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Know your warranty rights!

12th December, 2022

Are you aware of your consumer rights when returning goods or seeking redress for faults?

We all know of people who have purchased goods, changed their minds, then returned them to the retailer the next day, seeking a refund of the purchase price, an exchange or even a credit note to “shop it off” later. Maybe we’ve done this ourselves, particularly after Christmas when we’ve quietly returned an unloved gift from a well-intentioned relative.

Return Policy

As a general rule in Australia, provided the goods aren’t faulty, the “return policy” is very much a matter for the discretion of the relevant retailer. If you have any doubts about a particular case, we recommend that you should consult your state/territory fair trading or consumer affairs regulator.

Some retailers, usually chains or department stores, have generous return policies (perhaps not so much on sale goods). Others do not, especially owner-operated businesses without the cashflow advantages of larger operations.

Choose carefully

So when you see a sign displayed on a retailer’s wall that says “Choose carefully….we don’t refund if you change your mind”, they usually mean it. Any variation on that policy is a matter for the goodwill of the retailer on the day you return the goods. Therefore, it’s up to you to understand the retailer’s return policy at the time you hand over your hard earned money; or hope that the retailer is feeling generous when your unloved Christmas gift is returned.

Faulty Goods

It’s quite different if the goods (or services) are faulty. In that situation, you have specific rights, known as consumer guarantees. We often hear stories of claims with respect to faulty goods being made by consumers only a short time after the expiration of a warranty, only to be told by a retailer or manufacturer that it’s too late because the warranty has expired. Many people are not aware that the expiration of these so called “factory warranties” is not necessarily the end of their right to seek redress.

Major Faults

We stress that we’re not talking here about people who take goods home, change their minds and seek a refund. Rather, we referring to goods that are claimed to be faulty. In general terms, where there is a “major fault” (as defined) the consumer is entitled to choose a repair, a refund or a replacement. Note that it’s the consumer’s choice, not the retailer’s or manufacturer’s choice. 

As you might imagine, defining a “major fault” is sometimes controversial. It tends to become harder as the value and age of the product increases. For example, a “major fault” in a $50,000 three-year-old motor vehicle could have serious financial consequences for both parties, so it would not be surprising if a car dealer suggested that a “major fault” wasn’t major at all and insisted upon a repair or claimed that the fault was caused by the owner’s abuse of the vehicle.

The Full Story

Nevertheless, whatever the circumstances, the main point here is that your rights as a consumer are considerable and will often go beyond most carefully worded, time-limited factory warranties or guarantees.

You can read further explanations and details of Australian consumer rights and guarantees at accc.gov.au.


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