Warranties on products in Australia are discouraging people from seeking out repairs and should explicitly state which rights people have under law, consumer group Choice has said.
The Productivity Commission is reviewing the right to repair in Australia, and last month released a draft report outlining proposed changes to make it easier for Australians to get products repaired.
The commission proposed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) should provide a minimum expected durability rating for products – such as TVs, washing machines and other household products – to give consumers an idea for how long they will last and which rights they might have under Australian consumer law to get the product repaired or replaced.
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In a virtual hearing on the draft report on Monday, Choice’s director of campaigns, Erin Turner, said product warranties were acting as a “dampener” on people seeking repairs or replacements on products.
“We’re seeing that warranties generally can discourage large groups of consumers from getting a remedy under the consumer law,” Turner said.
Choice surveyed 6,571 of its members and supporters in April and May this year about getting remedies on TVs, washing machines, microwaves and lawn mowers, and although this sample would have a better literacy about consumer rights than the broader population, Choice found most people who had an issue with these products never tried to get a remedy.
Only 24% of people with washing machine issues tried to get a remedy, 15% for TVs, 19% for microwaves and 18% for lawnmowers.
When they were asked why they didn’t try to get a remedy, 31% of people said it was because the product was past its warranty period. Just 1% of people said they did not seek a remedy because they wanted to upgrade to a new product.
“Often these products could be just outside the warranty period, a few weeks, months, or years, and with a product like a washing machine, something that might be five years old, something that we’d still still see as well within that consumer guarantees period for a large piece of equipment you want in your home,” Turner said. “So what worried me is that this research is telling us is that warranty periods could have a dampening effect on consumers seeking remedy.”
Turner said people assumed a product failure out of warranty could not be addressed, and in some instances manufacturers or retailers strongly suggest or tell customers nothing can be done outside of the warranty period when consumer law lasts longer. It was costing Australians more money than it should, she said.
“People are repairing or replacing at their own cost,” Turner said. “We know that a lot of people are still paying for extended warranties that add very little or did nothing in addition to the consumer law guarantees, and some people are replacing products when they don’t need or want to.”
Choice has recommended requiring warranties to disclose how long goods should last, and it can be longer than the warrant period. Turner said there should be enforcement powers to require manufacturers to proactively inform consumers of their rights under Australian consumer law when people contact them about about issues, and be penalised when failing to do so.
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“Right now, often it’s just omitted, they talk about the warranty and they fail to proactively let people know that the consumer guarantees sit on top of that,” she said. “If we added all of these interventions together, we know that more people will get their products fixed, more easily.”
The group has also proposed in addition to the ACCC reporting on durability, products could have labels based on independent testing on how long products would be expected to last. The head of the phone recycling organisation Mobile Muster, Spyro Kalos, told the hearing any such label needed to be an objective measurement.
“I think whatever labelling is established, it can’t be subjective and I think it really needs to be measurable,” he said. “I think if it’s going to add value to the consumer experience and it’s not subjective, that it’s something that we would consider.”
Choice will release its full findings when it makes a formal submission on the Productivity Commission’s draft report in the next few weeks.
Apple and Samsung blocking spare part sales, repairers say
Kyle Wiens, chief executive of repair guide website iFixit, told the commission tech companies were increasingly making it harder for repairers to get access to spare parts, and entering into agreements with suppliers to prevent selling parts to others.
“There’s a German battery manufacturer named Varta that sells batteries to a wide variety of companies. Samsung happens to use these batteries in the Galaxy earbuds. It’s a commodity part, they’re in lots and lots of products, but when we go to Varta and say, ‘Can we please buy that part as a repair part?’, they say, ‘No, our contract with Samsung won’t allow us to sell that,” he said.
“Apple is notorious for doing this with the chips in their computers … there’s a standard version of the part and then there’s the Apple version of the part [that] is just very very slightly tweaked, but it’s tweaked enough that it’s required to work in this computer, and that company again is under contractual requirement with Apple to be sole dealing contracts.”
The commission is holding hearings between Monday and Wednesday this week, and will submit its final report to government in October.