Ask LH: What Are My Consumer Rights With Refurbished Products?

Dear Lifehacker, What are my consumer rights when buying a refurbished product from a business in Australia? How does it affect the warranty? I'm looking at some refurbished TVs from a reputable Australian dealer. The stated warranty is for 3 months, which doesn't really seem "reasonable" for a TV, especially if you are still paying $1500-$2000 for it. What would the options be if the TV developed a fault which wasn't listed in the description outside of that period? Thanks, Warranty Worries

Picture: Robert Couse-Baker

Dear WW,

The Australian Consumer Law applies to products whether they're new, refurbished or second-hand. One important feature of those laws is that companies can't set an arbitrary limit on how long a warranty applies for. As the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) explains:

Warranties are separate from your automatic consumer guarantees. The consumer guarantees which apply regardless of any warranties suppliers sell or give to you, apply for a reasonable time depending on the nature of the goods or services. This means consumer guarantees may continue to apply after the time period for the warranty has expired.

What does this mean in reality? The company selling you a TV can state that a three-month warranty applies, but if that television stopped working completely after three months and one day, it can't use that warranty to escape the consumer guarantee.

The potential sticking point here is what constitutes a "reasonable time". The ACCC doesn't offer any fixed guidelines here — we're not told that a TV must last for five years, for instance. What we are told is that "acceptable quality takes into account what would normally be expected for the type of product and cost". If you have paid $2000 for a television, it seems reasonable to expect that it will last for more than three months. Conversely, after five years you'd have a tougher time making the same case.

The other caveat with refurbished goods or seconds is that you can't complain about any faults which you were made aware of at the time of purchase. If there's a scratch on the casing of the television and the seller points that out, it isn't grounds for complaint (or a refund). Not can you seek free repairs for something that's your own fault — if you smash the screen with a Wiimote, that's your problem.

Assuming that doesn't apply, however, and a major fault develops, you're fully entitled to contact the seller and ask for a repair or a replacement, depending on the nature of the fault. If the seller argues that the warranty has expired, point out the relevant consumer law. If they still won't budge, contact the consumer agency in your state. The ACCC site has a much more detailed explanation of the process. Remember: it's OK to be firm, but you won't get anywhere being rude or abrasive.

Cheers Lifehacker

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