When goods turn bad
HOW LONG SHOULD YOUR APPLIANCES LAST BEFORE THEY HIT THE SCRAP HEAP?
IT’S a frustrating feeling. An appliance you bought a few years ago dies suddenly, causing you to curse your bad luck and wistfully remember the days when fridges, ovens and washing machines used to last for decades.
Breakdowns appear increasingly common, with research by consumer group Choice finding that in the past year almost one-quarter of households experienced a product that stopped working sooner than it should. Small kitchen appliances caused the most issues, followed by whitegoods and large kitchen appliances, phones, TVs and computers.
Knowing exactly how long your goods should last is a grey area and depends on things such as the appliance’s price, how it’s used, and what a reasonable customer expectation would be.
Federal and state consumer authorities have produced a 15-page guide explaining these factors, but it contains no specific time frames.
Consumers shouldn’t automatically sign up for extended warranties to protect themselves, because the law gives them rights even after an appliance is out of warranty.
Choice director of campaigns Erin Turner says large appliances such as fridges and ovens should last longer than a few years.
“If your product breaks in that time you have rights under the Australian Consumer Law,” she says.
“A lot of people assume you can only get a fix in the warranty period, which isn’t true. Your Australian Consumer Law rights often last a lot longer than that limited warranty.”
Turner says Choice’s laboratory examinations of products found some are built to last.
“They’re made with high quality materials and designed to allow broken components, like batteries or small parts, to be easily replaced,” she says.
Other appliances are made in ways that cause problems later. “For example, they use plastic parts instead of metal or glue instead of screws,” Turner says. Choice has an online guide to the life expectancies of appliances and when it’s cheaper to replace rather than repair. An Australian Competition and Consumer Commission spokeswoman says a product’s quality and expected life should be assessed on a case-by-case basis, and says extended warranties do not replace the guarantees under Australian Consumer Law.
“Consumers should do their research before paying extra for extended warranties, such as asking the supplier to provide them with specific information about what the extended warranty gives them over and above their automatic consumer guarantees,” she says.
“If the products do not meet the consumer guarantees, consumers should first contact the retailer for a remedy, which can include a repair, replacement or refund.
“Retailers cannot refuse to help by sending consumers to the manufacturer.”
If the problem is not resolved by the retailer, a person can contact their state or territory consumer protection agency to help with dispute resolution, the ACCC spokeswoman says.
Choice’s Turner says the retailer is the first place to contact.
“Make your request in writing and mention that you’re eligible for a fix under the Australian Consumer Law,” she says. “They may ask you for a receipt but you can also show an email, delivery slip or other documents that show proof of purchase.”
Unresolved complaints can be escalated with state or territory fair trading bodies, Turner says, and “if you’ve got a really shonky product and company on your hands, let Choice know”.
She says most extended warranties aren’t worth the money.
“If someone tries to sell you an extended warranty, ask them what it offers you in addition to your rights under the Australian Consumer Law.”