Ask LH: Who Decides If I Get A Repair, A Replacement Or A Refund?

Ask LH: Who Decides If I Get A Repair, A Replacement Or A Refund?

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

Dear LR,

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.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Good answer Angus.

    I’d suggest the owner consider getting the extended warranty now. This is unlikely going to be last problem over the next few years. I also buy them all the time and inevitably end up using them and very thankful I don’t have to pay for repair costs myself.

    • I can’t link it without searching it (and I’m lazy), but US Lifehacker has made a few articles regarding extended warranties and their belief you’re best off without them. Instead they suggest putting the money you WOULD have spend on an extended warranty aside, and let it build up with each new purchase.

      I think the general concept is along the lines of you’ll be better off financially, and have more options to you in the event of a failure – including upgrading your product to a brand new one.

      I gotta admit, it’s hard to argue with their logic – assuming you have enough self control not to dip into your stash.

  • Apple’s warranty is pretty poor. I has a iPod 4G and it died after 6 months. I got a new one sent to me and it was DOA, Apple refused to send another ASAP instead they had to wait for the old one to be returned. Then the next iPod died within 3 months. I had to argue that I should have an automatic extended warranty because it seemed there was a good chance the next one would fail pretty soon. I did get another 3 months added. But considering how much you pay for a iPod they should last more than 1 year.

    In contrast I bought a Sony Bravia LCD TV and it had a problem recently, it was out of warranty (4 years old) and Sony paid for the replacement parts (worth $1000) and I paid for for the labor. I think Sony have a better idea of what “fit for the intended purpose” means that Apple.

  • Apple is a business, meaning they will pay for the least expense to get you up and running again generally (Apple, are known for hard lines warranty processes and palming off warranties to various 3rd parties to keep their profits… business wise they are a bit of a nasty operator and very hard to deal with)… I would take the repair and be happy, it’s what most businesses would offer but with Apple you don’t stand much compassion or room to move as in the example of Sony above, With Apple you will generally not see or get offered this level of service unless you reach into your wallet, just about sign away 1000 of your rights and give them your credit card ‘just incase’.

    That’s just my 2cents work, get it repaired and be happy it’s just before end of warranty else you would not be a happy camper at all.

  • Stand up for yourself. You said you own “many” Mac computers. I would put your complaint in writing to Apple Australia and demand a replacement outright, detailing your case and history of Mac ownership.

    If they don’t oblige, take your business elsewhere and tell them in no uncertain terms why you did so.

    • Thats a great option Greg… good point… I’m very interested to hear the outcome on this though none of my friends have not had any luck with Apple at all they are a beast of a company to deal with when it comes to warranty and support… I’ve never had a HUGE range of Macs though and neither have my friends so I’m very interested to see if they will help out if you’ve been a very loyal customer for such a long period of time and have purchased a range of products..etc..etc… I’m hoping they will but I’m not holding my breath with Apple…

      Please keep us updated 🙂

      All the best with it!

  • “If they don’t oblige, take your business elsewhere and tell them in no uncertain terms why you did so.”

    Then you would be being unreasonable in the circumstances – and Apple would move on without paying attention, knowing you can’t win with every case.

    If you are going to write to head office, demand a replacement and wait for a response, the “inconvenient” timing clearly isn’t a genuine factor – the repair could be well under way before you are likely to get an answer during the holiday season.

    So, the real reason becomes simply “you want a new one”. And the “many” Macs doesn’t make the case more deserving than someone who just owns one, anyway.

    Save the threats for the genuine cases of poor service, rather than writing letters over a perfectly ordinary situation where a reasonable resolution has already been offered..

  • I’ve been interested in this myself, after a recent dealing with a HN store.

    A few months ago I purchased a phone outright from them, and after a week and a half it developed some minor issues, which ultimately escalated into the phone not turning on at all. By the time I took it back, it was 16 days after purchase.

    Upon returning it, I was told in no uncertain terms that having it sent away to have it inspected by the manufacturer was my only option.

    This seems like a ‘major’ fault to me, and as something so new, I can’t see why a refund or immediate replacement couldn’t have been an option. Any thoughts on this?

    Further, 3 months on, the replacement phone has begun having issues of it’s own. Reasonably, what are my options at this point? Subsequent investigation has shown many have suffered the same issues that my handsets seem to have been plagued with, so I’m not all that interested in getting another one only for it to do the same in another few months.

  • I used to manage a Dick Smiths back in NZ and our consumer law is pretty much in the same – no real thing as a “warranty period” – things should last as long as they reasonably should – which is amazingly fair, however the retailer always can choose to repair, refund, or replace.

    We were so nice to people – replacing many items months down the track because we liked repeat business (and some of the in-house gear was pretty rubbish) – but for the higher-priced items – phones, cameras etc. – we would err on the side of caution and almost always get the item inspected first.

    You wouldn’t believe how many people demanded refunds and then were shocked to find out that “getting sand in the camera lens” is not covered under warranty. And, yes, I’m not replacing your sons’ PSP because the games won’t work anymore – there’s a reason they don’t and it’s because it has been taken on an underwater adventure (judging by the condensation under the glass).

    Most people are honest, but there are so many dodgy people out there it ruins it for the rest of us.

  • Too right Matt, and let’s be honest years ago companies could do things like that as there was ‘profit’ in electronics now days there is basically no margin left and you simply can’t afford to do out of warranty replacements unless the manufacturer is willing to but they are also getting screwed on price so everyone is struggling (unless you are Apple and get ridiculously cheap manufacturing and screw your manufacturers beyond belief so if anyone should offer great warranties as they have the money to its Apple!)

  • Apple have met their obligation to you with their offer to repair your machine. The only further thing you might expect is an offer of a refurbished machine IF they had one available at your time of asking.

    However many businesses will go above and beyond.

    I still tell people the story of the time my 10 months old Siemens phone (this was twelve years ago or so) developed an intermittent column of dead pixels. I rang Siemens Australian office (interstate), faxed my reciept, and two days later a courier turned up at my work with a replacement. The courier instructed me to remove the battery and SIM from my old one and make sure the new one was working, then, both of us satisfied that everything was OK, he took the old one with him.

    Based on that experience, if Siemens made smartphones today, I may not be an iPhone user.

  • If you really want to push it, you could argue that it is a major problem:
    “For example, you would not have bought the washing machine if you had known the motor would fail after three months.” = “For example, you would not have bought the computer if you had known the logic board fail after 12 months.” – all my computers seem to work fine for a lot longer than that

    “For example, the raincoat you bought is not waterproof because it is made from the wrong material.” = “For example, the computer you bought is not working because it is made from faulty parts material.”

    I would try and get a refund, I don’t understand why Apple get’s special privileges over warranties than other companies do. It’s not like Apple is a small business that is struggles. They wipe there asses in $100 notes.

    I had a similar issue with purchasing a bike from Kmart – riding it for a few months, and the pedal unscrews and falls off – they wanted me to pay 50% of the total amount I paid for the bike to fix it because they used the wrong screw (pedal and it’s loosens instead of tightens). I wrote a list of arguments, call the store manager and had a heated discussion – he was on the verge of swearing until he gave in and gave me a refund – he already had my bike in the repair shop.

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