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Letters from November 2016


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Assessment fees — who pays?

My two-and-a-half-year-old television began having display issues (ghosting and green lines) after being on for a few hours. I contacted the retailer and it advised me a service technician could come and do an assessment at a cost of $80 to $100. Under what conditions am I liable for that cost? ANTHONY YAN

We generally expect a telly to be fault-free for longer than two-and-a-half years. Our appliance reliability surveys show most last a lot longer. The retailer can ask you to pay an assessment fee to determine the cause of the problem with the TV. But if the telly is faulty, and you haven’t caused the fault, you’re entitled to request the store refunds the assessment fee and repairs the TV for free under the Consumer Guarantees Act. The Act requires goods to be of acceptable quality. When they’re not, it’s up to the retailer to put things right. You’d only be liable for the assessment fee if you had caused the problem.

Recall rights

I bought my husband a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phone before the battery explosion scare. What are my rights and responsibilities in product recalls? KELLY SCOTT

Samsung issued a recall for the Note 7 following widely publicised cases of phones catching fire. After reports replacement handsets were also igniting, the company issued a further notice advising customers to stop using the phones altogether. If you bought a Note 7, you're entitled to request a refund from the retailer under the Consumer Guarantees Act. It’s hard to see how these phones meet the Act’s guarantee of acceptable quality, which requires goods to be safe and durable. Where a product has a substantial fault, you’re entitled to reject it and choose a replacement of the same type and similar value or a full refund of the purchase price. In addition to a refund or replacement, Samsung is providing a $100 credit to Note 7 customers.

Slow cooking problem

Just over three years ago, I purchased a slow cooker for about $300. It came with a three-year warranty but, three weeks after the warranty expired, the appliance failed. The cooker’s LCD screen no longer shows numbers so we can’t set temperature or cooking time. We contacted the retailer but it said it was unable to assist because the cooker was out of warranty. The retailer gave us the name of a repairer, which advised there were no spare parts available. I was expecting to get more than three years from an appliance with no moving parts, especially one with a high reputation and price tag. ROBIN WATTS

You purchased a high-quality product and reasonably expected it to last longer than three years. While the manufacturer’s warranty has ended, you have rights under the Consumer Guarantees Act and the retailer can’t just fob you off to a repairer. Under the Act, it’s the retailer’s responsibility to ensure goods are of acceptable quality and provide a remedy when they’re not. As the cooker can’t be fixed, you have the right to ask for a replacement or a refund of the purchase price.

UPDATE: Robin’s slow cooker was replaced.

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.

Rechargeable vs disposable batteries

I was looking for information about how the initial voltage of rechargeable batteries compares with disposables, and how the drop-off in use compares. Eight years ago, I went the “rechargeable” way and bought a charger and a stack of batteries from Dick Smith. Various appliances and gadgets I used them in didn’t work nearly as well as they did with disposables. In the end I compared the voltages without any load. New disposables were all approaching 1.6 volts, or slightly over that, whereas new fully charged rechargeables were well under 1.5 volts. Suspecting either the batteries or the charger were faulty I took them back. I was told rechargeable batteries only charge up to 1.4 volts, and, after some discussion, the store took back the batteries and charger and gave me a refund. Did your tests compare initial voltage, and the fall-off of voltage in use, with disposable batteries? A MEMBER

George Block, Consumer technical writer, says: We found NiMH rechargeable batteries (the type we tested) have an initial voltage of about 1.2V, whereas the best alkaline batteries have a starting voltage of 1.5V. But as they discharge, NiMH batteries remain at 1.2V until the end of their lifespan, while alkaline batteries quickly lose voltage and within about a third of their lifespan they’ve fallen below 1.2V. Some devices, such as high-power LED flashlights, can benefit from this initial kick of a slightly higher voltage from disposable batteries (they’ll be brighter at first), but for much of their lifespan their performance will be worse than with rechargeable NiMH batteries, which hold steady at 1.2V. Most portable electronics are designed to perform well at 1.2V and you shouldn’t notice any drop in performance after switching to rechargeables.

Car insurance rights?

We had an accident in our brand new car five months after buying it. We didn’t cause the accident. Our insurance company wants to repair our car, rather than replace it, even though it had only done 3000km and wasn’t drivable following the accident. I’ve asked for the car to be replaced as I’m concerned it has internal damage that may not be picked up by the repairer. If something stops working six months down the track, I’ll have to muck around getting it assessed and fixed. Besides, why do we have to accept a “fixed-up” new car? Do we have any rights? A MEMBER

Luke Harrison, Consumer senior research writer, says: Car insurers retain the right to settle your claim in the most cost-effective manner for them. Comprehensive policies contain a clause along the lines of “we can choose to repair your vehicle if it’s been damaged and, in our opinion, it can be repaired safely and it’s more cost-effective to repair than pay the agreed value”.

Some comprehensive policies offer a “new vehicle” benefit. Here, the insurer replaces your new vehicle if it’s severely damaged within a set period — for instance, up to a year after purchase. But, again, it’s the insurer’s decision. There is some good news. Repairs to your damaged vehicle must be carried out with reasonable care and skill. If not, you have grounds for a claim under the Consumer Guarantees Act. In addition, all insurers must belong to a free dispute resolution scheme. If you and your insurer clash over the quality of the repairs, you can take your case to the applicable scheme.