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Letters from March 2017

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Poles apart

I purchased a tent from an outdoor adventure gear store as a Christmas present. The tent was put up in our backyard over the Christmas season. On a windy morning the back of the tent was loose so we took it down. We then discovered one of the fibreglass tent poles had completely broken. I took the pole back to the retailer thinking I would be covered by the 12-month warranty. It advised me the warranty did not include wind damage and I would need to pay for the replacement or repair if no replacement was available. I pointed out the pole breaking after only three days did not meet the retailer’s Consumer Guarantees Act obligations. The retailer just referred to the warranty exclusions. In frustration, I agreed to pay the repair fee. Can a warranty have such an exclusion? RUSSELL HOLDEN

Manufacturers’ warranties can and do contain exclusions against certain events. Some have so many exclusions the cover offered seems hardly worth having. Regardless of what a warranty says, the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) requires goods to be of acceptable quality and fit for purpose. Acceptable quality depends on what a reasonable consumer would expect based on the price paid, any statements made about the product and where it was bought. In general, we’d expect a tent purchased from a specialist outdoor shop to withstand a typical windy summer day. We recommend going back to the retailer and pointing out its CGA obligations to provide a remedy when goods aren’t of acceptable quality. In this case, we think the shop should replace or repair the pole free of charge.

Internet retailing

I have some goods that are being shipped direct from overseas. The retailer I ordered them through has .co.nz in its domain name and uses New Zealand dollars. Am I covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act? BRIAN MILNE

The Consumer Guarantees Act applies to traders that market their products to New Zealand consumers, whether or not the company is based here. This includes online traders with co.nz websites, even if they’re physically located offshore. That said, if something goes wrong with a product and you end up in a dispute with the trader, it may prove harder to enforce your CGA rights when you’re dealing with a company in another country. When buying online, always check who you’re doing business with. To find out who owns a co.nz address, you can search the Domain Name Commission website: dnc.org.nz. You can also search the Companies Register to see if a business is registered here: companiesoffice.govt.nz.

Fitbit unfit

In April 2015, I bought a Fitbit Charge HR fitness tracker. I had problems with the tracker syncing. The retailer referred me to Fitbit and I managed to get a replacement. 6 months after I received the replacement, the tracker button fell off. The replacement item is now 6 months out of the original 1-year warranty. Do I have any rights to get my Fitbit fixed? DEANNA SLIEKER

Your rights under the Consumer Guarantees Act are additional to any cover provided by the 12-month manufacturer’s warranty. When goods aren’t of acceptable quality, you can ask the retailer to put things right. You don’t have to deal with the manufacturer and the store was wrong to tell you to contact Fitbit when you had the original problem. We recommend going back to the retailer and asking it to fix the tracker button. It can either repair the Fitbit, replace it or offer you a refund. The store must deal with the problem in a reasonable time. Our 2016 reliability survey found more than a quarter of Fitbits bought in the past three years had needed replacement or repair. The poor reliability of these products means we no longer recommend them.

BBQ emissions

I’m thinking about buying a barbecue. My question is, with the lid down, do the exhaust gases, carbon monoxide if that’s what it is, get out? Is the food being cooked in the barbecue absorbing the poisonous gases? A MEMBER

George Block, Consumer technical writer, says: The byproducts of burning LPG are mainly carbon dioxide and water. A tiny amount of carbon monoxide (CO) is produced if the barbecue is working correctly, but no more than a gas-fired oven. The levels of CO are so small there’s nothing to worry about when cooking with the hood down. However, if a barbecue malfunctions then dangerous amounts of CO can be released. Signs of malfunction can be:

  • a yellow flame
  • soot deposits on or around the appliance, and/or
  • your barbie starting to smell like a car exhaust.

We recommend checking gas bottles and hoses for leaks (cover them in soapy water to check for gas escaping), keeping barbecues covered when not in use, and getting gas appliances serviced by a professional every couple of years. Note that the presence of CO, even at low levels, means it’s never a good idea to run a barbecue inside.

Insurance for hire purchases

If I buy a big-ticket item (such as a washing machine) on hire purchase, can the retailer make me take out insurance cover for the item? A MEMBER

Luke Harrison, Consumer research writer, says: Insurance connected to a hire purchase agreement (or a credit contract) is called “credit-related insurance”. It includes insurance that covers:

  • repayments if you become sick or injured, lose your job or die
  • damage to the item.

The retailer, acting as a lender or the lender’s agent, can’t make you take out insurance for hire purchase agreements unless it’s justifiable given the risks. For instance, it can’t insist on additional insurance if the item is already covered by your household contents policy.

Under the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act, lenders must be satisfied the insurance they sell suits your requirements and won’t cause financial hardship. Moreover, they must enable you to make an informed decision regarding the insurance based on cost, cover, exclusions and so on.

If a lender fails to disclose the terms of credit-related insurance, the Commerce Commission can either slap it with a $2000 infringement fine or prosecute it for more serious breaches.

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