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Letters from December 2016

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Delayed repair

We have a treadmill, less than two years old, with a part that failed under warranty. It took three months to get the part replaced because it had to come from China. We asked before purchase if there would be any trouble getting parts and were assured no. We have now been asked to pay for the costs of the technician who fitted the part. Is this OK? LYNN MCKENZIE

From what you’ve said, the retailer should carry out the repairs for free. This includes paying for the cost of the technician to fit the replacement part to the treadmill. The Consumer Guarantees Act requires goods purchased for personal or household use — including a treadmill — to be of acceptable quality. When a product fails this test, you’re entitled to ask the retailer to remedy the problem within a reasonable time.

GST included?

I asked a serviceman to give me an all-up quote for a job. He told me verbally, then confirmed the quote by text message. It was clear it was the total cost. He did not mention GST was extra. I received the bill for the quoted amount plus GST! I do not feel I should pay more than I was quoted. SASKIA SCHUITEMAKER

Under the Fair Trading Act, businesses can’t mislead consumers about the cost of a product or service. Quotes or estimates should be inclusive of GST, or it should be made clear the price is GST-exclusive. We suggest you tell the serviceman this. If he insists on charging the GST-inclusive amount, you can challenge the bill in the Disputes Tribunal. You can also lodge a complaint with the Commerce Commission, which enforces the Fair Trading Act.

Mechanical breakdown insurance

Our car manufacturer offered to extend the mechanical breakdown insurance on our car. The vehicle will be three years old in January. The rates are $995 for one year, $1195 for two years and $1395 for three years. Surely a car is expected to last more than three years. Are we not already covered under the Consumer Guarantees Act? CHRIS BROWN

Breakdown insurance is a form of extended warranty, which we advise is unnecessary . This is because it often provides no greater protection than what you’re entitled to under the Consumer Guarantees Act. The Act says your car should be of acceptable quality and fit for purpose. If you’re interested in buying breakdown insurance, we suggest carefully checking the difference between what it offers and what you get under the Act. Check the exclusions (which are usually considerable) and any special requirements, such as regular servicing . One proviso: if your car is to be used for business purposes, the Consumer Guarantees Act won’t apply.

Unfit vacuum

We purchased a new vacuum cleaner in August 2014. It needed repair in December 2014 then was recalled due to problems with the cord two weeks later. In February 2015, we were issued a replacement. Fast forward a year-and-a-half later and we have an identical issue with this vacuum to that in December 2014! I returned the vacuum to the retailer and requested a full refund as I had lost faith in this product. The retailer advised it was not required to provide a refund, instead offering a replacement vacuum. What advice can you give me? CHARLIE SPENCELEY

When a product has a minor fault, the retailer can choose to repair the item, replace it or refund the purchase price. However, in cases where the fault isn’t successfully remedied or is substantial, the Consumer Guarantees Act gives you the right to request a replacement or refund. In giving you a replacement with exactly the same problem as the original faulty vacuum cleaner, the retailer has failed to successfully provide a remedy. Therefore, we consider you’re entitled to reject the machine and request a refund.

Explosive halogen

My wife and I were sitting in our front room when there was a hell of a bang and we were showered with glass, as a halogen light bulb exploded. There were also red-hot bits of metal that put burn marks in clothing, the carpet and a table and also shot over the hall and put a burn mark in the bathroom vinyl. My sparky has found no fault with the wiring or fitting. Have you heard of this happening before? PETE SCOTNEY

George Block, Consumer technical writer, says: Halogen light bulbs are filled with low-pressure gas, meaning any breach of the bulb’s glass surrounding the filament (the “glass envelope”) will cause it to violently implode. According to WorkSafe NZ senior technical officer Miles Bonfield the main reason for “exploding” halogens is manufacturing defects in the glass envelope or scratches occurring during transit or installation. Each time a scratched/defective bulb is switched on, it is subjected to stress and becomes increasingly likely to fail. Another cause is touching the glass envelope during installation, which can transfer oil from your skin to the surface, creating a hotspot and therefore a potential failure point. However, since yours was a general service bulb, which is protected by frosted glass around the halogen’s glass envelope, it won’t have been touched during transit or installation. For linear or capsule halogen bulbs, often used for office lamps and interior uplights, the glass envelope is exposed so you should only handle these types of halogens by the fitting ends to minimise the chances of inadvertently contaminating or damaging the glass envelope. Other possible reasons for sudden halogen bulb explosion include excess humidity and sources of steam, as well as over-tightening screw type bulbs. Note: LEDs run much cooler than halogen bulbs and they don’t have a low-pressure glass envelope, so they are generally safer.

Insurance complaint

I paid my car insurance a couple of months ago via internet banking and requested a receipt. None has been sent. Despite many attempts to contact my insurer about the lack of receipt, there has been no response. I am desperate to ensure the company has received my payment and my car is insured. What do I do? SACHA KNIGHT

Annette Barnes, Consumer finance research assistant, says: This sounds like a case of poor customer service. We suggest making a complaint using the insurer’s internal complaints process. This should be outlined in your policy and on the insurer’s website. The Insurance and Financial Services Ombudsman also has a complaint form, available on its website. If your complaint remains unresolved, you can take the matter to an independent disputes resolution scheme. By law, all insurers must be registered with such a scheme and they are free for consumers. Check your policy document or insurer’s website to see which scheme your insurer belongs to. Given the poor service you’ve had, you might want to consider another insurer. We’ve compared premiums and policy details of 17 insurers to see how they measure up.

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