Extended warranties: are they worth the paper they’re written on?

‘They don’t make ’em like they used to’ tends to be our general attitude in this fast-paced world — products are increasingly disposable, replaceable and not made to last. This is simply reality, but only to some extent: it’s important to remember that manufacturers and retailers still have an obligation to provide customers with goods that are both safe and durable. Here, we consider your rights and responsibilities under consumer-protection law.

The law

When the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) Act came into force in 2011, it clarified many consumer rights that were ambiguous under the previous Act. To be specific, the ACL Act sets out a statutory guarantee that products must be fit for their common purposes, free from defects, durable and safe — definitions that must accord with the standards of a ‘reasonable consumer’. This means that the manufacturer or retailer may have to guarantee a product outside the warranty period they’ve provided.

Companies’ obligations

In determining a manufacturer’s or retailer’s obligation, the ACL Act also takes into consideration the nature of the goods; the price or value; and any statements about the product, whether they’re part of its marketing or a comment from the manufacturer or a salesperson. The most common example of this is a TV. If you pay $1500 for a TV, it’s reasonable to expect to enjoy regular use of it for more than 12 months. And if you buy a big-brand TV, as opposed to an unknown brand of lesser quality, you’d expect to use it for much longer.

Extended warranties: are they worth it?

Many extended warranties (or ‘product care’ packages, as some companies call them) don’t necessarily equate to the rights of the ACL Act. According to an investigation conducted by the consumer-advocacy group Choice, some companies will assist only in the case of a minor fault. If the product has a major fault, the warranty or product-care package will provide no remedy.

In other cases, an extended warranty may provide additional assistance, but only if you purchase the longest available extended warranty, which is usually for an extra four to five years — and often costs a pretty penny.

Ultimately, your best defence, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), is to do your research before paying for an extended warranty. Always ask the supplier to confirm what the warranty provides that your consumer rights under the ACL Act don’t already cover.

Consumer-rights claims

If you’ve bought a product that has failed to meet the ACL Act’s standards, your first step is to return it to the retailer and request a refund or exchange. The Act may require them to guarantee the product, even if the warranty period has passed.

If the retailer refuses your request, and you believe you have a claim, it’s time to seek independent legal advice. You may have grounds to seek reimbursement for the product through your state or territory’s consumer-affairs or civil-claims tribunal.

Sometimes a failure to meet product standards can result in personal injury. Take this recent case, for instance: a customer bought a lantern from a camping store, and the lantern later exploded, causing the customer to suffer a hearing impairment. In cases such as these, you may be entitled to consumer compensation.

If a faulty product causes personal injury, you can pursue a claim under the ACL Act or the Wrongs Act. Each Act is different, so their thresholds, caps and compensatory damages vary. A lawyer can assess your injuries to advise you on the best course of action.

Be aware that consumer protections do not extend to change-of-mind purchases. In these cases, refunds and exchanges are not enshrined in law — they’re at the discretion of the individual retailers.

It’s important to understand your rights and responsibilities as a consumer. These legal protections ensure that the products you buy are safe and durable, and they protect you from injury. They’re a guarantee that at the end of the day, you get what you pay for.

Dimi Ioannou is a Principal in Maurice Blackburns Melbourne office.

TOPIC: Consumer protection

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Dimi Ioannou

Maurice Blackburn Melbourne
Dimi Ioannou is a Principal Lawyer and Practice Group Leader at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers in charge of the firm’s Public and Product Liability team in Melbourne. Dimi is an accredited specialist in personal injury law. Dimi works in the area of public liability and represents clients in a wide range of consumer law litigation involving different product liability claims. Dimi also represents families at coronial inquests, acting on behalf of the families of those who have died as a result of negligence, and she is a senior member of the firm's national sexual and institutional abuse compensation team and has a particular interest in bringing claims for the survivors of childhood sexual abuse. She is specially trained in trauma informed practice which ensures she works with clients to access justice in a way that recognises the complex trauma they have suffered. Dimi has also represented hundreds of road accident clients who have lodged compensation claims with the Transport Accident Commission. Dimi is passionate and committed about defending the rights of her clients’ entitlements. She knows that the legal world can be daunting, therefore, makes the process as easy as possible for those she is advocating on behalf of. She has provided legal advice to many Maurice Blackburn clients and has been active in litigation in both the County and Supreme courts. She also advocates in many forums for the rights of those who have sustained serious injuries. “We’ve been helping clients for almost 100 years at Maurice Blackburn, and public safety is something I take very seriously. It’s important that people know they are protected if something goes wrong through the negligence of someone else and I pride myself on achieving a just outcome for those affected”. Dimi speaks fluent Greek and is actively involved in Melbourne’s Greek community. Accreditations & memberships Law Institute of Victoria Accredited Personal Injury Specialist Australian Lawyers Alliance member Law Institute of Victoria Public Liability Committee member Law Institute of Victoria Litigation Lawyers Executive Committee member  Leadership program, Mt Eliza Business School, 2014  ...

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