Ask LH: Do Warranty Laws Mean AppleCare Is Irrelevant?

Ask LH: Do Warranty Laws Mean AppleCare Is Irrelevant?

Dear Lifehacker, In the light of the new consumer laws introduced earlier this year, I’m wondering if we should question whether we should be paying to extend the limited warranty of one year on new Apple computers? Apple likes to promote the extended three-year AppleCare warranty as a logical extension of the 12 months “limited warranty” that it already offers, but I’m wondering if that falls within the law.The ACCC’s own site makes it clear that extended warranties don’t eliminate the rights consumers already have. I understand that AppleCare offers more than just extended repairs to hardware problems but if you don’t need any tech support or software support should we be OK to buy an Apple machine and have the confidence that if something does go wrong with a machine, it will be repaired at Apple’s expense within the first 3 years?

I actually raised the question with an Apple sales representative and received a response which said Apple couldn’t guarantee or promise any coverage outside of the first year. Can it do that as a company?

If the new law in Australia protects our investment beyond the advertised one-year period, I feel this is something that needs to be brought to people’s attention so that Apple and other manufacturer’s alike can be more transparent. Is this something that Lifehacker and Gizmdo could research to shed some light on the matter?

Thanks, Savings-Minded

Pedant note: This question was in fact originally sent to Gizmodo, but editor Nick immediately pegged it as “much more a Lifehacker thing” and passed it on to me.

Dear Savings-Minded,

The short answer is this: the one-year AppleCare warranty doesn’t supplant your rights as a consumer or mean that Apple can disclaim responsibility after a year, but that doesn’t mean that your basic rights are more comprehensive than the three-year warranty AppleCare offers for an additional fee either. All that is worth diving into in a little more detail.

The first important point to note is that Apple is in no position to supplant existing consumer law, and no number of disclaimers will let it do that. Apple is an odd company in this respect. On the one hand, most people who have cause to use it are generally very positive about the Apple support experience. On the other hand, it’s very evident that Apple often likes to act like its own internal policies should supplant specific consumer laws. That’s simply not so.

It’s also clear that Apple is keen to sell AppleCare to anyone who purchases hardware from it. Here’s a typical spiel it uses to promote AppleCare:

Your iMac comes with a one-year limited hardware warranty and complimentary phone support for the first 90 days after you buy it. So you can call our highly trained AppleCare advisors with questions about moving your files, connecting to a network, using Mac OS X, and more. Extend your coverage to three years from your computer’s purchase date with the AppleCare Protection Plan.

It’s hard to imagine that it was not exactly this kind of approach that the ACCC had in mind when it gave this example of how extended warranties can be promoted in a misleading way:

It is important to remember that regardless of any warranty a business chooses to offer, consumers still have rights under the consumer guarantees. The extra warranty does not alter or limit consumers’ rights under the guarantees, and businesses should be careful that their warranties do not mislead consumers about their rights.

Businesses should take particular care when describing and selling extended warranties to ensure that consumers are not misled into thinking that they are required to pay for rights that are already provided by the consumer guarantees.

For example:

A computer is sold with a free 12-month warranty given by the manufacturer. The seller advises the consumer that they need to purchase a three year extended warranty, otherwise they will have no right to a remedy after the 12-month warranty period expires.

In this case, the seller is likely to have breached the ACL by advising the consumer that they need to pay for rights provided for under the consumer guarantees.

The key point here is this: it’s not in any way reasonable for Apple to assume on the 366th day that you own a piece of hardware that it has no responsibility whatsoever towards servicing that hardware. The ATO, for instance, assumes that the functional lifespan of PC hardware is at least three years. Given that, presuming that the hardware could die after the first year is unreasonable. If you’ve spent several thousand dollars on hardware, treated it reasonably and not damaged it, Apple can’t tell you that it has no obligations simply because you didn’t purchase AppleCare and you’ve had the equipment for more than 12 months.

With all that said, though, there’s equally no basis to assume that you could get exactly the same rights by not buying AppleCare at all. That service includes options which aren’t part of your explicit consumer rights — including the ability to get phone support for a whole range of features, and the ability to get overseas repairs. (The original seller has to offer assistance under Australian law for problems with goods its sells you, but that doesn’t extend to offshore locations.)

If I was buying a piece of Apple hardware, I suspect I’d pay for AppleCare — it doesn’t seem that expensive to me for what you get. That said, I wouldn’t assume that it was supplanting my consumer rights. I’d assume it was supplementing them. If an Apple representative told you there was no guarantee of how your hardware might perform after the first year, it evident that approach goes against the tenor of the law. Whether that would change your purchase decision is up to you.

Cheers Lifehacker

Lifehacker’s weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.


  • If the consumer doesn’t get apple care, so only the initial 12 month warranty that comes standard, what rights does the consumer have after those 12 months under the new law?

    Does it mean the same rights in the first 12 months are extended to at least 36 months (3 years) since that is regarded the reasonable lifetime of a computer? Or are they diminished in some way?

  • Of course, AppleCare is different to most “extended warranty” services in that it actually offers more than just warranty. As we all know, other extended warranties are just useless.

    • Not true – it all depends on what service they offer. Some extended warranties offer loan units for example, which is above and beyond their legal responsibilities.

  • I’m a little unclear on all this… The implicated seems to be:
    Manufacturers are required to honour a 3 year warranty against manufacturing defects?

    ie: If any hardware of mine breaks within 3 years and I’ve treated it “reasonably”, I get warranty?

    I didn’t know this had happened; and wouldn’t anyone claiming you only get a 1 year manufacturers warranty be breaching this new law?

    • My understanding is that there is no guarantee or anything of 3yrs specifically, rather the legislations is that if the product becomes defective/has defective parts within a reasonable time frame, then it may be obliged to replace it/refund etc. However the use of the word reasonable a bit open to interpretation, and depends on the product.

      Um, also, if the company/an apple representative expressly says that a product will last a certain amount of time and gives you a guarantee on that then it’s likely you will be protected for that amount (given certain provisions are met)

      As for the claiming 1yr warranty, well generally apple has added things to their warranty – stuff that is above the usual standard of care which a company is required by law to give, so thats why they can market it as this special thing. In addition, for the one year warranty thing in general, it once again is basically what is reasonable. So you might expect a $20 000 state of the art tv to last a lot longer than a non-name super cheap item you got at aldi. So the aldi one might have a reasonable warranty of 1yr, but the tv might have a reasonably warranty of 5

      HOWEVER, do not rely on anything I say as I am merely humble 2nd yr law student xD

    • I’m with Tyris, pretty please, clarify. If it isn’t too much trouble, can you link to the ACCC sources for this info, not just backlink? (that’d be really helpful) and also, does this cover phones (my wife’s iPhone died on day 366, seriously, and we had to pay for a replacement). Thanks for bringing this to our attention Angus! Hack on.

    • It’s not as clear-cut as that in terms of timing — what’s reasonable would vary depending on what you paid for the product, typical lifespan of similar products, any representations made by sales people, evidence of defective componentry etc.

      What vendors can’t do is blanket disclaim all responsibility at the end of their self-defined warranty period — especially in terms of suggesting that an extended warranty is the only possible way to get service after that date. This applies to any manufacturer.

  • Quick Disclaimer: I’m not a huge fan of apple products these days, however I bought the original ipod when it came out and have a 2007 macbook pro (no longer really have use for a laptop so it sits idle).

    In my experience apple looked after me extremely well outside of applecare (which I did purchase). I.e. about 12 months ago I had a battery replaced by apple, it was one of those ones that got swollen and turned into a balloon. 2 weeks ago I finally got around to replacing a melted magsafe charger which melted around 6 months ago, but I didn’t bother getting replaced till now cause I don’t use the thing… only got it replaced to drop the whole thing on ebay. Eitherway both were replaced free of charge, thou maybe a little social engineering on my side was employed. Both were probably 12-24 months out of warranty/applecare.

    Having said that, I wouldn’t purchase any current apple products, as they are overpriced and don’t suit my needs (mech engineer here). Some might think the price justifies the service I received, but honestly, the melted magsafe and balloon battery were criminally unsafe, should never have happened. And there are better products available currently that suit my needs better.

  • Excellent summary in the article. It’s very hard to explain the law in this area concisely.

    To the other commenters so far, what it means is that Apple can’t necessarily refuse to repair or replace your hardware after 12 months just because they themselves choose to offer a 12 month warranty. If your $2k-$3k Apple dies after, say, 2 years due to a hardware fault then it is reasonable to expect them to replace it, whatever they might say about their warranty. On the other hand if your PC is a $500 Dell, that might not be the case.

    I.e., what you pay for the item relative to other items in the market is relevant to how long you have rights against defects/failure. By analogy, you would be right to expect a $1000 watch to last a good few years, but not to expect a $10 watch to last all that long.

    Your rights under the ACL are completely independent from any warranty rights (the latter are basically a part of your contract with Apple when you buy the item). The ACL only extends to defective items or items which are not “fit for purpose”. For example, drop your laptop and it’s not covered by the ACL if it breaks, but if it simply packs up because of a faulty part then it is. Likewise if it turns out to be unable to run some software that it would be reasonable to expect it to be able to run, you might be entitled to a refund.

    Where Apple definitely sails close to the wind under the new laws is that it is now prohibited to misrepresent the rights that consumers have under the ACL.

  • The logic board in my iMac died in under three years and Apple advised it would cost almost $1K to fix. As I gather from above, the ATO considers the lifespan three years. Is Apple obligated to fix my iMac even without AppleCare?

  • The question still hasn’t been answered for me.

    I’m make my living in computer support and take good care of my computer. Midway through the graphics card overheats and fails. I have not purchased an extended warranty… I think the manufacturer should replace it, they don’t.

    How will the battle play out? Can I skip the extended warranty next purchase and put my trust in the ombudsmen?

  • Can we also have an article on how to claim the implied warranty? I mean I am aware of this but realistically I have no idea on how to go about it.

    Do you just go to the store and prattle on about an implied warranty? Because I would guess that most people behind the counter are unaware. What would be the next step?

  • Here is another example and my understanding how it works.
    A carrier offers you a new mobile phone if you sign up to a 24 month plan. Normal manufacturer warranty is just 12 months. If 15 months into the contract, the phone fails, then it’s reasonable to expect the phone to be repaired free. Since to contract was 24 months, it is implied that the handset would be serviceble for that 24 months.
    As long as reasonable care has been given to the phone.

  • Purchase a warranty.

    dSLR died 4 months before end of a 5 years warranty – replaced!

    Computer died while attached to a surge protector (same thing as a warranty) – replaced!

    iPad 2…broken because I knocked it…told Apple and they replaced it free of charge – awesome!

  • I work for an undisclosed retailer and from what i’ve been told, the new laws go a little something like this.
    Under the new laws, a customer is entitled to coverage outside of the warranty period provided that the device in question has failed due to a major malfunction which has caused the device to not operate for the “expected” period of operation. What the expected period of time may be, is determined by the manufacturer.

    At my store, if anyone wants to make a claim outside of warranty, we a tied to committing a FIVE day turn around as to whether the particular device can be replaced/repaired at the discretion of the manufacturer.
    If deemed faulty, the customer is entitled to exchange for a similar product or a credit for the device at the CURRENT market value.

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