The Federal Trade Commission is taking action against grill maker Weber-Stephen Products, LLC, for illegally restricting customers’ right to repair their purchased products. The FTC’s complaint charges that Weber’s warranty included terms that conveyed that the warranty is void if customers use or install third-party parts on their grill products. Weber is being ordered to fix its warranty by removing illegal terms and recognizing the right to repair and come clean with customers about their ability to use third-party parts.
“This is the FTC’s third right-to-repair lawsuit in as many weeks,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Companies that use their warranties to illegally restrict consumers’ right to repair should fix them now.”
Illinois-based Weber manufactures and sells grills and related products worldwide and offers limited warranties to consumers who buy its products that provide for no-cost repair or replacement, should the products have defects or other issues.
The FTC has made it a priority to protect consumers’ right to repair their products. The Magnuson Moss Warranty Act is one of the FTC’s tools to address repair restrictions. It prohibits a company from conditioning a consumer product warranty on the consumer’s using any article or service which is identified by brand name unless it is provided for free. Following the FTC’s right to repair report Nixing the Fix, the Commission issued a Policy Statement on Repair Restrictions Imposed by Manufacturers pledging to ramp up investigations into illegal repair restrictions. The FTC recently announced complaints and orders against Harley-Davidson and the maker of Westinghouse outdoor generators for similar issues.
According to the FTC’s complaint, Weber imposed illegal warranty terms that voided customers’ warranties if they used or installed any third-party parts on their grill products. The FTC alleges that these terms harm consumers and competition in multiple ways, including:
- Restricting consumers’ choices: Consumers who buy a product covered by a warranty do so to protect their own interests, not the manufacturer’s. Weber’s warranty improperly implied that as a condition of maintaining warranty coverage, consumers had to use the company’s parts.
- Costing consumers more money: By telling consumers their warranty will be voided if they choose third-party parts, Weber forced consumers to use potentially more expensive options provided by Weber itself. This violates the Warranty Act, which prohibits these clauses unless a manufacturer provides the required parts for free under the warranty or is granted an exception from the FTC.
- Undercutting independent businesses: The Warranty Act’s tying prohibition protects not just consumers, but also independent repairers and the manufacturers of aftermarket parts. By conditioning its warranty on the use of Weber-branded parts, Weber infringed the right of independent repairers and manufacturers to compete on a level playing field.
- Reducing resiliency: Robust competition from aftermarket part manufacturers is critical to ensuring that consumers get the replacement parts they need when they need them and are not at the mercy of branded part supply chains. More resilient and repairable products also lead to less waste in the form of products that could otherwise be fixed.
Under the FTC Act and the Warranty Act, the FTC has the authority to take action against companies violating consumer protection laws, including those engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices. The FTC’s order in this case:
- Prohibits further violations: Weber will be prohibited from further violations of the Warranty Act. They will also be prohibited from telling consumers that their warranties will be void if they use third-party parts, or that they should only use Weber-brand parts. If the company violates these terms, the FTC will be able to seek civil penalties of up to $46,517 per violation in federal court.
- Recognizes consumers’ right to repair: Weber will be required to add specific language to its warranty saying, “Using third-party parts will not void this warranty.”
- Comes clean with consumers: Weber must send and post notices informing customers that their warranties will remain in effect even if they use or install third-party parts on their Weber grill products.
The Commission vote to issue the administrative complaint and to accept the consent agreement was 5-0. The FTC will publish a description of the consent agreement package in the Federal Register soon. The agreement will be subject to public comment for 30 days, after which the Commission will decide whether to make the proposed consent order final. Instructions for filing comments appear in the published notice. Once processed, comments will be posted on Regulations.gov.
NOTE: The Commission issues an administrative complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of up to $46,517.