How to get your stuff repaired when the retailer and manufacturer don't wanna: take 'em to court

A few weeks ago I was roasting some pumpkin for a delicious soup and towards the end of the cooking time the fan on the oven started into overdrive, making a lot of noise then it started beeping and popped up this obscure error message. I phoned the manufacturer, Electrolux, on the provided number and they told me I'd need to pay at least $160 to have their engineer come out and tell me what was wrong.

You've probably had this experience with lots of stuff. "Sorry, the item is out of warranty so you'll have to pay." The problem with this is that Australian Consumer Law gives an automatic warranty. You can expect the item to last a reasonable amount of time. Now an old fashioned light bulb shouldn't be expected to last a decade, but an oven?

Challenged on this, I went around and around in circles with the Electrolux call centre worker. "So you think an oven should only last for two years?" and eventually I asked to be escalated to a manager who could actually make a decision. After some follow up, I finally got a call from a manager who was well drilled in shutting down any idea I should expect something from them. Eventually I said okay thanks, I'll see you at the Tribunal.

How long should an appliance last?

The "warranty" companies talk about is actually an "express warranty" and if you read them you'll notice these days they now include mandatory text about how they aren't able to exclude guarantees that come from the Australian Consumer Law. Anything they offer in their written warranty is in addition to your base rights.

So you have a reasonable expectation that your appliance will last a reasonable amount of time. So how long is reasonable? Well if you look around on the web you'll find different lengths of time for different classes of appliance. And if you buy the cheapest Chinesium appliance, you shouldn't expect it to last as long as the exxy Miele model.

So my Electrolux was a mid-range model bought in 2015, so it's about 9 years old. Hilariously the retailer's parent company has a blog post that gives explicit ranges for different appliances. Electric ovens should last 13 years according to them.

Time to book a court date

NSW (and I think all the other states) has a tribunal especially for consumer claims, what used to be the "small claims court" is now the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal, NCAT. It's specifically designed to be low cost and straightforward. You shouldn't need a lawyer and can turn up with your documents.

The important thing to know about tribunals like NCAT is you're paying mostly with your time. You'll need to front up on the booked date and make your case. There's a small filing fee: in this case it was $58, which is still a lot less than Electrolux wanted to charge just to tell me what the problem was.

Before you book your date, you need to work out who is the other side of the transaction. You don't ordinarily go after the manufacturer but the retailer. So I contacted Appliances Online to talk it through. They took the same line as Electrolux that it was out of warranty and so not their problem. Again: see you in the Tribunal.

I filled in the forms. They're annoyingly slow, but the online system mostly works. Paid my fee and bingo, out comes an email with a tribunal date and location.

Amazing service, just add NCAT date

And the next day I get a call from the lovely Dylan from Appliances Online, someone who's evidently empowered to make decisions that make tribunal appointments go away. He tells me he'll get Electrolux to invoice them instead, an appointment is booked and we're off to the races.

One thing worth understanding is this: if the retailer has to send someone along to the Tribunal, they lose already. Even the cost of a junior lawyer going to the tribunal is going to be more than it would cost to repair your appliance. They might do it on principle if you're taking the piss but if you have a decent case they're wasting time and money.

A couple of engineer visits

Don't go cancelling your NCAT date just yet though! First you need the problem resolved. Remember, this could have all been resolved by them applying Australian Consumer Law when you first asked, so keep that clock ticking, it keeps things moving.

I had a lovely engineer from Electrolux visit and take a look. He wasn't sure what the problem was: tested the fan and heater element and found no problem. In the end he replaced the light bulb (which hadn't worked for years, we hadn't bothered replacing it) and the message had gone away anyway.

Next day the message is back, and Dylan drops me a note asking me to remove the NCAT booking. I respond saying it still isn't resolved and magically another engineer appointment pops up.

The second visit does the trick. The engineer replaced the heating element and fan and the message has gone away. We've done a few baking projects since and all seems good!

Satisfaction, but annoyed I have to assert my rights

So my oven is fixed. Otherwise it's a great oven. It's annoying that I have to push to get my consumer rights though. It should just be standard! My hope is that by encouraging others to also assert their rights it'll become easier. Don't put up with this shit about appliances having a tiny warranty period!
5 responses
Who paid the filing fee in the end? Did you get reimbursed?
I paid the filing fee. Perhaps I could recover it but that's more effort than I can be bothered with.
Thank you for writing this up. It's so handy to know about our rights as Australians, and to keep these companies accountable.
It's rather cruel of you to flaunt your fancy-pants civilized Australian law here where you *KNOW* some of us poor Americans will see it only be able to weep with envy...
This works in the US too, though not as well. The key is knowing the ins and outs of Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act ('s businesspersons-guide-federal-warranty-law , was vital for this), and knowing if they have local lawyers. I had a company offer a coupon for an item still within warranty (first mistake: they admitted my warranty claim was valid by doing so). However, the Act specifies repair, replace, or cash refund as remedies for warranty. Back and forth a few times, and eventually I just dug up their legal department's email (CEO also probably works) and forwarded my documentation, and time spent defending my rights with their support. And the fun part: damages for wasting my time (they're defined as part of The Act). In the end I walked away with 6x the MSRP of the product. And I purchased an exact duplicate off aliexpress.