Warranty and Guarantees – Consumer Rights at a Glance

If You Received a Faulty Product

It’s a feeling reminiscent of Christmas: the courier rings the doorbell, asks for a signature and gives you a parcel. In other cases, a cashier accepts a few banknotes and scans the parcel at the counter. In any case, a long-cherished wish has been fulfilled. After significant anticipation, you finally hold the special something in your hands. Then, the sobering realisation that the product has defects. Thankfully there are clear regulations that outline guarantees and warranty to ensure that your disappointment does not last.

What Is a Defect?

To better understand defects, let’s draw upon the example of an office chair bought by a person we will call Mr Smith. In the showroom, Mr Smith has asked a friendly salesperson to explain the difference between an ergonomic and an orthopaedic office chair. He makes his choice, pays and collects the item at the counter. Upon arriving at home, Mr Smith unpacks his office chair only to find that the left armrest is broken.

This case is clear-cut: Mr Smith’s office chair has a defect. An ergonomic office chair should have functional armrests just as a coffee machine should make coffee and a camera should be able to take photos. It is in the nature of each item to evidence these functions. A defect also exists when an item doesn’t exhibit the characteristics that were agreed on by the buyer and seller. Such a case calls for the example of a Mr Jones, who bought water-resistant hiking books but got wet feet as soon as it started to rain. A defect would also include open seams on a newly bought coat, a wobbly leg on a new dining table or a torn lampshade. In each case, the buyer has a right to customer warranty.

The Difference Between Warranty and a Guarantee

What is often called a guarantee in common parlance in fact refers to warranty. Warranty operates as follows: the seller is responsible for ensuring that their goods are in working order. In other words, the seller must warrant that every item exhibits the features that are required either by the nature of the item or the features agreed upon by buyer and seller. If that is not the case, the consumer has the right to demand a repair or a replacement (providing that they return the faulty product, of course). The right to warranty is set out in law and does not have to be explicitly stated by the seller.

However, Mr Smith’s office chair also has a manufacturer’s guarantee. Many manufacturers, especially well-known brands, put a lot of emphasis on their reputation. It is fortuitous that Mr Smith selected the product of a well-known manufacturer because their ergonomic furniture items are guaranteed for a period of 12 months. Mr Smith now has the option of returning his chair to the store to get a replacement or to contact the manufacturer directly. If he decides to drive back to the store, the retailer cannot claim that the responsibility for the defect lies with the manufacturer as a result of the manufacturer’s guarantee A manufacturer’s guarantee does not in any way affect the mandatory warranty of a retailer.

The Timeframe to Claim: Time Is of the Essence

Nevertheless, Mr Smith shouldn’t wait too long to make his decision. Consumers within the European Union have two years to claim warranty on a new item and one year for a used item. However, it is advisable to make a warranty claim in the first six months after purchase, for there is an assumption that defects uncovered in the first six months after purchase were present at the time of purchase.

Within the first six months, the onus of proof lies with the retailer. This means that if the retailer that sold Mr Smith the office chair does not wish to replace or repair it, the retailer must prove that Mr Smith caused the defect in the item. After the first six months, Mr Smith must prove that he didn’t cause the defect. He has two years to prove this after the date the item was purchased. Also, the retailer is not permitted to shift the responsibility of replacing the item: the retailer alone is responsible for the replacement.

Mr Smith’s warranty is also valid if he bought his office chair from an online shop based in another country. Despite this, sometimes retailers do not want to extend their warranty to items damaged in transnational trade. Nevertheless, a refusal to extend warranty constitutes a breach of European Union law, which stipulates that the right to warranty applies to all countries in the European Union. Many building materials actually have an even more extensive guarantee than most items. For example, manufacturers must guarantee their roof tiles, laminates and parquet floors for a period of five years. Warranty timeframes established by European law cannot be shortened but may be extended by a retailer. Expensive articles—the type an average person might buy once in a lifetime—generally attract a more generous retailer’s warranty.

Warranty: What Are Your Consumer Rights?

Mr Smith has decided to settle the matter of product warranty with the office chair retailer. He repacks the office chair and takes it back to the store. At the information counter, a friendly shop assistant recognises that the only defect is the broken armrest. Mr Smith’s receipt of purchase provides sufficient evidence that he is claiming the product warranty within the six-month timeframe. The retailer must now provide Mr Smith with the following options: to have the faulty office chair replaced with a fully functional model or to have the faulty office chair repaired.

This case would become complicated if Mr Smith had bought the only remaining chair of a particular model and did not want to accept another model as replacement. The retailer would then have to send the faulty office chair back to the manufacturer for repair. If transport, toll, labour and material costs were necessary for the repair, then the retailer would have to cover them. The law states that the consumer can determine the timeframe within which the retailer must account for the repair of the item. Should the retailer fail to produce a fully functional product after this time, Mr Smith can cancel the sales contract and is entitled to a full refund of the item. Alternatively, he can request a lower selling price. Even if the chair had been sent for repair twice and still did not have a functional second armrest, Mr Smith could cancel the sales contract and claim a full refund of the item.

Special Cases: Private Sales and Christmas

Let us assume that Mr Smith did not buy his office chair at a furniture store. If he had bought the office chair off a neighbour or through another individual at an eBay auction, the issue of warranty would be very different. By comparison to commercial retailers, private individuals may nullify the legal warranty of an item. Nevertheless, the neighbour or the eBay seller must inform potential buyers that ‘the item is for sale to the exception of any warranty’. This exemption from product warranty would be ineffectual if Mr Smith were able to prove that the seller had known about the broken armrest and had withheld this fact on purpose or knowingly provided misleading information. Moreover, special product warranty often applies over the Christmas period. Since presents are often bought well before Christmas Eve, many businesses—particularly online businesses—sometimes offer an extended product warranty. Such warranties are outlined in the terms and conditions of the relevant business, as customers cannot simply claim extended warranty on an item under the guise that it was a ‘Christmas present’.