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  Warranty Exchanges

It can be hard to get a machine swapped out these days, we explain why

Every manufacturer has their own method of dealing with exchanges as does every retailer but the systems and methods that are used are very often misunderstood by customers, as is the cost of exchanging products. This article deals with why it is often difficult to get a product exchanged.

  Within 12 Month Warranty

If an appliance breaks down remember it is a machine and whether you buy a £200 washer or a £60,000 Mercedes it will, at some point in its life, break down. Sadly this is inevitable.

scrapped washing machines However, just like the Mercedes, if the appliance does break down or a portion of it stops working then it is not your automatic right to have a replacement under the terms of the warranty. On virtually every warranty it will state, “to repair or replace at the manufacturer's discretion" or words to that effect, this means that it is the manufacturers choice, not the consumers.

However, while the Sale Of Goods Act (SoGA) also states that the goods must be “fit for purpose" , this does not state that it will be fault free and in fact goes into great detail on how a complaint should be handled. It also details that the contract that the customer has is with the retailer and not the manufacturer as the manufacturer's warranty is actually provided above your statutory rights as a consumer. Since the contract that you have is with the retailer and, when you think about it this makes perfect sense as you paid them and not the manufacturer, all complaints or claims for a replacement under the Sale Of Goods Act should be directed towards the retailer that sold you the product.

Retailers will often try to wriggle out of exchanging a product off their own back, they will cite all sorts of things to a customer and over the years I've heard some crackers, but in general what they're looking for is a credit note or written authorisation to exchange a product on the manufacturer's behalf. You see, without that there is a danger that they will change the machine for you and be left with the old one to have repaired for re-sale and they will lose money on it, or they fight with the manufacturer or their distributor in order to try and get credit for the faulty one, which is often not at all easy. Of course that's not the customers problem, but often the retailer will make it an issue with the customer and pass the buck to the manufacturer.

But, before we tar retailers as terrible people just remember that there are a lot more customers out there than there are retailers and a lot more unreasonable and aggressive customers than there are poor retailers. If retailers are bad they usually don't stay in business very long.

If you go in heavy handed issuing demands the stance that any manufacturer or retailer is liable to take will almost certainly be a defensive one which could well prove to be counter-productive to achieving an outcome that you can live with.

As this article was written in October 2004 we have, as service agents, noticed an alarming trend amongst consumers to try and force an exchange should an appliance break down both under warranty and extended warranty. In fact, I would guess that at least 30% of our customers request a new appliance straight out the gate, before it's even been looked at. We get all manner of complaints and I hate to tell you this but we've probably heard all the stories before many times over. Even telling us that “it's dangerous" or “not fit for purpose" and all the other lines just won't cut any ice I'm afraid, it will generally not get exchanged unless that's the deal with the retailer, until it has been inspected by an engineer at the very least. The reason is simple, we have to determine if it is customer misuse, an installation problem or a myriad of other things before an exchange would be authorised.

That said, as a general rule, independent service agents have absolutely no say whatsoever in whether an exchange is agreed or not. Our comments may be noted and our opinion considered, but they will not generally be able to authorise such an action.

We also get customers on the phone screaming and shouting about getting a new appliance, but if you are relying on the engineer's opinion to aid your position, then is not "having a go at him" a bit counter productive? The engineers will almost universally try to help customers obtain the best possible outcome, we are not in there for any other reason and, frankly, it is often totally inconsequential to the engineer whether a product is exchanged or not but we would only recommend and exchange in extreme circumstances. But it should be obvious that having a go at the engineer will not serve any purpose other than to hinder you.

  Cost Of A Replacement Appliance

Something that customers seem not to consider is the actual cost to replace an appliance when they are demanding an exchange. You may see it as not your problem, but it is as ultimately customers pay for the service they receive and the amount paid determines the level of service. So if exchange rates rise then so will the cost of the appliances overall.

You have to remember that the appliance is shipped from a remote warehouse to a local distribution centre. Then it goes onto a local delivery van and is delivered to the customer, in many cases someone has to call out and install the new appliance and then the old one has to be uplifted, shipped all the way back again, inspected and then disposed of. That all costs money!

People that I have spoken to within the industry reckon that this all equates to about £150-200 per appliance exchanged excluding the costs of the actual appliances! Who do you think is footing the bill for that? You can also see why any manufacturer or retailer is reluctant at best to institute an exchange given the cost of it and so many customers think that a broken appliance should be changed as it only cost then £180 or whatever and that's not all profit either, so the cost to exchange is massive by comparison to the profits.

scrapped washing machines

  Appliances On Extended Warranty

On an extended warranty there are often few circumstances that will effect an exchange automatically, one exception is that Currys do offer a 28 day rule in their policies that guarantee that, if the appliance is not repaired within 28 days from the report of the fault they will exchange the product. But it is worthwhile to read the terms of any extended warranty as many of them do not offer such a term and many are not “new for old" policies and you will, like car insurance policies, receive an estimated value of the goods taking into consideration the age etc.

In effect what this means is that you may only receive back a cheque for a proportion of a new appliance and it is often in your own best interests to have a repair carried out as opposed to having the appliance “written-off" as BER (Beyond Economical Repair).

You see, anything can be repaired normally, it's just whether you want to throw that much money at it to repair it. The labour costs to the independents are normally a fixed rate per repair so there is no further financial exposure other than the spares cost to the insurer. It is therefore not hard to see that repair is the cheaper option for them.

I often have customers on the phone asking for a new washer, dishwasher or whatever appliance under an extended warranty that are totally oblivious to the fact that they do not have a “new for old" policy and that they will not just get a new appliance as if by magic. The reality of the situation is often very different to the situation as perceived by the customer. But even allowing for that, go back the cost to replace the appliance and do the simple maths yourself, it's easy to see that a repair is the far, far cheaper option in most cases.

To Answer The Question

Do not expect that you will get an exchange on anything less than a minor disaster or the repair costs being massive.

Do not expect to get an exchange if there is an installation fault or customer misuse is proven.

To get an exchange, if that is what you want done, then in the first instance contact the retailer and take the matter up with them. In law this is who you're contract is with and it is up to them to supply goods that are “fit for purpose". However do bear in mind the caveat that “fit for purpose" does not mean “fault free"!

If the retailer or supplier is no longer in business then take the matter up with the manufacturer, but you are pretty much at their mercy as to what happens.

Should the appliance fail and an engineer will normally call, many manufacturers will insist on it to eliminate installation issues, customer misuse or performance/expectation issues, essentially to verify that there is an actual fault there on the appliance and not an external problem which they do not cover under the warranty. If any of these problems mentioned are found the chances of an exchange at that stage are practically non-existent.

If a fault is found, you have but two options. Accept the repair or refuse a repair.

If you accept the repair and you're not happy about it, then say so and put it in writing so that, if there is a subsequent failure, you can produce the fact that you voiced your concerns on a previous occasion. If you state that you will not accept any further within a stated time frame and, it has to be a reasonable period like 3 months, then you've got a pretty good case if it does fail again to demand an exchange.

If you refuse the repair then get ready for a bit of a battle as you will probably be coerced into having the repairs carried out. If you really want an exchange you'll have to tough it out without the use of the machine until such times as the matter is resolved and with many retailers and manufacturers, don't expect it to happen quickly or by itself.

In many cases it comes down simply to how the particular manufacturer or retailer deals with such matters and how well their policy on exchanges works. The schools of thought are divided on who's best at it and there is no set rules in this area although some seem far better than others at resolving these matters.

If all else fails there's little option but to contact your local Trading Standards office for further advice. They will be able to offer far more detailed advice based on your individual case.

  Key Points To Remember

  • Your contract is with the retailer, not the manufacturer
  • The manufacturer guarantee will almost invariably cover repair and will not offer the right to a replacement* or refund
  • Manufacturers are almost never able to refund you unless you bought direct from them**
  • The SoGA does not provide you with the automatic right to a refund or replacement due to a breakdown
  • The SoGA does not provide a test of durability beyond what is considered to be "reasonable" 


* Doing so can make the manufacturer break taxation and VAT rules and is therefore generally not possible

** A manufacturer can choose to replace a product under its guarantee conditions but this is at their discretion

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