Many people who frequent McDonald’s know the disappointment that often accompanies the word “McFlurry.” For those unfamiliar, a McFlurry is a special type of ice cream only available at McDonald’s. Unfortunately, the machines required to make these delicious treats are, notoriously, always broken. The malfunctioning of these machines has been such a persistent problem that the Federal Trade Commission investigated the issue in 2021.
Involvement from the federal government reveals the real issue underlying the broken McFlurry machines: the right to repair. Known as R2R, the right to repair is the phrase used to describe policymakers’ ongoing battle to make technology repair accessible to consumers. It would allow consumers to fix their products, rather than being forced to send them back to manufacturers which can be very time-consuming and expensive. While the McFlurry machine may seem like an outlandish device to further this battle, it has the potential to turn this legislation into a reality.
McFlurry machines are manufactured by the Taylor Company, which has an exclusive contract with any McDonald’s franchise that opened before 2017. This contract prohibits McDonald’s from outsourcing any maintenance that the machines might require. Regardless of how simple the repair may be, the machines can only be repaired by the Taylor Company. This is unfortunate because the machines malfunction very often and very easily. On average, about 10% of all McFlurry machines in the US are broken.
In 2022, two engineers made an effort to reduce this statistic by creating Kytch, a machine that interpreted the complex error codes shown by the McFlurry machine. The duo found that the $18,000 McFlurry makers had a secret menu that held all the basic information about the machine, including how to identify maintenance errors. However, the passcode to access this menu was excluded from handbooks and was only accessible after being hacked with a Kytch. The reason for this may have to do with the fact that the Taylor Company charges $315 per hour to fix a McFlurry machine. This year alone, they have made 25% of their revenue from machine repair and maintenance.
This is why R2R is dedicated to fighting corporate greed and gatekeeping. Not only are manufacturers failing to produce efficient, top-quality products, but when these machines do fail, they should be able to easily be fixed. Creating a defective item and then reaping the pricey benefit of its maintenance suggests that the real priority is financial gain. While being unable to get a McFlurry is fairly inconsequential, the inability to access private repair becomes much more serious when it involves products such as wheelchairs and medical supplies. Fortunately, a motion has recently been made that brings the U.S. one step closer to achieving R2R.
Last month, iFixit, an online repair community, and Public Knowledge, a non-profit, filed a motion to Congress asking if they could fix the McFlurry machines. These organizations have tactfully chosen the McFlurry machines as their subject to captivate the interest of the general public in this matter. Generating public interest puts pressure on elected officials to pass Biden’s “Freedom to Repair Act” which would uphold a consumer’s right to seek independent repair. Hopefully, this means that the right to repair, and to enjoy McFlurries, is almost upon us.