Last updated on February 3rd, 2017
We are all familiar with the phrase, “I’m sorry but the guarantee has run out so there’s nothing we can do”, which is often a complete lie – at least in many cases. If the manufacturer’s engineer says it then technically it is true because they have no obligation under the sale of goods act – but the retailer does, and they can’t just fob us off by sympathising about how our guarantee has run out. Here is just one example which proves that this response is not always true.
Expensive coffee machine example
A Which? member bought an “expensive” coffee machine and after 30 months it broke down suffering a serious fault. This is 18 months out of guarantee. However, Which? advised him that an expensive coffee machine should be expected to last more than 2 and a half years so he was entitled to have it repaired free of charge by the retailer who had sold him a product that was not of satisfactory quality.
Had the fault been relatively minor the advice may have been different, likewise, if the coffee machine had been a cheap one, or it had been used in an abnormally heavy way such as in a works canteen. We can’t take it for granted that any fault on any appliance at 2 and a half years should be repaired free of charge under the sale of goods act, but it’s useful to have real life examples like this as a yard stick because it can help us gauge our own circumstances.
Out of guarantee appliances
When relating to washing machines or other white goods appliances it will depend on how much it cost, how it has been used, and what’s gone wrong. If you buy an expensive appliance (especially a brand which sells on a high quality image) which suffers an expensive breakdown after a few years you may be entitled to a free repair if you have used it normally and looked after it. I have heard of people winning cases when drum bearings have failed on washing machines almost 5 years old.
Conversely, if you paid £199 for a budget washer, and used it every day – twice a day – to wash for a family of 5 and it is exhausted and scrap after 3 years, it may well be that this is acceptable due to the cheapness of the appliance and the hard life it’s had. Even with such a short life it would have only cost £66 per year – £1.27 a week. I would think £1.27 a week to do 14 washes is pretty reasonable. So it’s necessary to try and look at the whole picture before deciding if you should be disgruntled or not.
Sale of goods act doesn’t cover all breakdowns
It’s important to be aware that the sale of goods act does not say that an appliance or product should never break down, or even that it shouldn’t break down before a certain time period (other than the first 6 months in which case it would be deemed to have an inherent fault). It says they should last a reasonable time and be free from inherent faults. Relatively minor faults are not the issue in my opinion, it’s very expensive faults – especially those that aren’t economical to repair or cannot be repaired by design. Sadly, too much is open to (mis)interpretation and most retailer’s staff still say there’s nothing they can do once it is out of guarantee, but this is completely untrue in many cases. They too often completely ignore their responsibilities under the sale of goods act.
The status quo is likely to endure. Few if any retailers are going to be anything but stubborn once your appliance is out of guarantee because it’s going to cost them time and money. However, the case highlighted above (and many others I know of) prove that even when well out of guarantee people can still be entitled to a free repair or replacement if the circumstances are right.
Consider taking advantage of the Which? £1 trial offer to become a more powerful and informed consumer. They have consumer helplines and forums to put your case too or learn from the experience of others.
Here’s another example (from Which? legal). A customer had an automatic garage door fitted, which came with a 2 year guarantee. During the guarantee a part failed twice and was replaced. However, when the same part failed again 8 months outside the guarantee the company claimed he had to pay because it was out of guarantee. Which? said this was untrue. Under the Sale of Goods act goods should be of satisfactory quality and this includes being durable, so the same part failing 3 times in 3 years is definitely not complying. Which? advised him he was entitled to a free repair. In this case, the company involved still refused so he was able to claim from the credit card company who eventually agreed it was jointly liable under section 75 of the Credit Act. If they hadn’t agreed to pay, he would have had to take the garage company to the small claims court.
There’s another example of a customer with an iPhone which was 4 months out of guarantee faced with a £130 bill because the on off switch went faulty. She eventually got compensation for the repair costs (with help from Which?) from T-mobile who had repeatedly refused to accept any liability. They eventually paid up when taken to the small claims court (without accepting any liability).
Is this why we have so much trouble getting appliances repaired or replaced when faulty?
The current system doesn’t work properly because it relies on the good will of the retailer to own up and admit they have a responsibility to repair or replace some appliances when they are out of the manufacturers guarantee. In practice, because the manufacturer has no obligation under the sale of goods act then once their guarantee has run out they tend to wash their hands of any problems. The retailers are then left to to foot the entire bill, and they don’t like it. For a more in depth look at this problem see here – Is the sale of goods act too hard on retailers?