Why Australian Consumer Law warranties are vital for tech (2023 update guide)

Tech can and does break down. Fortunately, all genuine Australian-certified products sold by genuine Australian online or physical stores have an implied Australian Consumer Law Warranty (ACL).

A quality smartphone may have a <2% failure rate. A good laptop (due to its portable nature) is under 5%. Printers can top out at 10%, but these are usually cheap inkjets. Consumer Electronics items like TVs, soundbars, speakers, headphones, washing machines and robovacs can creep up to double digits.

As the item starts to cost more, the traditional 12-month warranty needs the added protection of Australian Consumer Law. If no time limit is specified, then a ‘reasonable’ life is based on the expected product life.

Choice Magazine recently updated its lifespan report, and it shows more than ever that manufacturers are shortening warranties to the mandatory 12 months, calling it ‘design life’. They require consumers to pursue their rights under ACL.

Watch out for dodgy online merchant sites

You have almost no rights if buying from an online merchant, even if it claims to be Australian-based. It is tough to track these down as they often use fake ABNs and addresses. Check out Cybershack’s grey market smartphone guide.

We suggest payment via a bank-issued credit card or Pay Pal for Buyer Protection. It is a slow process to get money back, but a well-documented case helps.

Be aware that Amazon and eBay are not usually the vendors. The individual merchants are, and you will need to complain to them. Kogan also operates a merchant market but has a poor reputation and is frequently on the NSW Department of Fair Trading naughty list.

What are Australian Consumer Law warranty rights?

With the caveat that Cybershack does not offer legal advice, we advise you to read the ACCC Australian Competition and Consumer Commission website – consumer guarantees and repair, replace, and refund. This is also in PDF or listenable here.

Here is an ACL overview.

  • Covers consumers, not commercial users, to a nominal value of $100,000
  • Must be safe and lasting, with no manufacturers defects
  • Must do everything that a website or salesperson claims – be fit for purpose
  • Match descriptions on the website, advertising, packaging or as demonstrated
  • Have spare parts and repair facilities available for a reasonable time after purchase
  • Does not apply to auctions, private sales or overseas companies that may sell online here.

The company you buy it from (retailer or online) must honour the warranty. You have the right to demand repair, replacement, or refund – no ifs or buts. You may also be able to claim compensation if you can prove loss due to the item. The company cannot deny a claim or refer you to the manufacturer/importer unless you agree. There is no sell-and-forget provision in ACL.

To action ACL

First, contact the retailer and try to settle the matter amicably. The larger companies are well aware of your rights. And yes, you have the choice of repair, replacement or refund but be reasonable about it. A refund is always the best outcome, as you can then look for a product that does meet your needs. If you leave the goods with the retailer, you must get a receipt and preferably a photo of the goods and the staff member’s name holding them.

If that does not work, you must write a letter to the retailer explaining the problem, what outcome you want, and set a reasonable deadline for action – say seven days.

And when all else fails, contact your State Department of Fair Trading.

There is an updated list here: ACL Consumer tech warranty not a priority for the majority – it should be.

Remember, there are two sides to every story

Anger will be met with anger or, worst, offence. You catch more flies with honey. If the first person cannot help, you ask politely to see their supervisor and, if necessary, keep going until you get to the owner or senior management.

If you want to understand the other side’s point of view, read the ACCC’s Electrical and Whitegoods: an industry guide (all electrical resellers must abide by this).

Other less clear issues – planned obsolescence

  • Many smartphones and tech like routers don’t have an operating system, firmware or security patch upgrade policy. So, they are technically obsolete once you buy them and have a limited life of about three years
  • Batteries are invariably excluded from warranty (we don’t think this is fair if it is built-in), and lower-cost devices use batteries with 200 lifecycle charges. If you charge it daily/weekly/monthly, its life is about half a year/4 years/16 years.
  • Some TVs don’t have all Australian streaming and free-to-air TV apps. Check before you buy as they are unlikely to be added later.
  • Smart devices that need an app that later becomes unavailable
  • External factors like the closing or refarming of the 3G or later 4G network may limit the smartphone’s life
  • Many household items need expensive filters, rollers, or consumable replacements (like ink) that may be uneconomic.

Cybershack’s view – caveat emptor

This is one guide we wish we did not have to write, but tech can and does break down. The biggest issue is buying any tech from dodgy online merchants that take the money and run.