/ Shopping

Do retailers guarantee you fair treatment?

Leaking washing machine

When it comes to exercising his rights, our regular Malcolm R knows a thing or two about the Sale of Goods Act. In this guest post he asks if people get a fair deal when something they buy doesn’t last…

Most shoppers rely on a product’s guarantee, where it’s down to the manufacturer to tell you what they will do when something goes wrong. For domestic appliances, this is often just one or two years. But what happens after that if a fault, other than due to wear and tear or misuse, develops?

Suppose you’ve bought a moderately expensive washing machine from a reputable brand and it fails just as the guarantee runs out. As your contract was with the retailer who supplied you, it is they who you should approach; but the consensus seems to be that you should not expect any help. You are probably told you should have bought an extended warranty, something Which? says should generally be avoided as they offer poor value. It is best to save up your premiums and pay for any repairs yourself.

Time limits on your rights

While there’s no time limit for approaching a retailer about a faulty product using the Sale of Goods Act, you only have six years from the date you received the goods (five years in Scotland) to enforce those rights. This does not mean that everything has to last six years from the date of purchase! It is the time limit for the customer to take a claim to court.

During this period, the retailer is legally required to deal with a customer who claims that their item does not conform to contract (is faulty) and decide what would be the reasonable amount of time to expect the goods to last. The six year period is not the same as a guarantee, but it does mean that even where the guarantee or warranty supplied with the product has ended, you may still have legal rights. (It’s worth noting that after six months, it’s down to the customer to prove the fault was there from the start, which could include providing an expert report).

Product usage and durability

What do you think needs to change to ensure that the consumer and the retailer or manufacturer get a fairer deal? Firstly, should the initial guarantee be longer for many products to reflect the minimum expected life of the product before a failure is likely to occur – a life that should be published by the manufacturer – rather than just a nominal one or two years? This may still be a number of years, or a measure of usage such as cycles for a washing machine, miles for a car, or hours for your fridge compressor.

The manufacturer knows how long their products should last – after all, they are responsible for the design, the quality of components used and the skill with which the product has been made. So they could also look beyond this initial guarantee, and offer a “care package” – for a price – where, barring misuse and wear and tear – they agree to repair or replace the product for a fixed time or usage.

I believe the price and length of time should depend on the manufacturer, the quality of the product and its initial cost; so good manufacturers offering good products should offer better, longer and cheaper care packages than for poorer products.

Are you happy with the protection provided by product guarantees or more generally, with the Sale of Goods Act? Should more be done to extend our rights and get fairer treatment if your product fails in an unreasonably short time?

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Which? Convo regular Malcolm R. All opinions expressed here are Malcolm’s own, not necessarily those of Which?.

Kitchen disaster says:
9 December 2014

We recently had a kitchen manufactured and fitted by Smallbone of Devizes, the installation was due to take 4 weeks after 7 weeks they left the site so I assumed they had finished and I complained to the Chairman that the kitchen was unacceptable. They quickly came to view and agreed it was unacceptable, they took away all the shelves and doors and said 3 weeks to replacement and repainting, 6 weeks later it was handed over with chipped and scratched glass, scratched sink and paint marks over the wooden floor. They still had to come back. They handed over again 3 weeks later. I asked for a refund they offered 40% discount off our next order!! Obviously we will never be using them again, but surely we are entitled to some recompense for a 4 month installation and loss of use of our flat?

The most disappointing products I have owned have been pressure washers. In the past fifteen years or so I have purchased three and each has developed a problem soon after the guarantee has expired. 🙁 By carrying out my own repairs I have kept them going for about five years. From speaking to neighbours and friends, I know that I am not alone in having problems with pressure washers.

I’m pleased to see that Karcher are now offering 2-5 year guarantees depending on model and Bosch will extend their guarantee from 2 to 3 years following registration.