/ Money

Are extended warranty deals worth it?

An extra level of protection for peace of mind, or a duff deal? What’s your experience with warranties?

All electrical goods come with a warranty, but some retailers sell extended warranties

Like an insurance policy for your product, warranties are supposed to be an additional level of protection on top of your statutory rights. But is this always the case, and are warranties really worth it?

Warranty woes

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recently reprimanded the retailer Argos for the way it sold extended warranties.

The CMA found that Argos wasn’t providing customers with the necessary information they needed to compare the price of an extended warranty offer. 

In 2012, Argos signed a legally binding agreement to provide a link to a price comparison website when it offered an extended warranty for electrical products online. This link would allow customers to compare prices and help inform their decision over whether or not to buy an extended warranty.

An investigation found that Argos hadn’t displayed this link for more than 400,000 sales of extended warranties and 114,000 customers could’ve found a better deal through the comparison website.

Affected customers are being contacted by Argos and will be offered an e-gift card as a goodwill payment. 

This isn’t the first time a retailer has breached the rules around selling warranties. In 2019, the CMA found that Currys PC World may have been mis-selling extended warranties after finding examples of staff incorrectly telling customers that its warranty covered cosmetic damage, and failing to provide customers with a quote before selling the warranty. 

Warranty rights

You have statutory rights that apply to everything you buy and these rights are valid no matter what warranty or guarantee you sign up for. Your rights are covered under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Warranties can be more generous than your statutory rights, but sometimes these products have exclusions and some warranties lapse after a short period of time.

You should be provided with all the necessary information about the cost and cover of a warranty before you buy it. Make sure you read the terms and conditions before you buy an extended warranty as you could find that your rights are already covered.

You may even find that an existing insurance policy (home, packaged bank account or gadget insurance) would give you sufficient cover, so a warranty could be a complete waste of money. 

Your experiences

Which? Has carried out lots of research into warranties, but we want to hear more about your experience with these products. 

Have you found a warranty to be a useful tool for you? Or have you been sold a warranty that’s turned out to be a duff deal? Do you think you could have been mis-sold a warranty? 

Let us know in the comments.

Comments

I avoid extended warranties because I believe they are poor value for money. It’s not as bad as it was thirty years ago when Which? was warning us about large electrical retailers pushing customers hard to buy extremely expensive extended warranties.

I would prefer manufacturers to offer a minimum of five year guarantees on products rather than involving D&G or other insurer. If the manufacturer is responsible for their products it will help ensure that they are well made because manufacturers could not afford to provide many replacements.

I have never purchased an extended warranty but do look for free ones thrown it at purchase time. It is the main reason I often buy from John Lewis, but other retailers will offer them too.

Also some manufacturers sometimes give free extended warranties when you register an appliance, so this is worth doing.

I don’t know about Argos, but Curry’s usually offer them for just about everything and I don’t see the point in almost paying again for some lower priced items.

P.S. Good to see you writing convos again Lauren. 🙂

I agree that, for many appliances, manufacturers’ repair or replace guarantees should be longer than most currently are. 6 years would match the alternative remedy of using the Consumer Rights Act.

However most appliances should have a much longer life than 5 or 6 years. I would like to see the manufacturers offering optional extended warranties, at a price, for up to 10 years. Those who produce well made and reliable products could, and hopefully would, be cheaper for their warranties than those of the poorer quality cheaper makers. So for those who want peace of mind there should be a better solution than generic D&G policies, for example. Some car manufacturers offer these.

There are no doubt many people who will choose to buy cheap products with more limited lives because of lack of money or infrequent use, for example. I wonder if such sales should be restricted for “sustainability” motives?

I do not normally consider an extended warranty to be worthwhile; buy a decent quality appliance in the first place and save the premiums (well, we don’t really do that, do we?) towards repairs or replacement. However, we bought a superseded Miele dishwasher at a good price with a useful package of consumables; it was also offered with a 10 year warranty for £149 (8 extra years repair or replace, so £18.60 a year) which, on the spur of the moment, we took. Peace of mind as although Miele are very reliable they are expensive for spares and repair costs. As it happens someone slammed the door far too hard and dislodged the control panel; repaired under warranty so I reckon we got our money’s worth.

When we buy an appliance we should expect a decent life; much data exists to show what this should be. If an appliances fails unreasonably early, it is generally not the owners fault but down to an early failure within the appliance, such as design, assembly, component quality or some such. I do not think the owner should suffer the costs when the product clearly lacks durability. We should make far more use of the Consumer Rights Act “durability” clause, but need support from a consumers’ association to help in claims. The responsibility is the retailers, since that is where the buyer’s contract rests. They, in turn, should be able to recover costs from their supplier and it may make them consider the quality of products they offer for sale.

The Consumer Rights Act makes provision for a customer to take action against a retailer during the five or six years after purchase dependent on where you live in the UK. It is not a guarantee and the retailer is within their rights to ask the owner to provide evidence that the product does not meet the requirements set out in the Act. The product must be:
> Of satisfactory quality.
> Fit for the consumer’s particular purpose.
> As described.

After six months, the consumer can be asked to provide evidence that a product does not meet these requirements, effectively to prove that a product had an inherent defect at the time of purchase. This could be done by paying for an expert’s report, which should distinguish between normal wear & tear and premature failure caused by some inadequacy in the design or materials used in construction. A guarantee may provide additional rights.

Many faults are caused by factors outside the control of manufacturers. This morning I dismantled a fresh water pump that is about three years old. The automatic shut-off switch had failed, but it was a fault due to standing idle for months rather than a defect. The plunger operating the switch had a build-up of limescale as I had suspected and simple dismantling and cleaning restored proper operation. Had I claimed under the CRA I doubt that I would have been successful.

Some people who have no knowledge of the CRA manage to obtain free replacements or discounts on new products by expressing their disappointment or mentioning that they are loyal customers. From asking friends and family this seems to be an effective approach and one requires no knowledge of the law.

I wish we could get up a test case on ‘durability’ with the cooperation of Which? and a consumer’s suitable example.

There is nothing to prevent us reporting our own experiences here, and some of us have done that. The more reports the better. It would be interesting to learn the outcome of cases that have gone to court.

True, but that in itself does not get a test case in front of a court.

I feel we need Which? [in the absence of any other competent authority] to assist. I suggest that an action as I propose would be beyond the bounds and the means of a private individual as it would surely be strongly resisted and defended to the highest level. In any case, the likelihood is that they would be bought off in the event that they showed a determination to proceed.

The Which? legal department must have [or could obtain] knowledge of cases that have already come before the courts and been determined. Its consumer rights team must also have many reports from consumers [not necessarily arising through Which? Conversation] about ‘consumer durables’ – predominantly white goods and brown goods – that have failed before a reasonable period has elapsed of realistic family use. I would exclude for this present purpose textiles and upholstery because they are too open to dispute but they could still be subject to a durability claim if the general principles were established in a strong case based on a less subjective interpretation [such as ‘the on/off switch has broken so the item does not work‘, which is a basic and indisputable binary defect].

Which? might not have enough practical knowledge of the issues, relying mainly as it does on hearsay and feedback in the first instance, so it could seek the support of colleagues in Citizens Advice for case evidence and opinions and also discuss this with its friends in the Trading Standards Institute for guidance on what would be the most reasonable subject for a test case based on the profession’s knowledge of what causes consumers the most concern and frustration in seeking a remedy. But Which? does have an impressive body and long record of test results on domestic products which could indicate a line of attack when a suitable case emerges.

It is noticeable that, so far as I can recall. Which? has never made any pronouncement in respect of the application of the durability clauses in the Consumer Rights Act when they have been raised in Which? Conversation. There is possibly a general reluctance to stray into this untried and untested area of consumer law and the power of the big brands, acting collectively through their trade associations, might be a major deterrent. But embracing the sustainability agenda, advocating environmental responsibility, and criticising built-in obsolescence, surely implies a duty to represent and protect consumers’ interests at the roots of the issue of durability.

I recall that Which? has in the Conversations said that cases are too specific to offer general advice about making claims under the Consumer Rights Act, instead inviting us to make use of Which? Legal. At a cost of £29 for membership plus £9 per month that looks good value if you need help.

@gmartin Hi George – Would it be possible for someone from the Which? Legal team to host a Conversation about using the CRA? That could focus on the principles and obtaining evidence to support a claim.

So long as everyone avoids taking a case through the justice system we shall never know whether the durability clauses in the CRA have any value. Using Which? Legal service is cheap and no doubt effective because the other party will probably recognise a good case when they see one, and I wouldn’t want Which? to waste its money on a poor case.

I felt that if there were a good case with potentially widespread consumer betterment it might appeal to Which? to take it all the way.

I would appreciate it if we could have a Conversation hosted by Which? Legal to explore and explain the use of the durability provisions in the CRA.

Thanks, Lauren – it’s good to see you here again.

I am sure we can crack the old durability nut if we put our minds to it, and I think it would be well worth while for consumers if we could do so.

Em says:
5 April 2021

Are extended warranty deals worth it?

No. By definition of what they are, almost never.

Extended warranties are a type of insurance product. Insurance is designed to pool risk. Policyholders pay into a fund, and the fund compensates those who have suffered an insured loss.

But unlike historical mutual insurance schemes, commercial insurers such as D&G have to pay their staff to administer policies, large commissions to their agents including retailers who push their products, and owners or shareholders who expect to make a profit from the company’s operations year-on-year. Also Insurance Premium Tax of 20% to HMRC.

This is true of all forms of insurance, but the premium you pay for risk avoidance needs to be balanced against the unaffordability of any potential loss you might incur.

We can all agree that the cost of losing our home and, in most cases, contents would be unaffordable. Car insurance is required by law, because the financial consequences of you causing an accident to a third party are almost unlimited. The value of replacing your car is a relatively small element, although more common, of the total risk underwritten by the insurer on your behalf.

Extended warranties are quite different. The insurer’s total liability is capped to the value of the appliance. Maybe a few hundred pounds, but no different to the excess most people carry on their car insurance, or the cost of a trip to the garage for repairs and servicing.

Over the typical life of a product, you will pay more than its value in premiums, which is why the insurer is happy to lock you in with a subscription plan and eventually pay for a brand new replacement when it becomes unrepairable.

The D&G annual company report for 2019 states: “Expressed as a proportion of underlying revenue the repairs and claims cost ratio increased from 43% to 45%.”.

That’s about the same odds as you winning money on a scratch card. In other words, put the money in a jar which you could be paying for all of your appliance extended warranties, and you could have enough money to repair or replace them as they fail – twice over. About the same odds as winning on a scratch card. It’s no wonder that the current investors in D&G, CVC Capital Partners, also owned Sky Betting and Gaming – it’s basically the same business model.

To answer your remaining questions:

Have you found a warranty to be a useful tool for you? – No.

Or have you been sold a warranty that’s turned out to be a duff deal?
I don’t buy them because I don’t gamble with my money.

Do you think you could have been mis-sold a warranty?
Yes, if I didn’t work in the insurance the business.

You might as well ask punters leaving a race track if they had a good day. There will always be a few exceptions to the majority that go home with empty pockets.

Em says:
5 April 2021

One other aspect of the business of extended warranty insurance I forgot to mention, is that these companies do not have to cater for catastrophic risks in any way, shape or form. These are unusual patterns of natural events, like major floods, storms, fires or disease, that have the potential to wipe out profits in a given period.

Insurers exposed to such risks build up reserves for lean years and/or re-insure these risks to third parties. Since there is no conceivable reason why a provider of extended warranties needs to cater for such events, their premiums are way too high for the very limited risks they are carrying.

It would be interesting to hear from anyone who routinely buys extended warranties and considers them good value for money. Although I regard extended warranties as poor value for money I can see the convenience of having a number to call rather than having to find a local repairer.

I never opt in to extended warranties.

Sometimes, I have accepted one as part of a package price when buying a used motor vehicle.

Within living memory, that did at least cover the cost of replacing the front wheel bearings on a nearly new BMW.

Like any other insurance I guess extended warranties can only be regarded as “good value for money” if you make a claim that exceeds your premiums paid. A bit like the lottery.

There are people, though, who treat insurances as offering peace of mind; no big bills if something goes wrong and ease of getting a problem put right (hopefully). A lot of people are not as savvy as others at finding repairers easily or quickly, or reliably, and for them warranties can offer comfort. Like the AA. What I would like to see is a review of all the warranties on offer and their terms and costs, including multi-appliance cover. Maybe as well as introducing a Convo Which? could research an article? @ldeitz, nice to see you back on these pages Lauren.

Em says:
5 April 2021

I agree that paying for car breakdown insurance is probably worthwhile. But there is a safety aspect to this. Being stranded at the side of busy motorway or down a quiet lane is no joke. And it is the price we all have to pay for having no spare tyre.

Also multi-appliance cover might make more sense financially. There should be lower administration costs, and insurers/suppliers could offer special discounts if you source all your appliances from the same manufacturer.

For the consumer it becomes less of a Monte Carlo game of win or bust – i.e. which appliance(s) do I insure. There is a relative certainty that you will be able to benefit from the policy at some time, when at least one of your appliances breaks down.

Although this would help to make the odds more favourable, you are still guaranteed to lose money in the long run, unless you are unusually unlucky or you use appliances in voilation of the terms (e.g. take in laundry or cook from home as a commerical enterprise).

I have been looking at appliance insurance and see that Domestic & General includes accidental damage cover, which might be a worthwhile bonus. Most manufacturers’ guarantees and our statutory rights under the Consumer Rights Act do not provide accidental damage cover.

If I had half a dozen kids and the washing machine was in use a couple of times a day I would be tempted.

We have only taken out one insurance with Domestic & General and will never do so again.

We bought a 29″ CRT TV when wide-screen LCD displays were just coming on the market and people looked squashed. It was almost the best TV you could get at that time and retailed at £1500 although we paid a bit less as regular customers of an independent electrical store.

As it was big and expensive, insurance seemed a good idea at the time after horrendous repair experiences with the previous TV.

The TV had one repair in about 10 years when the on/off switch failed, then it stopped working and was unrepairable as the part was no longer available.

It was a repair or replace policy but as technology had changed and CRTs were no longer available, they modelled a replacement on almost the cheapest TV currently on the market in 2007.

The insurance payments had gone up, but they put the value of the TV down and we received just £177. The electrical store even wrote to D&G on our behalf and suggested an equivalent replacement model but their letter was ignored.

D&G wouldn’t budge, they wouldn’t reply to letters, but they continued to take payments that we had to fight to get back.

Never again.

I think this is a general problem with insurance companies, Alfa. There have been examples of customers being let down with unsatisfactory replacements in the recent Conversation about Currys.

When I started to order online from John Lewis I was disappointed to find that their five year guarantee for a product was in fact the manufacturer’s guarantee plus a three warranty from D&G. I know the terms are sometimes used interchangeably but it can cause confusion. https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/advice/when-can-i-use-a-manufacturer-s-warranty-or-guarantee-apyZm8F75DFU

Thanks Lauren. A D&G policy covers accidental damage but one from Currys does not, though I think it used to.

GMH says:
6 April 2021

We have just brought 8 kitchen appliances at a total cost of £3000, for our new integrated kitchen and have taken out extended warranty policies for 6 of the appliances with D&G which includes accidental damage. We have spent alot of money to buy these items and wanted the peace of mind of knowing that if one of them broke down (especially) due to accidental damage, then it would be covered at no extra cost. We are paying around £20 per month for the cover on all 6 items. Not sure if after reading the comments above that it would be better to save this money for use if we ever needed to repair any of them. Some manufacturers guarantees only cover for parts and not labour and do not cover for accidental damage. I would be interested to know how many claims are made due to accidental damage rather than manufacturer fault. It is a risk that you take against the likelihood of something going wrong. I usually err on the side of caution and get the extra cover for peace of mind, but perhaps that is not the best approach.

It is interesting to hear a case being made for extended warranties and £20 per month seems reasonable for six appliances if you want peace of mind. My impression is that extended warranties have become better value in the past 30 years but not enough to tempt me.

I agree that it would be interesting to find out about the number of claims caused by accidental damage.

Em says:
6 April 2021

@GMH – Have you looked at the cost of adding accidental cover to your household contents. I doubt it would add £240 per year.

I wondered about that, but the excess might make it not worth claiming and if you do claim the insurer might offer a higher renewal premium. I presume that D&G includes accidental damage cover because some appliances are easily damaged by user error – washing machines in particular.

Replacement of a ‘non-repairable’ product with an inferior one would be my main concern.

Em says:
6 April 2021

Also, do not assume that the premium you are paying for new products still under manufacturer’s warranty will continue at that rate. D&G T&Cs state:

The premium payable is fixed for the first year of cover. In the
future it may increase. At the start of both the second and third
year of cover, the monthly premium will increase by no more
than £1. As a result the total premium payable for that year will
increase by no more than £12, when compared to the previous
year

I assume that up to £1 increase is per appliance. And after that, they can charge what they like to continue cover.

Em says:
6 April 2021

@wavechange – Yes, I thought about the excess on contents after posting. In general, I would never make a claim of less than £500 on household insurance, since the excess probably doesn’t make it worthwhile, and they generally up the premium the following year. Also, you have to disclose the claim if shopping around for a better deal, if asked.

Hence I tend to go for the maximum excess on household and car insurance, and pocket the savings for a rainy day.

But the upside of household accidental damage is that it covers all your contents, not just appliances. A ruined carpet costs more than a smashed hob.

The excess on my contents insurance is currently £200 and I would consider increasing this as you have suggested, Em. I did this with my medical insurance when the annual premium started to become expensive.

Appliances might fail but you would have to be very unlucky to have to replace several of them in a year. In the past five years, only an old (2005) dishwasher has let me down and after studying a couple of YouTube videos it was easy to fix, at no cost.

Mandy says:
6 April 2021

We got an extended warranty of 5 years for our cooker at a cost of £80. The cooker stopped working about a month before the end of the warranty period, they send out an engineer, deemed it unfixable and let us choose a brand new oven! Found that pretty helpful. But I guess it’s just a risk thing, you would normally assume a new product would last 5 or more years anyway.

According to this recent Which? report, ovens and other white goods can last a remarkably long time: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/12/the-appliances-that-last-the-longest/

Many people replace working appliances when they have their kitchen refurbished, which is fashionable but not particularly good for the environment.

When I originally looked at this information, and other lifetime data Which? had published, I wondered why they seemed so reticent about “durability” claims under the Consumer Rights Act. They have the evidence to show what should be reasonably expected, particularly useful when a product fails just out if guarantee.

It’s not possible to predict how long an appliance will last but as we know the Consumer Rights Act allows consumers to make a claim against the retailer for six years in most of the UK. After six months the retailer can require the owner to provide evidence that the product is not of satisfactory quality if it has failed prematurely. One way would be to pay for an expert’s report that might demonstrate a deficiency in the design or some component of the product. As we have both found, retailers don’t always require this evidence and I have never been asked to provide a report. There is no harm in trying.

Thanks to the internet we might find evidence of of other users with the same problem. When I bought my home, five years ago, I found ample evidence online that the failure of an expensive circuit board was a particular weakness of the boiler and that the replacement produced by a different manufacturer was more reliable. The first time the boiler was serviced I was warned about the weakness but then told that the board had been replaced. Having spoken to field service engineers who go into homes to fix appliances, they know what goes wrong with particular appliances and may well have commonly needed spares in their van. I’m surprised that Which? has not made use of their expertise.

Unfortunately there is no way of predicting how long a complex product like an appliance will last, which is why it would be helpful to have a minimum guarantee period of five or six years (as you mentioned, this would match the duration of the claim period allowed by the CRA) and for manufacturers to offer an extended warranty.

Using the knowledge and experience of field technicians would seem elementary and Which? has a catalogue full of trusted traders who could surely be approached for intelligence on product durability, if only as a guide for framing the questions put to consumers in Which?’s own Connect surveys.

I agree that it would be useful to make use of the experience of Trusted Traders, John. They will be aware of specific weaknesses of different makes and models and the typical cost of repairs.

Unfortunately information on durability is likely to relate to models that are no longer in production, so may be of limited value to someone who is choosing a new appliance.

As others have pointed out, the Connect surveys should ask about the amount of use that products receive. It does not matter for fridges and freezers, which are in continuous use, but a washing machine might be used once a week by an elderly person living alone or twice a day by a family.

It’s not possible to predict how long an appliance will last”. This is not the point. It is possible to predict how long a product should normally last. Plenty of scientific and engineering techniques are used to establish this. Mean time between failures of components, quality control, safety factors on stressed components, ….. for example. It is why planes are safe to fly in, why discharge lamps last as long, and why the products reported by Which?’s consumers have the lives they generally have.

The issue is this. If you buy a product and it fails unusually quickly, compared to similar products, when used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, should the purchaser be responsible for the cost of repair or replacement when they have played no part in the failure? Only the manufacturer has had any control over the product they supply.
I had a fridge freezer fail after 3 years, a year out of warranty. The manufacturer’s engineer examined it and found that the insulation had become unbonded from the housing. It was not repairable. I made a claim against the retailer on the basis that the appliance lacked reasonable durability and they replaced it. Could I have proved that it was a pre-existing fault? Might have been difficult and costly.

You could argue that you should just be able to prove a fault from new. That can be difficult or impossible, expensive when employing an expert. It also misinterprets the meaning of “fault”; “fault” does not only mean an obvious defect but simply any failure to meet the purchaser’s contract with the seller, and that includes “durable”.

You could argue that we need longer guarantees or warranties. But on their own these are not necessarily adequate. They will be constructed by the manufacturer or insurer and may well not be always favourable to the purchaser. In contrast, The Consumer Rights Act 2015 gives legal rights to the consumer and should be fair to both parties.

So, in an extreme case, if you buy a £1000 washing machine with a 2 year warranty and it fails after just over 2 years – out of guarantee – I would argue it was not durable (unless an obvious pre-existing fault were found). So, lack of “durability” should be clear and a claim should be resolved. We have seen many posts over the years where products have failed like this but claims have been resisted. But we should also be able to make claims in less extreme cases. Data showing just how long in practice products last should clearly demonstrate within what time period an “unexplained” failure should be classed is lacking reasonable durability. Which? have access to a lot of this information and, I would suggest, should be helping consumers by putting it together in a usable form. We need this data accumulated and presented in ways that allow us to approach a retailer with a sound case for redress when there is lack of durability.

These are the relevant bits of the Consumer Rights Act, as explained:

durability – the durability requirement is that the item should
work or last for a reasonable time but it does not have to
remain of satisfactory quality…

reasonable time – …. What is reasonable is determined by taking
everything into account and considering what an impartial
person would think is reasonable.
Your responsibilities for the goods you sell
You are responsible for the goods you sell and if a customer
returns an item they purchased from you that is faulty (it does
not conform to contract) because it
…..
• is not of satisfactory quality
you (not the manufacturer or supplier) are legally obliged
to resolve the matter
• be of satisfactory quality
quality of goods includes
…….
– durability

If I bought an appliance and it failed outside the guarantee period but within the six year limit of the CRA I would make a claim against the retailer under the CRA unless there had been accidental damage.

In the case of your fridge it seems highly likely that there was an inherent defect and you were happy with the way that the problem was dealt with. I received a free repair of an Apple laptop that was well over three years old. I had expected to have to provide an expert’s report but that was not required.

Looking at your example of a £1000 washing machine with a 2 year warranty, I would make a claim against the retailer but would be prepared to try to obtain an expert’s report if requested, so that the nature of the fault could be investigated. If there was evidence of misuse or need for replacement of a wear & tear item such as motor brushes then it would not make sense to make a claim. When the retailer has accepted a claim then a partial refund or discount on a new machine can be negotiated and the Act makes provision for the purchase price to be taken into account so it would be reasonable to expect more if the product in question had been expensive.

In essence I suggest making a claim and be prepared to negotiate a fair solution with the retailer.

@ldeitz Hi Lauren – Does Which? have any figures relating to the use of extended warranties and whether they are considered good value for money?

My impression is that they are more popular with older people, either because they are better able to afford them or because they do not want the hassle of finding someone to sort out a fault.

Em says:
7 April 2021

The D&G annual investors report is a good starting point then. They show a breakdown of D&G customers by demographic.

Interestingly, the income demographics are proportional to the cohorts. Both low and high incomes are buying D&G policies.

Age, as you suspected. There is 5% higher uptake in the 56-75 year old cohort, and 10% less in the youngest.

https://investors.domesticandgeneral.com/media/1227/dg-31379-annual-report-2019-final.pdf

It will be interesting to the reasons why some people choose extended warranties and others do not. I was surprised when former neighbours decided to replace a tumble dryer that was still in good working order, possibly because it it was too old to renew the warranty. That’s a change from when I first knew them nearly 40 years ago, when they owned the oldest tumble dryer I had ever seen.

Alan Fumagalli says:
7 April 2021

I never purchase extended warranties, either save the cost of them for when you need them or simply buy a new machine when it needs replacing, I have save hundreds if not thousands of pounds over the years. Have had sales people been very pushy at time but just say NO if you want to be Quids in!!

Given the terms of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, do we actually need any manufacturers’ or retailers’ warranties at all? They come at a cost which is in the purchase price.

A manufacturer’s guarantee will usually achieve a free repair or replacement without hassle in my experience, even if the customer has no knowledge of their statutory legal rights. Most people are familiar with seeking help if products fail during the guarantee period and are often directed to the manufacturer.

Apart from people who have posted on this site, I know very few who have made a claim under the CRA or are even familiar with its provisions.

I presume that the popularity of extended warranties is that the cover is explained in simple terms that are easy to understand.

I believe that providing a manufacturer’s guarantee is not a legal requirement but I don’t know any appliance manufacturer that does not offer one.

I agree, but a manufacturer’s or retailer’s two- or three-year warranty could be an optional extra rather than a priced-in component of the product.

It is unfortunately not in retailers’ interests to publicise the Consumer Rights Act provisions and the better manufacturers probably have few claims within the life of the basic warranty. I suppose they would argue that taking it out of the sale would lead to an insignificant reduction in the price.

An alternative strategy might be to insist on product registration as a requirement before issuing a warranty.

We have repeatedly asked for CRA rights to be clearly shown in retailers and online in summary so consumers know what they are legally entitled to and not get fobbed off. I have also suggested a more comprehensive leaflet is included with appropriate products, just lke the manufacturer’s guarantee is.

The Consumer Rights Act is there for a purpose – to give the consumer legal protection when things go wrong. There might be considerable difficulty in proving a pre-existing fault, from new, caused an early failure, it might involve a good deal of hassle finding an expert to examine and report on it, and cost. Whereas if an appliance, for example, just stops working far too early in its expected life then lack of “durability” seems pretty clear unless someone can prove otherwise. Retailers should not make life difficult for the consumer who lacks knowledge of their rights. Many retailers may well be cooperative but we see here many are resistant. If the courts made favourable decisions in test cases it might wake such retailers up to dealing properly with their customers.

Guarantees are fine but we do not have many that last 6 years. Maybe when they do then we would not need to lean on the CRA much. But we are not there. Nor should we have to purchase protection if the CRA provides it legally.

“Whereas if an appliance, for example, just stops working far too early in its expected life then lack of “durability” seems pretty clear unless someone can prove otherwise.” That would effectively provide a five or six year guarantee – something that the CRA and its predecessor the Sale of Goods Act were never intended to do.

As it stands, in the first six months the retailer must deal with a fault unless they can demonstrate misuse, whereas after that the reverse burden of proof makes the customer responsible for proving that the product does not meet the requirements set out in the Act.

We have discussed leaflets and information on websites here for the best part of ten years. What might be very helpful would be for Which? (maybe with Citizens Advice) to produce a leaflet offering advice on using guarantees and making claims under the CRA. I would find this handy when making a claim against a well known electrical retailer.

We have ignored Alan’s point at the start of this thread, advising us to ignore extended warranties and buy a replacement product if necessary, thus saving money. I have known many who have taken that approach.

SoGA and the CRA are there to give consumers legal rights, when things go wrong and they are not treated properly. Different products will have different expected lives and the thresholds at which they are deemed to have failed too early will differ, so it does automatically not give a 5 or 6 year warranty. The legal redress offered will reflect the use the consumer has had, unlike most guarantees.

When we buy a product we expect to get what we pay for. Cheap products will be expected to generally last a less time than more expensive ones. But they should last a “reasonable” time, as the law provides. Why should the customer suffer financially when they are let down by a manufacturer. The wording I used was “far too early”.

I was disappointed that the Consumer Rights Act was no more forthcoming than its predecessor concerning durability.

My understanding is that the CRA is intended to provide a fair balance for consumers and retailer. What if a product is worn out or damaged? The retailer is within their rights to ask for a report that establishes the nature of a fault. As I mentioned, the reverse burden of proof applies from six months after purchase.

I believe that each case must be handled on its own merits, as would a case that went to court. If it was intended that a simple formula could be used to calculate a partial refund for a non-repairable product simply based on the cost and period of ownership, surely that would be set out in the Act.

Wavechange – Are you saying that it would not be in the interests of consumers for Which? to take a test case in order to explore what Parliament did intend the law to provide? To my mind that would be an important outcome of a test case.

The Sale of Goods Act 1979 came into force on 1 January 1980, and there are unlikely to be many claims under that Act now arising, so we do not really need to worry about what that legislation was meant to achieve.

We should, however, concern ourselves with the scope of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 which was new legislation [partly modelled on SOGA but not exclusively so].

The 2015 Act was introduced to provide consumers with new or clearer remedies in partial compensation for the then government’s policy to reduce the role of the state – through local authority trading standards and consumer protection services – in enabling consumers to obtain remedies for defective products. It might also have been intended as a stimulus to higher manufacturing standards in order to reduce waste and environmental damage by enabling consumers to obtain redress for products that fail prematurely.

It would be beneficial to know conclusively whether or not the limitation to six years after purchase for bringing an action under the CRA [five years after discovery under Scottish law]
does or does not apply to this legislation. I hope it would not apply because that would create a legal contradiction. It is quite reasonable for many products to have an expected lifespan of well over ten years and some are built to last much longer than that. I agree with Malcolm’s comment above.

One thing that Which?, with the assistance of its supporters, could do to help the court in its deliberations is to build up a Schedule, based on its knowledge and the experience of consumers, showing reasonable expectations of lifespan under normal use for a range of domestic products. Against this, in deciding on remedies, could be factored the price, the extent, frequency, and intensity of use, and the maintenance history of the product.

I see this as a significant part of our endeavours to exist more sustainably.

I am sympathetic to the point Alan was making, but using the law that Parliament has provided might be a better protection than either warranties/guarantees or the form of self-insurance that he was advocating. It might also achieve more durable products by setting out clear markers on reliability and performance for retailers and manufacturers to heed. The throwaway culture has got worse even in the few years since the CRA came into force, so pressing the Act into useful service seems worth while to me.

John – I am always keen for Which? to make use of its members’ cases in order to investigate problems. In the past Which? has used actors to investigate how companies deal with problems and I can see merit in using members with faulty products.

With a fridge or freezer the amount of use is determined simply by age but with a washing machine or tumble dryer it could vary greatly as I said earlier. It’s time that these appliances incorporated a device to record the cumulative hours or cycles of use, just like most printers record the number of pages printed. I posted a link to a recent Which? article showing that most appliances will last in excess of ten years.

I certainly want improved protection for consumers but if we push for too much we are likely to make no progress.

For years I have encouraged friends to make claims under the CRA but for those who find this difficult, simply pointing out that a product has not lasted long is an alternative solution and if you can say you are a loyal customer, so much the better.

I feel that the highest priority should be to push for five or six year guarantees on appliances and encourage manufacturers to provide affordable extended guarantees. I’m not to keen on having to pay for accidental damage protection.

Your approach is perfectly valid. I would just like to go a little further and put the law on the side of consumers and not just in the middle. Since opinion is divided, a court ruling on what the legislation intended would be very useful in my view.

I certainly think it’s worth exploring but a lot of damage to products is caused by consumers. I recall when a friend who was an engineer at BAE started to use my dry vacuum cleaner to suck up water. I stopped him before the motor was wrecked. That is one example but I could give others. You may recall cases mentioned by Kenneth Watt (owner of a repair company) in other Conversations, for example washing machines damaged by unbalanced loads and tumble dryers where the thermal fuse has blown due to opening the door before the end of a drying cycle. If companies have to support careless customers then we will all end up paying more for our products. As someone once said to me, be careful what you wish for.

I suggest that Which? could discuss this with the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy with a view to providing a detailed interpretation of durability in the context of the Act and useful guidance for consumers and businesses.

I still see longer guarantees and encouraging Which? to tell us who provides them as the best way forward, both for the consumer and to promote sustainability.

I think it is an incorrect generalisation to give the impression that a lot of damage is caused by consumers, as if that negated the need to take action on behalf of the many consumers who just suffer an early failure. Many reports over the years of products that fail early, some just out of guarantee, show that we need a means of effective redress. The retailer has the recourse to show the damage is down to the consumer but it would be unfair to assume that the default position should favour the retailer.

We can wish for action by manufacturers but would not expect to have to wait for that to (possibly) happen and take no action n the meantime. What is being overlooked is that manufacturers are international and their customers are worldwide. We, in the UK, are unlikely to have the influence to get them to change their guarantees. Whereas we have UK legislation that already exists to protect UK consumers. We should use what exists while the alternative is still on the wish list.

If Which? and others were to mount a test case it would have to be cast iron and watertight. The subject appliance would have to be examined before doing anything to make sure the failure was due to no act, error or omission by the consumer.

In principle that applies to all claims under guarantee, warranty and the Consumer Rights Act. And in principle it is quite right to examine claims in such detail. In practice I think a pragmatic approach is taken otherwise the whole system would grind to a standstill.

Guarantees and warranties are usually accompanied by restrictions that include user culpability. If the service engineer who repaired my dishwasher had found the failure was caused by myself then I would have been liable for the whole of the call out and repair costs.

Cost of call out to determine a fault may well put many people off making a claim. Manufacturers often require their own approved service engineers to attend the problem. In my experience they are far mor expensive than my local repairer and I would think twice about taking that risk.

I wonder how many failed appliances are discarded when the repair might be simple and greatly extend the working life? If we really do want a more sustainable world we should surely be restoring those that prove suitable for repair. But just how do we do that economically? Or is it better simply to scrap them, recover and recycle the materials? Essentially we then just lose the energy and labour used to make them. The latter is easy to replace. Not the former, though.

I think we are getting muddled between the contractual obligations of the retailer ( as modified by SGA, CRA etc) and the obligations of other players ( generally described as the manufacturer though this is not always the case). The CRA s30 uses guarantee to mean ” an undertaking to the consumer given without extra charge by a person acting in the course of the person’s business” There is no obligation on a manufacturer to give a guarantee and it is for them to determine what they offer. The CRA does not prescribe what undertakings they have to give; merely the way in which they give them. To suggest legislation forcing businesses who are not a party to a contract of sale to give contractual ( or quasi contractual ) commitments to a consumer would be a huge step. In a global economy those obligations would probably (to be enforceable) have to be loaded onto UK based importers of goods rather than on manufacturers on the other side of the world and outside the jurisdiction of the UK. I’m sure it could be done but it would be a very radical step and a big issue of principle.

I am in favour of manufacturers/retailers giving much longer guarantees that better reflect reasonable minimum product lives. They will cost money, of course; they should be cheaper for the most reliable longer lived products and more for the cheaper shorter lived lower quality ones. The manufacturer should know the risk and set costs accordingly. It should be one of the competitive elements when making a purchase. I would be happy to see a free basic guarantee for a minimum period included in the product cost with the manufacturer giving priced options for extended terms. It happens with some makes of car.

However such warranties would need regulation to ensure they are transparent and fair to both parties. Ideally there would then be less need to use the Consumer Rights Act when a failure arises. However the CRA covers far more than just product failures of course. And there will continue to be disputes with retailers, with whom the only contract normally exists, so its protection (for both parties) needs to be robust and to continue.

The CRA already requires a manufacturer/importer sets out in plain and intelligible language the contents of a (voluntarily given) guarantee, the essential particulars for making claims under the guarantee and the duration of the guarantee. They also have to make clear that the consumer has statutory rights – against the retailer – in relation to the goods and that those rights are not affected by the guarantee. Even though there is no contract with the consumer, the CRA says the undertakings given are enforceable as if there was a contract. Without the CRA there would be lots of arguments about whether a guarantee was enforceable or not.

Do you consider that a manufacturer/importer should be obliged to offer a guarantee over and above the compulsory statutory rights that accompany the sale contract with the retailer? I think that is a step too far.

Does the manufacturer really know the risk of failure? The product has probably been designed with a lifetime in mind, trading off cost of production against acceptability of the product . A trade off which will differ from manufacturer to manufacturer and even within a single manufacturer’s range. Do you want cheap, flimsy and short life or do you want expensive, robust and long life? It’s pretty hard to get the best of both worlds. But even then the actual risk that a component will fail prematurely is not known with any precision. The last thing a manufacture wants to design in is a component that repeatedly fails before the life of the product. For lots of electronics the life of the product is the life of the weakest component.

My question whether guarantees/warranties were still necessary given the provisions of the Consumer Rights Act started off this discussion.

One argument for having parallel systems of redress, one statutory and the other voluntary, is that few consumers know about the CRA and how to use it; that would change of course if it was the only route to a remedy.

Another point made is that exercising rights under a guarantee in connexion with a product defect can be quicker and cost-free, and produce a more satisfactory result, than wrangling with a recalcitrant retailer [if if!].

In terms of durability for a product with a longer life than its guarantee, only the CRA provides a remedy. As I wrote before, if the CRA cannot be invoked beyond six years in respect of a want of durability claim then that creates a legal contradiction that needs to be resolved.

I would prefer a situation where sensible guarantees are provided as I would not want to have to recourse to law to exercise my rights. However, if the legal remedy was demonstrably effective it should make it much easier to persuade unhelpful retailers to recognise their legal obligations when approached by a customer with a problem. They would not want to take the legal route either.
Competent manufacturers will know the likely life of the products they manufacture through experience, good design, selection of components, quality control, testing and so on. That is why we do have so many reliable products of all kinds. Generally we are looking at those inevitable individual exceptions that slip through the net. Nothing is perfect.

I see no problem with guarantees continuing to be available. They could provide additional remedies than the legal minimum [e.g. free returns]. However, I feel it would be good to swing the balance of redress away from the kindness of heart of the retailer or manufacturer to the legal entitlement of the CRA which, as you say, could prove to be demonstrably effective. It could become a matter of routine with everyone following that course of action. In all cases, the thing to avoid is litigation.

A range of durability factors would need to be drawn up for each type of product to provide the lifecycle benchmarks having regard to price, quality, specification, power, capacity, and so on.

I don’t think the CRA provides a stand-alone remedy for products that are not durable. Please correct me if I’m wrong. What I think it does ( in section 9) is to say that durability is one aspect of whether goods are of satisfactory quality and that “every contract to supply goods is to be treated as including a term that the quality of the goods is satisfactory”, i.e.
that they meet the standard that a reasonable person would consider satisfactory in all the circumstances of the sale. The consumer’s remedy is therefore still primarily a claim for breach of contract – not a direct claim under the CRA as such. Your point about limitation periods is a really interesting one. The breach is supplying a product that was not of satisfactory quality – not the lack of quality manifesting itself. So on its face the 6 years from breach may have expired before the durability problem becomes apparent. Is the express reference to durability something that was introduced in 2015 or does it go back to earlier statutes? I don’t know. Maybe one of Which?’s experts does – or do they never bother to read what is written here? If it only appeared in 2015 then the first cases are not going to get anywhere reportable until 2023 probably. It would be a fun case to try out.

And under Scottish law the period within which a legal action may start is five years but counting from the date when the problem was discovered.

I might be barking up the completely wrong tree on this durability issue which is why I feel we should be having that discussion within Which? assisted by the internal legal dept. [Is that the same as the Which? Legal service? – I don’t know].

Which? have often told us that every comment is read by at least one member of the editorial team.

The Sale of Goods Act that preceded the Consumer Rights Act 2015 also included “durability” as a contract condition. Failure to meet contract conditions makes the retailer liable to provide redress.
Guidance to the CRA says
Key rights about the goods, under the Act
3. The goods must be of satisfactory quality;
4. The goods must be fit for a particular purpose the consumer has made known
5. The goods should match any description, sample or model by reference to which they were supplied

and about “quality”

When considering whether the goods are of satisfactory quality, the following factors may be aspects of the quality so that issues with these areas may mean the goods are not of satisfactory quality, depending on whether they are applicable to the situation.
 The fitness of the goods for the purpose the goods are usually supplied for (for example, a pair of scissors should not be too blunt to cut paper)
 The appearance and finish of the goods.
 Whether they are free from minor defects – BUT for a minor defect to mean that the goods are not of satisfactory quality, the goods must fall below the condition that a reasonable person would consider satisfactory (for example a new radio should not have dents in it but a smudge on the plastic of the packaging is unlikely to be a quality issue).
 Safety (this element is also covered under other legislation)
 Durability (this does not mean that goods must last forever, but durability is an aspect of quality which may be considered as appropriate – so a shirt, for instance, should not fall apart the first time that you wash it)
This list is, however, not exhaustive and any factor that impacts on the quality of the goods (including their state and condition) may be relevant.

And on “durability – the durability requirement is that the item should
work or last for a reasonable time but it does not have to
remain of satisfactory quality. For example, a pair of wellington
boots should stay waterproof but does not have to keep its
brand new appearance.

This topic gets further and further from where it started but there is a lot of interesting stuff in it. John raised two particular points. He asked first whether guarantees/warranties were still necessary given the provisions of the Consumer Rights Act. My experience was that consumers invoked manufacturer’s guarantees for three reasons. The first two reasons are just two sides of the same coin. A lot of consumers thought the primary responsibility sat with the manufacturer ( which is wrong of course) or had been pushed to the manufacturer by the retailer. Some found a manufacturer easier to deal with and the terms of a guarantee voluntarily given as a marketing tool more favourable than the legal liability approach of a retailer. The other main reason was that a retailer had gone under, ceased trading or had denied liability.

Manufacturers give guarantees not because they have to but because it is good for the promotion of their brand. Retailers sometimes resent the liabilities that the law forces them to accept for products they simply bought and sold with no action beyond receiving a cardboard box filled with product and passing it on the consumer.

The other comment that caught my eye was “that few consumers know about the CRA and how to use it”. I don’t think the problem is particularly about the CRA. The structure by which a statute specifies that some conditions are implied into contracts for the sale of goods, and that other conditions are void or unenforceable has been used since the 19th century Sale of Goods Act. But generations of consumers ( and plenty of retail staff as well) have failed to grasp this, despite countless government, local authority and private campaigns explaining people’s rights. The CRA’s elaboration of the rights available when a breach of contract occurs has simply made matters worse.

The big problem is that a contract, only works if the parties honour it. If a retailer breaches a contract and declines to provide redress for their breach a consumer must take legal action to enforce their contract. Whether the consumer’s rights in the event of a breach existed by common law, the Sale of Goods Act or the CRA makes no real difference. Simply “demanding” that the shop does something and citing the CRA in support of this demand does not achieve the desired result. And it seems not to matter how simple the small claims process is made. Consumers continue not to use it. I don’t think any test case by Which? is going to change this. A test case does not provide redress for disadvantaged consumers, it simply provides another precedent for them to quote and for retailers to ignore.

Which is why the voluntary warranty from manufacturers is so valuable. They give it because it encourages consumers to buy their products, and only offer it as long as they want to give the support it provides. But don’t expect them to go beyond the terms of what they are giving. Forcing reluctant manufacturers to give a warranty will create exactly the same enforcement problem as now exists with retailers.

David – I agree with you about the value of manufacturers’ guarantees. In addition to the points you have made, in my experience retailers will usually replace or repair faulty products without question during the guarantee period. It can become interesting when a product is deemed not repairable and it is not possible to provide a replacement because that model is obsolete. The longer the guarantee, the more likely this is to happen and a little negotiation is needed to find an amicable solution. As you say, a longer guarantee can promote a brand. Retailers often use free extended warranties for promotion too.

My understanding is that when making a claim under the CRA the consumer can be asked to provide evidence that the product does not meet the requirements specified in the Act. There may be a fair claim but alternatively the failure may be due to fair wear & tear, misuse or abuse, all of which would void a claim. An expert’s view can be used to support a claim. I agree with you that simply demanding action and citing the CRA is unlikely to be successful.

Several of us have suggested that retailers should inform their customers that they have statutory rights under the CRA. Nowadays there are a few websites that mention that the company’s guarantee is in addition to our statutory rights, but it would help to provide a brief outline and appropriate links. Some retailers provide a leaflet with purchases, explaining after-sales service and extended warranties, but these should also acknowledge that customers have statutory rights.

Which? Legal will provide tailored advice for a reasonable fee but in another Conversation it was pointed out that it’s difficult to give general advice.

There seems to be a misconception that retailers bear no responsibility for what they sell. On the contrary, they have a legal responsibility that what the sell meet UK regulations; product safety for example. We see what happens when this is avoided by Amazon Marketplace and other similar enterprises.

But retailers choose what they sell. So they can avoid unreliable brands and products for example.

No doubt they will also have contractual obligations with their suppliers or the manufacturer to recompense them when they have faulty products. No one has explained what these arrangements might be but I would hope they exist. Otherwise the costs will simply be passed on to consumers.

And, as a consumer has a legal contract with the seller there needs to be a means to enforce that contract, as provided by the Consumer Rights Act. Otherwise an unfortunate consumer would be left without any protection; I expect we would soon complain about that inequity.

I do not expect people to rush to court to enforce their rights; that should be a last resort. What legal provisions should do is to make retailers and their staff fully aware of their obligations to a customer with a problem, and make those customers aware of what are, and are not, their rights. The means to resolve issues as sensibly as possible.

Guarantees are provided by manufacturers for times that bear little resemblance to product life, maybe only a year. One good reason for this is to protect against “early failure”; if there is a latent fault in a product it is likely to become apparent quite quickly once the product is put to use. They do not protect against later – but still early – failure due to more incipient faults that are not the norm for that product. I hope one day we can have guarantees from the manufacturers that cover lack of reasonable durability. But, as I said earlier, the UK on its own is unlikely to persuade global manufacturers to do this anytime soon. Look how long it took the car industry to move from 1 year guarantees.

My views after reading the various comments are (a) that there is still a useful role for manufacturers’ warranties/guarantees and for retailers’ extension cover, and (b) that the CRA is not sufficient on its own to protect consumers.

The point made by David about the problems when a retailer has disappeared is very real in the present circumstances. Sometimes the liquidators might help but their job is to sell up and wind up as fast as possible so there is nothing in place for the long term unless some form of bonding has been provided.

A further point that should be addressed is the role of the CRA in the digital market place. Most traders in large domestic appliances and home entertainment equipment will have to have a substantial physical presence in the UK [if only for stockholding and logistics] but consumers are increasingly sourcing their purchases from unknown companies in unspecified locations – possibly to take advantage of much lower prices. Do they deserve better protection? Or is the lack of after-sales support in the price?

While this topic has indeed strayed some way from its origins, that is the nature of Conversations, and this generally happens here once the initial thoughts have been exchanged. But this Conversation starts with the line “All electrical goods come with a warranty” and then goes on to suggest that in many cases the CRA provides adequate protection to nullify the need to buy an extended warranty. I think we are in the process of exploring ideas around what can go wrong, how should consumer protection operate when it does, and should shops use extended warranties as supplementary money-makers.

The article focuses on enforcement action by the CMA against Argos over its failure to give customers details of comparative prices when selling extended warranties. This is going to cost Argos a lot of money in compensation vouchers to customers who were [or could have been] affected adversely by the failure [were Sainsbury’s aware of that contingency when they acquired Argos?]. One of the reasons we have shopped at John Lewis over many years is because of their extended warranties which are included in the price of the goods, but they have never isolated the price of the warranty extension or offered any comparative price information. Interesting.

I have not suggested that the default position should favour the retailer. I do want Which? to investigate the problem that the CRA is, I believe, not widely used by consumers.

In its advice, Which? states: “Your rights against the retailer can last for up to six years, but after the first six months the onus is on you to prove a fault was present at the time you took ownership of the goods.”

https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/advice/what-do-i-do-if-i-have-a-faulty-product-aTTEK2g0YuEy

I am not a legal expert but I believe that we should be entitled to expect a reasonable working life if goods are not abused. A fault might not be present at the time of manufacture but could arise for a variety of reasons.

If you and I can manage to use the CRA and negotiate an acceptable offer from retailers then I reckon others should be encouraged to give it a try. My best achievement was a new engine for a car that was over two years out of the guarantee period and was found to have a manufacturing fault. My contribution was to pay for fitting.

but after the first six months the onus is on you to prove a fault was present at the time you took ownership of the goods“. That does not apply to (lack of) “durability”. They are separate breaches of contract. That is my interpretation. Maybe his is where he confusion arises. Which? have avoided generally promoting “durability” as a means of obtaining redress, as others have pointed out.

Perhaps involving BEIS and maybe Citizens Advice in discussions with Which? could help provide the clarification we need. The CRA now has explanatory notes on some points but not regarding durability.

I do hope that Lauren will be able to help us but I’m conscious that her Conversation is supposed to be about whether extended warranties are worthwhile.

I worry that discussions like this focus too much on cars and tumble dryers and the like. Statutory rights and limitation periods apply to all products and all breaches of contract. There are many products where a reasonable expectation of how long a product will work fully or efficiently or adequately ( or not break) are way less than the six year period at the centre of this discussion. I can think of some products that I really do not expect to last longer than a couple of months. Expecting legislators to define product by product how long each category of product should last is an impossible dream – and would probably be a nightmare. Even within categories, that reasonable expectation will vary by price and specification, and by component. An engine should be expected to last longer than an exhaust for example But the issue is even wider than that. Manufactured products are subject to distribution curves. My understanding is that this curve varies by component and is not usually a ‘normal’ curve. The issue ( as with most contract terms) is about defining which party should bear what risks. If as a society we want to say that the manufacturer should bear all component failure risks for a period of 2 or 6 or 10 years we can. But there will be financial and commercial consequences.

I agree that you cannot specify how long a product will last, David, and it’s a point that I have made many times in Conversations. With an individual component you might stand a chance but a domestic appliance contains many different components.

Do you purchase extended warranties for household goods?

David, I believe you are correct to say that the lives of many components and/or products will not fit a normal or gaussian distribution.

Many reliability textbooks discuss items whose failure rates follow a “bath tub” curve, where initial (“burn in”) failure rates are high, followed by a long period of low failure rates and then a further period of high failure rates, as “end of life” effects start appearing.

At present, the 1st 6 months of consumer rights and a typical one guarantee act to insure consumers against burn in failures but do not provide any specific guarantee for ultimate product life.

Some well made products can last a long time, even with regular use. I’ve been lucky with my microwave (which dates from 1985) and my washing machine (which dates from 1987).

I’ve also encountered some products that only last a few years, even without user abuse.

For sustainability, I think it is best for products to be built for a long working life. However, I think it would be bad if that could only be achieved at the expense of much higher initial purchase price or running costs.

I, for one, have not suggested all products should last 6 years or more. The key phrase is what is thought to be reasonable. That will differ greatly from product type to type, and within a product group on factors such as cost.

I do not expect the law to specify acceptable durability for anything; it simply sets the principle. It is for the courts, ultimately, to decide that; is it acceptable for. £1000 washing machine to fail after 2 years normal use? Is it acceptable for a pair of expensive shoes to fall apart after 8 months occasional wear?

We can only progress if we make a start. Collating existing information on those products that have caused early failure problems would show how well, in different price groups, they last in normal use and around what point we can reasonably say that is an exceptionally short life.
It is clear from reports that a great many people have products that last well. It can be done, and is done. That is good for sustainability. And our pockets. So it stands to reason that something was wrong with those – relatively few – products that give up the ghost much too soon. My view is the consumer should not take the whole hit when they are unlucky enough to suffer that problem.

My fridge freezer insulation should not have detached from the casing after 3 years. For me to prove that it was caused by a pre-existing fault from new could have involved dis-assembling the product, examining the adhesive, and determining how the failure was caused. One notable retail group who appear to treat their aggrieved customers badly may well have insisted on such a course of action to avoid making redress. That is partly what the Consumer Rights Act is there for – to make the consumer’s plight easier to resolve.

In my case the simpler route, accepted by the retailer (and, as it happens, the manufacturer) was that my particular example of the appliance did not last a reasonable time, it lacked reasonable durability, and they settled amicably and generously. I suspect had it ever had to go to court a similar decision might have been reached. This is why I believe durability is a separate tool in the consumers’ armoury that should be properly supported, simply to achieve fair outcomes to both sides.

Em says:
8 April 2021

I think it is possible to set statutory bands for durability, in much the same way as energy bands are used on appliances today.

At first, nobody much cared it their appliances were rated D or E for energy. But as consumer awareness increased, manufacturers have realised that having an A+++ product is something that consumers look for when making a purchasing decision. So much so, that the system has been rebased from March 2021 to avoid the nonsense of an ever increasing number of pluses . (Have I missed this being reported by Which?, or have Which? missed it?)

I don’t see why appliances can’t have durability bands determined by lab testing, which are then covered by the manufacturer’s warranty should they fail before then.

Em – Which? have reported on the rebasing of the appliance energy efficiency bands but I can’t remember where I saw it.

The beauty of your proposal is that if it were operated and controlled by some independent organisation it would be possible to progressively remove from the market those with the lowest ratings which manufacturers on their own would be loath to do. We would probably have to accept that the bandings would be awarded conservatively but so long as the ratings were standardised and assessed consistently that would not matter since it is the relative scores that are critical.

malcolm welch says:
8 April 2021

We bought a John Lewis package, a complete Kitchen fitted, we were advised to have a warranty on the Dedeitch Oven, after several years, the oven door became faulty, and there was,nt a replacement, Our extended warranty came into play, we were given £980 and we bought anotherOven and spare cash were used to buy other things. . . Im pleased we took out that warranty

It’s good to hear that your extended warranty proved worthwhile, Malcolm.

European legislation may soon require manufacturers to hold spares for ten years and hopefully the UK will benefit from this. It might not help if a company goes into liquidation, as De Dietrich did. It seems that the brand is still operating under a new owner.

I have a second freezer which lives in the garage. It’s a cheap brand and I chose it because it is suitable for use in unheated buildings, unlike most current makes and models. The one year guarantee has now expired. For £3.89 a month I could have an extended warranty including accidental damage cover. I wonder if the premium would remain about the same next year or if this is an introductory price that would rise in future. Has anyone any experience?

My alternative to buying an extended warranty is to run down stocks in both freezers now that there are fewer shortages so that I could get most of the more costly food into one freezer and hopefully get a neighbour to accommodate any surplus.

Em says:
8 April 2021

@Wavechange – I posted a comment above about D&G’s right to increase premiums. Max £1 per month in the first two years, after that unlimited.

Does an extended warranty cover the cost of spoilt food? Or an extended power outage? Again, I would look to contents insurance if I had a lot of valuable food that had gone off. Other than that, the occasional freezer breakdown is a good time to clear out the frost-burnt leftovers that will never get eaten, but can’t bring myself to throw away.

Thanks Em. D&G certainly have provision to increase premiums but I was wondering what happens in practice. I’ve heard plenty of criticisms but cannot recall price hikes being one of them. I don’t believe they cover food and as you say home contents insurance will provide cover – if you choose that option.

I used to have a large chest freezer and that did hold a few surprises at the bottom but the current ones are upright models and it’s easy to rotate the stock.