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Letters from February 2017


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Unfit vacuum

We purchased a 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 given a replacement. Fast forward a year-and-a-half 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 vacuum with exactly the same problem as the original faulty machine, the retailer has failed to successfully provide a remedy. Therefore, we consider you’re entitled to reject the machine and request a refund.

Botched delivery

My daughter bought a dishwasher and a fridge. The retailer contracted a transport company to deliver the units. However, the transport company damaged her wooden floor during delivery. As it’s a polished wooden floor, it can’t be patched and needs re-sanding. The transport company has admitted liability for the damage and agreed to pay for the floor to be repaired. However, it’s not prepared to pay for motel accommodation plus cat boarding fees for nine days for the family while the job is done. Should the contractor pay? A MEMBER

Under the Consumer Guarantees Act, if the retailer is in charge of organising delivery of the appliances, then it’s responsible for any damages. The retailer should therefore be dealing with your daughter’s claim for the damage caused to her floor. She’s also able to claim for any reasonably foreseeable extra losses that result from the damage. In this case, this includes the cost of motel accommodation, but probably not cat boarding fees.

Noisy camera

In December 2013, I bought a Sony RX100 camera for $800. It has recently developed a “whirring” noise when it’s trying to focus. While it doesn’t affect the photos, the noise is annoying and is heard on any video recordings I make. I was given the runaround when I took it back to the retailer. I ended up contacting Sony, which advised me to contact a service centre. There’s a $50 inspection fee for the service centre to give me an estimate of the cost to fix the camera. Do you think the camera should be fixed/replaced at no charge after only three years of use? What should be my next step? BOB DAWES

Retailers are required to guarantee the products they sell are of acceptable quality. This includes being free from minor defects and lasting a reasonable amount of time. Provided you’ve looked after your camera and haven’t caused the fault, you have the right to request the retailer fixes it. You shouldn’t have to find someone to do the repairs — that’s the retailer’s job. The retailer can charge you a fee to inspect the camera and pinpoint the problem. However, this fee should be refunded if a manufacturing fault is diagnosed. Any required repairs are covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act. If your camera can’t be fixed within a reasonable time, you can ask for a replacement or a refund.

UPDATE: The camera was repaired with all costs paid and inspection fee refunded.

In hot water

I’m looking at replacing my LPG hot-water system with a heat pump water heater. Do you have any thoughts on where LPG prices will go? A MEMBER

George Block, Consumer technical writer, says: Predicting LPG prices is tricky as it’s a globally traded commodity closely tied to world oil prices. As the market recovers from a supply glut, oil prices are expected to settle at US$60/barrel. At time of writing, oil costs are US$55/barrel while the annual cost for renting two 45kg LPG cylinders is about NZ$100. In comparison, in 2011, the annual cost was about $120 on average (the oil price was about US$100-$120/barrel back then).

As you can see, while LPG prices track oil prices, big fluctuations in oil prices don’t always cause major changes in the cost of LPG since distribution and retail mark-ups make up a significant portion of the rental charges. Also, the Kupe gas field is expected to meet 50% of our LPG demand until 2025, which lowers the price as we avoid the cost of importing LPG. In light of all this, local forecasting indicates there isn’t much risk of significant price hikes in the short term.

Electric car battery degradation

I’m considering buying a second-hand electric Nissan Leaf car imported from Japan. Am I better off going for a slightly older model with fewer kilometres, or a newer one with higher kilometres? Basically, is age or use harder on the battery? KARL JEFFERY

Paul Smith, Consumer Head of Testing, says: It’s not a straightforward choice. An electric car’s battery capacity is reduced slightly by every charge/discharge cycle. Age and higher kilometres both degrade the battery, but by how much comes down to how the car has been used. The battery degrades faster if the car gets used in a hot environment, is often charged with a DC fast charger, is regularly run close to zero range, or is driven particularly hard. You usually wouldn’t have any way of knowing the history of a used import, but the Leaf has a neat trick. The capacity gauge on the dashboard (next to the battery charge bars) indicates battery health — it shows the size of your “fuel tank”. When new, it shows two red and 10 white segments. As the battery degrades, fewer segments are illuminated, meaning the battery can’t hold as much charge. A degraded battery doesn’t mean it’s broken, just that the car won’t travel as far on a charge.

The Nissan Leaf has been produced in first- and second-generation models. My pick would be a newer second-generation car with higher kilometres, as long as it has 10 or more segments illuminated. The second-generation car, released in 2013, extracts more range from the battery through a more efficient heater and better braking regeneration. But I’d take an older car with lower kilometres and good battery health too. The good news is with no combustion engine and gearbox, there is little that can go wrong with any Leaf.

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