Dear Lifehacker, I’m an Australian Apple customer who owns many Mac machines and I love them all. I’ve always bought AppleCare for them, except for a Mac Pro of mine that’s about to be out of warranty in around a month. One of the RAM slots of the logic board has failed and isn’t recognising any sticks of memory.
I took it to the Genius Bar and they said that they can replace the logic board under warranty, but that will take a few days. Being the holiday period, it’s a hugely inconvenient time of year for me and so I asked if it was possible to get the machine replaced. The Genius I spoke to turned around and said that as an Apple technician, his job is to fix the machine itself, not replace it. Additionally, the Apple Warranty is designed to cover repair over replace in all but extreme circumstances.
I thought under the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) consumer protection regulations, it was up to the consumer to decide if one of the “three Rs” — refund, repair or replacement — applied. Can you clarify?
Thanks, Little Ripper
Picture by Glenn Batuyong
We’ve discussed the issue of whether AppleCare is worth buying and how it relates to your existing consumer rights previously. While Apple’s approach to non-AppleCare warranties is often at seeming odds with Australian consumer law, in this particular case the technician is most likely correct: Apple is entitled to offer you a repair rather than a replacement.
As the ACCC explains , the key issue is in establishing who chooses whether a repair, replacement or refund will be offered is whether the issue in question is a “minor” or a “major” one. In the case of a minor problem, the seller of the goods can choose which of the three Rs is offered. In the case of a major problem, the consumer can choose to get a full refund, an identical replacement or a partial refund reflecting the lesser value of the goods. (You might do that if you purchased an expensive sports car with a long waiting list, for instance.)
So the question then becomes: is the failure of your logic board a “major problem”? You might instinctively answer “yes”, but in fact there are specific criteria that need to be met. Here’s the ACCC summary:
There is a major problem with a product when:
- you would not have purchased the product if you had known about the problem. For example, you would not have bought the washing machine if you had known the motor would fail after three months.
- the product is significantly different from the description, sample or demonstration model you were shown. For example, you ordered a red bicycle from a catalogue but the bicycle delivered was green.
- the product is substantially unfit for its normal purpose and cannot easily be made fit within a reasonable time. For example, the raincoat you bought is not waterproof because it is made from the wrong material.
- the product is substantially unfit for a purpose that you told the supplier about, and cannot easily be made fit within a reasonable time. For example, you told the seller you needed a car to tow a boat, but the car they sold you is not powerful enough to tow your boat because its engine is too small.
I’d argue that none of these apply in your case, especially since Apple has offered to repair the offending hardware. It’s essentially impossible to argue that it didn’t match the description or that it is “substantially unfit for its normal purpose” and can’t be made workable, since it clearly can once the board is replaced. The fact that it’s inconvenient timing because of Christmas for you doesn’t really come into it, unfortunately. And while I am not a lawyer, I think you’d have a tough road to hoe arguing that you wouldn’t have bought the product if you had realised it might suffer from these kinds of performance issues; motherboard failures are not exactly unknown on any type of hardware. (And if that was the case, presumably you’d be seeking a refund, not a replacement unit.)
If the machine you were seeking to repair was only a couple of weeks old, then you could much more easily make a case that it was a “major problem” and demand a replacement (or even a refund). Under Apple’s stated DOA policy, a machine that fails to start out of the box will automatically be replaced, but it seems reasonable to suggest that something which operates for only a brief period of time should be replaced, not fixed, since you clearly wouldn’t have purchased the product if you knew about the problem. But almost 12 months in, it’s nowhere near as clear cut, and offering a replacement logic board does seem a reasonable alternative.
For what it’s worth, I suspect you’d also be able to mount the same argument even outside Apple’s own 12-month warranty period; the general expectation is certainly that an expensive piece of server equipment (Mac Pros start from $3,000) should last longer than a year. But even then you’d be looking at a repair in the first instance, not a replacement. Consumer laws are essential for protecting consumers, but they also need to strike a balance to ensure that businesses aren’t disadvantaged.