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Right to repair: FTC forces Weber to tell grillmasters it’s OK to use third-party parts

My Weber grill came with a warning: “The use and/or installation of parts on your WEBER product that are not genuine WEBER parts will void this Warranty.”

That’s not cool. In fact, it’s been illegal since 1975 — and soon, Weber won’t be doing it anymore. According to a new settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, Weber Stephen Products will not only have to strike phrases like that from its warranty terms within 90 days, but it’ll have to proactively, clearly, and conspicuously tell customers via mail, email, websites, and apps that the exact opposite is true.

Seriously, Weber will need to use this exact phrase: “Using third-party parts will not void this warranty.”

According to the order (pdf), Weber will also need to post a public notice on its website, mail a notice to the last decade’s worth of customers (assuming they registered their warranty) and keep records for the next five years, in case the FTC wants to check up on (for instance) whether Weber’s improperly denying warranty service anyhow.

Unfortunately, there’s no mention of Weber having to do anything for any customers who might have already been denied warranty service, though. While the FTC says it could have charged Weber with violations of the FTC Act and the Warranty Act, this settlement appears to be happening instead of a lawsuit.

Weber didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

While this is a small win for right to repair, similar to the FTC’s actions against Harley-Davidson and Westinghouse generator manufacturer MWE last month, let’s be clear that it’s not quite the same “right to repair” that most of today’s advocates are talking about.

The modern right-to-repair fight is where advocates are pushing companies to make parts, repair manuals, and software tools available to repair highly sophisticated gadgets. But “Smart grills” and intelligent ovens aside, my Weber is about as dumb and easily repairable a tool as they come. Almost every part on a standard Weber grill is designed to be replaced — a single screw, a twist, and a tug to swap out a burner, for instance — and Weber is one of the many companies that’ll already happily sell you new ones.

And again, what Weber was doing with the warranty has been illegal since 1975, when the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act first hit the books. The original text of the law included these words:

No Warrantor of a consumer product may condition his written or implied warranty of such product on the consumer’s using, in connection with such product, any article or service (other than article or service provided without charge under the terms of the warranty) which is identified by brand, trade, or corporate name

Both the courts and the FTC have clarified over the years that, yes, this means you can’t tell the customer they’ll void their warranty just by using an unauthorized part. That part, or the customer installing it, has to be responsible for damage for it to affect the warranty. So this new settlement is just the FTC getting Weber back in line.

The bigger right-to-repair fight is going places, though: New York state passed the country’s first-ever right-to-repair law for electronics last month. And other countries’ legislation has already pushed many smartphone manufacturers to embrace the beginnings of a right to repair as well.

If you like grills and right to repair enough to read this far, I suspect you’ll also be happy to hear: Traeger CEO Jeremy Andrus, whose company produces the popular wood pellet smokers, promised our editor-in-chief Nilay Patel that he won’t add DRM to the pellets.

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