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Out-of-warranty phone troubles

Retailers use the "out of warranty" fob-off too often.

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Ever bought a product that's broken down a few months out of warranty and the retailer says you have to pay to get it fixed? You're not alone.

Frei Lefebre bought a $650 iPhone on a 24-month plan from a Vodafone store in Auckland. 15 months down the track, the 16GB phone suddenly "died", says Frei. "I couldn't receive or make calls or use the 'home' button."

Frei contacted Vodafone, only to be told the 12-month warranty had expired and repairs were no longer covered. The company's representative said the phone could be sent to Vodafone's repair centre for assessment. If a fault was found, Frei would be given a "refurbished" model. But she'd have to pay $280 for this.

As a gesture of "goodwill", the representative offered Frei the option of a $300 voucher to put towards a new phone. She suggested Frei could use the voucher as part payment for an 8GB iPhone, which was retailing at $599. Frei would have to pay the balance of $299.

Frei says at no time was the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) mentioned. And it should have been, believes our consumer adviser Maggie Edwards. "The CGA requires goods to be of acceptable quality. That means they have to do what they're designed to do and last a reasonable period of time. If your 15-month-old mobile phone is faulty – and you haven't caused the fault – then the retailer has an obligation to make good", she explains.

Maggie contacted Vodafone's head office to find out why Frei hadn't been told about her rights under the CGA. The company subsequently came back to Frei with a new offer which she accepted. "I'm pleased to report that Vodafone stepped up and I'll even say went beyond the call of duty. They gave me a voucher for $1100 so I can replace my iPhone with the latest model," she says.

Frei's happy with the outcome and we're pleased Vodafone came to the party. But this isn't just an iPhone issue. We hear far too many instances of retailers who fail to tell consumers what their legal rights are when a product is faulty. It's an offence under the Fair Trading Act to mislead consumers about their rights. Companies that do so risk ending up in court.

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