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How To Get Apple To Replace A Defective Out-Of-Warranty iPhone In Australia

Lifehacker’s Consumer Power Week continues with a handy guide to exercising your consumer rights if you have an out-of-warranty iPhone that’s developed a fault. Despite Apple’s frequent posturing, there’s plenty you can do, as Jason Discount explains.

With the two year anniversary of the release of the iPhone 4 in Australia just past, many folks who bought their iPhone 4 after that period would now be approaching the end of their contracts. The iPhone 4 has been known to experience some common defects later in its life (does anyone have a flaky home button?), so here is a guide for how to get Apple to honour the Trade Practices Act of 1974, and provide you with free warranty service: that is, a replacement for your defective iPhone.

First, let’s clear up some initial points. This is not a scam, or a way to scam Apple. The Australian Government and the ACCC have some fantastic consumer protection policies in place that many people simply aren’t aware of, and many companies don’t rush to inform you about. In 2011, they increased these protections even further with the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, but in the case of the iPhone 4, it’s likely that your situation is covered by the 1974 act, which this guide is based upon.

Also, this protection is to cover defects. You are not meant to use this guide if you have damaged your phone through accident, neglect or abuse.

Finally, I am not a lawyer, and you should not consider this legal advice. However, the ACCC has seemingly intentionally documented your rights using as little legalese as possible, with the hopeful intention that all of us commoners can read and interpret it accordingly.

The best approach for anyone to take, is to read the entire Warranties and Refunds Guide (PDF) available at the ACCC website. Nearly all of the passages I am going to arm you with, come directly from that text. I recommend keeping a link, or printout, to it handy, so that you can present it to whomever you are seeking your remedy through.

So, without further ado, here are the common ways Apple tries to absolve themselves of responsibility, and the methods you can use to hold their feet to the fire.

First, you will need to book yourself an appointment at your nearest Genius Bar, or call Apple Technical Support, describe your issue and ask what their offered remedy is. It is typically at this point, that you will be informed that your iPhone is out of warranty, and you can purchase a replacement. Let them know that their warranty is in addition to your statutory rights, which are not limited to a year, by reading them this excerpt from page 10 (emphasis mine):

How long do consumers’ statutory rights apply?

Statutory rights are not limited to a set time period. Instead, they apply for the amount of time that is reasonable to expect, given the cost and quality of the item.

This means a consumer may be entitled to a remedy under their statutory rights after any manufacturer’s voluntary or extended warranty has expired.

For example, it is reasonable to expect that an expensive television should not develop a serious fault after 13 months of normal use. In this case, the consumer could argue the item was not of merchantable quality and ask for it to be repaired, even if the manufacturer’s voluntary warranty had expired.

After quoting this passage, I immediately seek to define what a “reasonable” amount of time is, by pointing out that virtually every iPhone in the world is sold with a two-year mobile service contract, and as such, expecting the device to be without defect for two years seems very “reasonable”.

In my most recent experience, while the Genius agreed that two years was a reasonable amount of time, he seemed to confuse the protection I was raising with a different consumer protection, where a telecommunications provider must warrant any device that a customer is paying off under contract, for the life of that contract. That protection is beyond the scope of this guide, but if you are still under contact with your provider, that is another potential method for remedy, although I believe that came into effect later than 2010.

If at this point, Apple does try to send you to your carrier or the reseller from which you purchased the phone, assuming you didn’t purchase it directly, raise this passage from page 11 which falls under the heading, “Who must provide a remedy?”:

Manufacturers and importers – The law also gives consumers the right to pursue a manufacturer or importer for a remedy, even if goods were bought from a retailer.

In all but one case, these two points have usually been enough for my case to be escalated to the powers-that-be, and a refurbished replacement iPhone is then provided at no charge.

However, in one recent case, a Genius and his Manager still did not comply. This is when I brought out the heavy guns, found on page 14:

Misleading consumers about their rights

Statutory rights are consumers’ rights which are implied in all consumer contracts by the Act. They cannot be changed, limited or refused by a seller.

It is against the law for a seller to do anything that leads consumers to believe their rights are limited, or do not apply – for example, by claiming that no refunds will be given under any circumstances.

That’s right. If a member of Apple’s staff does anything “that leads consumers to believe their rights are limited”, like the imposition of a 1 year “limited” warranty, they are breaking Australian law!

The final snippet that I will add, is the following opening excerpt from the current, publicly available version of the iPhone warranty for Australia available at the Apple website (again, the emphasis is mine):

HOW CONSUMER LAW RELATES TO THIS WARRANTY

For Australian consumers: The rights described in this warranty are in addition to the statutory rights to which you may be entitled under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and other applicable Australian consumer protection laws and regulations. Our goods come with guarantees that cannot be excluded under the Australian Consumer Law. You are entitled to a replacement or refund for a major failure and for compensation for any other reasonably foreseeable loss or damage. You are also entitled to have the goods repaired or replaced if the goods fail to be of acceptable quality and the failure does not amount to a major failure. Repair of the goods may result in loss of data. Goods presented for repair may be replaced by refurbished goods of the same type rather than being repaired. Refurbished parts may be used to repair the goods.

So there you have it. Even Apple’s own documentation enforces that the 1-year limited warranty is on top of, and in addition to, your statutory rights!

Lastly, if you are still unable to obtain a remedy, then it is possible that Apple is in breach of the Trade Practices Act, and you should contact the ACCC and file a complaint.

So, armed with the knowledge of these fantastic, consumer-focused statutory rights, and your defective iPhones, go forth and seek remedies!

How to Get Apple to Replace a Defective Out-of-Warranty iPhone in Australia [The Practice Of Code]

Jason Discount is an American living in Australia where he develops software primarily for primary schools and manages servers. Check out his The Practice Of Code blog..