Australian Consumer Law and Phones

Did you realise there’s a good chance you can still get faulty or damaged goods replaced or repaired, even out of warranty.

Hands up if you’ve ever owned an item of electronics equipment that stopped working just after its paltry one year warranty expired. Yes? Hands up if your subsequent frustration expressed itself via extravagant curses, roaming across several romance languages you hadn’t realised you were conversant in. Hands up if you then smashed the offending item to pieces in a fit of pique. No? Perhaps that’s just me. Maldita sea!

Anyway, you may or may not be pleased to hear that despite the warranty on your item having expired, it was more than likely still covered under Australian Consumer Law (ACL), and that there was a good chance you could have had it replaced free of charge. Of course, you can’t now that you’ve smashed it, so that’s a shame. Anyway, the point is that where Australian Consumer Law and an individual product warranty are contradictory, the former trumps the latter.

For those of you who forewent the cheap catharsis of a good smashing, you should know that the ACL provides consumers with a basic level of guarantee for products, including electronic goods, which can be repaired even "after any manufacturer's voluntary or extended warranty has expired”. This applies “for the amount of time that is reasonable to expect, given the cost and quality of the item”.

This is typically murky legalese, although it’s a lot clearer than the wording used to be under the Trade Practises Act, and there’s plenty of wriggle room in there for manufacturers to argue if they’re inclined to. However, while we of course cannot guarantee the behaviour of anyone else, it is our experience that most manufacturers or retailers are willing to play ball.

This brings me to mobile phones. As you no doubt know, most mobile phones in Australia are paid off over the course of a 24 month phone contract, with the implication being that the device should be covered for the duration of the time you are paying it off. However, most phones traditionally only carried a 12 month manufacturer’s warranty. This meant that damaging your phone after 13 months would see a customer having to continue paying it off for another 11 months, with no recourse to ‘free’ repairs or replacement.

However, after the ACL came into force, the ACCC ruled that for phones 24 months was “the amount of time that is reasonable to expect, given the cost and quality of the item”. Consequently – although the telcos would claim otherwise –Optus, Telstra and VHA all now provide 24 month warranties on all the phones they sell.

But not all phones are necessarily covered in this way. The iPhone is the most notorious example of this. Apple only offers a One-Year Limited Warranty, even through Telstra (although Optus and Vodafone offer 24 month iPhone warranties).

But just because Apple says that the device is only covered for one year doesn’t mean that this is the end of it. They will usually repair or replace your device even after the 12 months has expired. This has been our overwhelming experience at Dog and Bone. This also covers devices besides phones, such as computers (although they’re even less keen for consumers to know that, especially because that would cut into the putative value of the premium AppleCare Protection Plan). It is our experience that repairs and replacements are more likely than refunds.

Also bear in mind that if you got the phone through a contract with a telco, then you should take it to them (whatever its make). While the Australian Consumer Law does cover both manufacturers and retailers, we have found you’re generally better off taking it to the telco’s service centre. This is especially true if you’re determine to get a refund, since only the retailer can provide that.

A big - and important - exception is if breakage occurs through dropping it. As far as we know, no telco or manufacturer will repalce, repair or refund those devices. This is a shame, since broken smartphones, with their characteristically spider-webbed shatter pattern, are common.

In conclusion, if you feel that your device has stopped working within the 'time that is reasonable to expect, given the cost and quality of the item', you should be all means seek to have it repaired or replaced, no matter what the warranty actually says. The emphasis is mine - a great deal hinges on that word 'reasonable' - but you'll never know if you don't give it a try. And if you're phone is less than two years old, then most definitely seek repair or replacement. Please don't smash it.