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Letters from April 2016


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Water resistance

I recently bought a smartphone online. The phone was advertised as water resistant to one metre. Last week, I took the phone with me while kayaking, inside a sealed zip-lock bag. Unfortunately, a wave washed into the boat, the bag leaked, and the phone got wet and stopped working. When I rang the retailer, it told me the phone was not covered for any water damage and said its website also states water damage won’t be covered. Can you tell me if this is reasonable and what are my options to recover my money or get a replacement phone? SIMON HOYLE

From what you say, the Consumer Guarantees Act applies. You purchased a phone advertised as water resistant to one metre. However, the phone has not performed as described. You may have to point out your rights to the retailer. If the phone can’t be fixed, you can ask the store for a new phone or a full refund. You can enforce your rights through the Disputes Tribunal if necessary (a $45 filing fee applies). In addition, if the retailer’s website states water damage won’t be covered, even though the phone is described as “water resistant”, this could be a breach of the Fair Trading Act and you can make a complaint to the Commerce Commission.

Leaky pipes

I have a problem with plumbing in my house, which was built two-and-a-half years ago. The pipes under the kitchen sink have leaked, causing damage to kitchen cabinetry. The property developer said this damage is not covered by my plumbing warranty as that was only offered for two years. What are my rights in this case? CLIVE CROY

In our view, the developer is liable for any damage caused by the leak. It has not exercised reasonable care and skill when carrying out the plumbing work. This is a breach of the Consumer Guarantees Act. It could also be a breach of the Building Act 2004. We suggest you point this out to the developer and ask it to reimburse you for the cost of remedying the damage.

UPDATE: The developer agreed to pay the insurance excess for replacement of the kitchen cabinetry.

Flawed mattress

In December, my husband and I purchased a bed. It was sold to us in the showroom as a brand-new Sealy Unity Queen bed for $1500. When the bed was delivered in January, we noticed white fabric on all sides of the mattress was discoloured a dirty yellow colour. I phoned the salesman and he said a replacement would be delivered. I have since received two replacements of the same bed, each time with the same fabric flaw. It is now almost two months since we purchased the bed. Are you able to give any advice on this matter? A MEMBER

Under the Consumer Guarantees Act, a good must match the sample or demonstration model, and in this case it doesn’t. Where a failure is minor and can be remedied, the Act allows the retailer to choose between repairing or replacing the goods, or refunding the customer’s money. If the retailer doesn’t provide one of these remedies within a reasonable time, the customer may choose the remedy they prefer. As the retailer has failed to successfully provide a remedy (replacement of the bed) we believe you are now entitled to ask for a refund. We’d suggest you point this out to the retailer.

Sound advice

We have a 2002 Honda Fit that is reasonably noisy and were thinking of upgrading to a 2013 Honda Jazz Hybrid, which we test drove and really liked. However, we have a small trailer and a tow bar and the Jazz Hybrid won’t take one. Dang! Stymied! So now we’re hoping to reduce the noise on the Fit. But the small wheels (R14) don’t seem to vary much in decibel ratings in your test results. In your opinion, do wider tyres reduce or increase road noise? JANET HUNT

George Block, Consumer technical writer, says: We stopped measuring the noise of car tyres in our test, as it turned out to be more a test of the car’s noise than the tyres – all our decibel readings were within a couple of points of each other. Wider tyres have more rubber in contact with the road, so are likely to generate slightly more noise. But I’m not sure you’d hear any difference between 175mm and 185mm tyres (the sizes suitable for your car). As a small city car, your 2002 Fit will seem relatively noisy, especially at highway speeds and particularly on coarse-chip roads. The first thing to check is the pressure of your current tyres — running too much or too little pressure is likely to have more impact on noise than tyre width. Using the correct pressures will make your tyres safer and cut down your fuel costs. You can also tackle other sources of noise:

  • To minimise wind noise, make sure all window and door seals are intact and external trim around the bonnet, windscreen and doors is properly installed.
  • Ensure the insulation under the bonnet, which dampens engine noise, hasn’t been compromised.
  • Consider replacing the rubber “sound-deadening pads” on your car, or installing more of them. These are designed to suppress noise and vibrations from side panels, door panels and under your car’s floor. They’re available from automotive shops, but you’ll likely need a mechanic to install them as they require the removal of bodywork or interior trim.

Car written off

I bought a 2010 Toyota RAV4 from a private seller on Trade Me. Before I bought the car, I ran its number plates through a website that provides pre-purchase information such as the car’s ownership and mechanical history. The report noted the car had been reregistered, but no reason was given. Unbeknownst to me (and the seller), the car had been in an accident and written off at one point. I didn’t learn this until after I’d bought the car. Should I be worried? A MEMBER

Luke Harrison, Consumer senior research writer, says: An insurer can write off a damaged car if it’s uneconomic to repair or its safety has been compromised. If a car is written off, the insurer must cancel the registration. Before a car can be reregistered, it has to be repaired, inspected and certified by a certifier approved by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA). This should give you some peace of mind regarding your car’s safety. You can use pre-purchase car information sites, such as CarJam or Trade Me’s MotorWeb, to discover if a car has been reregistered (or deregistered) in the past. But the reason behind the car’s reregistration may not be evident. It depends on the site and which number plate (old or new) you enter. If you have the car’s vehicle identification or chassis number, you can also run a search on NZTA’s register of flood-damaged, fire-damaged and written-off vehicles. See nzta.govt.nz for more information.

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