With Tina Leonard
Have you ever gone back to a shop with a faulty product only to be told to contact the manufacturer? But if your manufacturer’s guarantee has expired, what do you do then?
Too often, consumers are confused about the difference between guarantees or warranties and their consumer rights, and in many cases retailers aren’t too quick to explain the difference either.
Tina Leonard was here to talk through guarantees, your legal rights, what the differences are and which protection you should turn to.
What is a guarantee or warranty?
We use the terms guarantee and warranty interchangeably here. But strictly speaking a guarantee is generally free and is a promise from the manufacturer or company that they will sort problems with the product within a fixed and stated time frame. A warranty is more like an insurance product that extends the protection and you pay for it. A warranty is sometimes called an extended warranty or an extended guarantee. In both cases they are legally binding.
Essentially a manufacturer wants to stand over the quality of the product they have produced. So to protect their brand, and your custom, they may provide a written guarantee. This guarantee will promise, for a fixed period of time - say a year or two, to repair or replace an item should it break.
The terms of all guarantees vary. For example, the time frame will vary but also what is covered. Some might cover a call out cost and repair in year one but charge a call out fee in year two for example. Some cover accidental damage and others don’t.
With an extended warranty that you have purchased, the time you have cover for will extend but again what is covered will vary.
Items typically covered by guarantees / warranties are cars, furniture, electronics, white goods and luggage.
Why do you need one?
You don’t actually. That’s because you have your statutory consumer rights anyway.
Your rights are quite separate to any manufacturer’s guarantee you may have and always exist whether you have a guarantee or not. So, you should view the manufacturer’s guarantee as an ‘extra’.
Under your consumer rights, if a product is faulty you are entitled to a repair, replacement or refund. The obligation to provide the remedy lies with the retailer or service provider (whoever you purchased from) and not the manufacturer.
As for time frame, the legal minimum across the EU is two years but in Ireland under our Statute of Limitations you can make a claim for a faulty product up to six years after purchase. In relation to that time frame though bear in mind the expected life span of the product and general wear and tear issues.
Knowing that you have statutory rights anyway is particularly important when in comes to handing over cash for extended warranties. Before you even consider it, check what it covers. It may cover nothing more that what you’re already legally entitled to, so why pay up?
Should you use your guarantee or consumer rights if you have a problem?
I would say that you should always invoke your legal entitlements or statutory rights first. After all, we should always make sure that our rights are honoured, no one can take these rights from you and they’re free.
In practice that means making your complaint to the shop and asking them to provide redress.
However, the guarantee may come in useful if for example, it covers accidental damage (your rights don’t) or if the shop has closed down.
Likewise, if the guarantee covers all that you need, will sort out your problem and you find it easier to deal with the manufacturer, go with it for an easier life!
The main thing is that you know that a guarantee is not all the protection you have. In fact, consumer law is your key source of protection. A guarantee or warranty is just something extra that you may use.
Typical scenarios consumers face
The shop says use your guarantee, but the guarantee has expired. It doesn’t matter; your legal rights still exist, so ask the shop to honour them. This is a typical occurrence when it comes to electrical products and white goods.
The shop says use your guarantee, but the manufacturer wants to charge a call-out fee under the guarantee’s terms. Go back to the retailer and say that you want them to provide a remedy under your consumer entitlements.
With car problems, as the costs involved can be so big, in practice manufacturer’s guarantees are mostly used. Nonetheless, the garage does have a legal obligation to you and any case you take (whether to small claims, a higher court or SIMI’s complaint process) will be against the garage and will fall under your consumer rights.
Your new mobile phone breaks inexplicably after two months. The mobile phone company says sorry, we can only provide you with a new handset within 30 days under our guarantee and that time has passed, so we’ll repair, then repair again and again… They have forgotten to tell you that you have consumer rights. The law says nothing about a replacement not being allowed after 30 days, so ask for one.
A hot topic
The issue of guarantees and warranties is a hot topic right now, so much so that it’s a discussion topic at the annual European Commission consumer conference in Brussels next month.
Part of the reason this issue is in the spotlight is because of a successful case that the Italian consumer agency took against Apple.
Basically Apple was providing a free one-year warranty with their products and then inviting customers to pay for extended warranties. Nothing wrong with that per se, but what Apple was not doing was also informing their customers that they had free consumer rights anyway.
In other words Apple was pushing information about their one-year free warranty and extended paid-for version, but not pointing out clearly that consumer law protected consumers anyway. (And their warranties for purchase aren’t cheap i.e. €79 for an iPad (two years cover) or as much as €249 for three years cover for your Mac Book).
In December 2011, Apple (Italian retail divisions) was fined €900,000 by the Italian competition authority (AMCG) essentially for providing misleading information to customers.
Apple lost their appeal last summer, there was a further fine and consumer organisations in other EU countries threatened to sue also. (Belgium’s Test-Achats filed a lawsuit just last month). Last September, EU Commissioner for Justice and European Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding wrote to Ministers in all Member States referring to the Apple case as “unacceptable marketing practices” and asking that enforcement authorities ensure that the law is complied with in their country.
Apple has since changed the content on their website to show that you have 1) their free guarantee, 2) a purchased extended one should you wish and 3) your rights. Based on this, somewhat clearer information, consumers should be able to make a more informed choice.
This goes not just for Apple, but for any manufacturer and/or retailer and is especially relevant to electrical products, mobile phones and cars as they tend to come with a manufacturer’s warranty, either those provided for free or paid for.
Why is this important for consumers?
It is very positive that this issue is being highlighted and enforced as in my experience consumers are too often confused between their statutory rights on the one hand, and the protection offered under manufacturers’ warranties on the other. It is often the case that a company will stress the protection their customer has under a manufacturer’s warranty but not the customers’ statutory entitlements.
As a result many times consumers have said to me that as the one year manufacturer’s warranty was up for example, they assumed that they could not complain further about a faulty product or get any redress – this is simply not the case.