant information, which they will not freely provide.
When information is provided it is copyrighted and we are not allowed, by law, to pass the information on to customers that have bought those products in good faith or to share it with the servicing community.
You buy these products and we feel that you have every right to have the machine serviced by whomever you choose, not who you are forced to use and, pay for.