Spare parts not available: Why the Consumer Guarantees Act needs repair

Spare parts stop products going to landfill – but too often they aren’t available.

Photograph of a pile of e-waste on landfill.

As environmental concerns mount, more consumers are opting to get products repaired rather than replaced. However, their efforts can hit a major snag when spare parts aren’t available.

Our Built to Last campaign aims to encourage manufacturers and distributors to make more durable and repairable products available. So, what are companies’ obligations to provide spare parts for their products?

The Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) requires goods to be of acceptable quality and that includes being durable.

If your fridge or TV fails before its time – and you haven’t caused the failure –the retailer has to fix the problem. That means either repairing or replacing the item or giving you a refund.

Repairing a product keeps it in use – preventing it reaching end-of-life and being recycled for parts or, worse, ending up in landfill.

The CGA puts the onus on manufacturers to ensure spare parts and repair services are available for a reasonable time after a product is sold. But there’s a loophole.

The Consumer Guarantees Act needs a fix

Manufacturers don’t have to provide spare parts or repair services if consumers are told they aren’t available at the time of purchase. This means a product with only a minor fault could end up being dumped because there are no parts to fix it.

Getting rid of the CGA loophole would be a step towards reducing the tonnes of failed products that become trash. Our legislation was ahead of its time when it came into force in 1993. However, now it’s showing its age. We’d like to see the CGA amended to require all manufacturers to make spare parts available for a reasonable period.

Though you’re still entitled to get a replacement or your money back if the product isn’t of acceptable quality, it doesn’t solve the problem of goods being needlessly junked.

Good, but no repair

Close up photograph of Ryobi's manual stating they don't have repair facilities and cannot repair any products.

Ryobi offers a four-year replacement warranty on all its corded tools and a six-year replacement warranty for cordless tools (batteries and chargers get cover for three years). That’s good.

However, “replacement” is the important word here. The Ryobi website states: “We do not have any repair facilities and cannot repair any products.” That’s bad.

While Ryobi is fulfilling its CGA obligations, we don’t think it’s good enough. We’ve asked Ryobi for comment.

It’s our right

Even the most reliable products get damaged and wear out. Often, the parts that fail are easy to replace – or at least they should be. The problem isn’t just being unable to find spare parts: parts that are available are often prohibitively expensive; the use of glue or proprietary fasteners makes disassembly difficult; and missing repair manuals leave owners guessing.

Other countries are already moving to beef up consumers’ rights to get goods repaired.

In Europe, rule changes have forced whiteware manufacturers to make spare parts more readily available and improve the design of major appliances so they’re easier to repair.

In the US, the “Right to Repair” movement has succeeded in getting proposed legislation in some states that requires manufacturers to make spare parts available to consumers and independent repairers.

The issue is also on the agenda across the Tasman. Australia’s Productivity Commission is investigating “the barriers and enablers of competition in repair markets and the costs and benefits of a regulated ‘right to repair’”. It will release the final report to the government in October 2021.

Our government has been quiet on the topic. The simplest route to enabling more repair is to first close the CGA loophole, then improve that legislation to require the supply of parts at a reasonable cost and the availability of manuals to consumers and independent repairers.

Member comments

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C A G.
11 May 2021
Repairability of Consumer Appliances

I couldn't agree more with the the provision of proper repair manual accessibility, spare parts for at least fifteen years and being able to dismantle for repair for access to replace parts without the hassle that is presently built into current products. No gluing all screwing.

Bill
01 May 2021
Repairing appliances

Our cordless electric jug refused to boil water last month so we had to buy a new jug. Thirty years ago one could replace the element and the jug would be good for another five to ten years. Not these days, the element is built in to the body. A couple of weeks later the toaster latch refused to stay down and again there was no way to fix it so off we went to buy another. My inkjet printer has stopped printing colours properly. New print heads will cost far more than a new printer so I am reluctant to get it fixed but nor do I want to dump it. I am in between a rock and a hard place.

Stuart T.
01 May 2021
What about Cars

Imagine if the motor industry went the same way. Holden have stopped production but are supplying parts for 10years. There is a huge aftermarket for parts. So what if my tyres need replacing on my 2015 car and I am told that these are no longer available? Yes it did happen to me. A front tyre was damaged and I was told that that the same replacement make was not available. I had to buy 2 tyres because the law says you have to have same make on the opposite side. True as I believe it is NZ Law.

Helen D.
01 May 2021
Built in Obsolescence

It is not just that products are non repairable. Manufacturers deliberately use inferior quality plastic for their parts that they know will break easily, as a cost saving measure. There are good quality plastics that will last years but all they care about is their bottom line.

Jackie M.
01 May 2021
I have been battling about a not quite 2.5yr old chest freezer.

After nearly three weeks, I am finally having a service person from the original retailer I bought it from to come and look at it. Apparently it went out of warranty at 2 years old and compressor parts are at 3 years old, all costs to me apart from the parts. But I need to get someone to look at it to confirm what its problem is (defrosted and I lost a freezer full of food).I am disgusted, I only usually replace an item when I have problems with it although the chest freezer I had before was still going good when I sold it and it was nearly 50yrs old (I wanted to downsize) so did not expect this to happen at its age. Will see how it goes when the service/repairman has a look at it. And goodness help you if you live in a rural town or rurally.

Ray M.
01 May 2021
Should apply to reasonable price too

It isn't just appliances. I have a Ford Fiesta. A small bolt on the driver's seat bracket broke. Ford could only offer to replace the whole seat bracket for $1150+ GST and Labour. Managed to get something that pretty much fits for $1.50 plus a couple of hours. Would have preferred the exact right bolt but nor for that much more.
Totally agree on appliances too. I've had to throw several out because the parts are not available when a fix would be easy.

Jane B.
21 Jan 2021
Disappointing response from Samsung on fridge

I've been arguing with the Samsung 'help' line for months now about a mid-range 322l fridge/freezer, bought in 2013 - it goes well but about a year ago, the bottle guard on the fridge door broke. It's a smallish fridge in a smallish kitchen used by a smallish family, so every part of it is used - it's a real pain without that bottle shelf. But low and behold, the spare part is not available - in NZ or overseas. I keep getting the brush-off - they'll 'call me back' but they don't. Very frustrating, and it all makes me a big fan of the right-to-repair movement. It looks like I will have to buy a new fridge just because of a small broken part.

Kane D.
07 Dec 2020
Where is the real problem?

I'm not sure if right to repair is necessarily as much of a problem as it's made out to be. I've followed this trend in the computing sector for about 20 years now, and it's only a small minority of people that would benefit from a much tougher right-to-repair policy framework. A much bigger issue is technical obsolescence... It is one thing to expect a refrigerator or a dishwasher to last 15-20 years... because those two products have not evolved significantly enough over that time for most people to justify upgrading them and so most people will only replace those items when they really do break down. But take a TV for example... In the old days, people would keep them for perhaps 15 years because broadcast TV was much simpler, and standards didn't change that much. But nowadays, TV's have got better in picture quality, they're more energy efficient, they support modern standards like freeview, 4K, 8K, have OnDemand Apps and so on... It's less likely that most people will wait for their TV to cark it before replacing and will replace it due to the advances in technology... A case in point is computers... Over the last 20 years, computers have actually got much much more reliable than they used to be - largely due to improvements in manufacturing processes. I would say the vast majority of computers that I drop off at the eWaste recycling centre are still in perfect working order... just that they are old, slow, and incompatible with current products to be of little to no use to anyone. Dealing with the technological obsolescence will only be achieved if we ditch the mass over-consumerism that society has become.

David C.
19 Sep 2020
Consumable proprietary part stock-outs as a planned obsolesence strategy.

While the right to repair is one thing, the rapidity with which proprietary consumable spares are going end of life, with no service stock held, might actually be a bigger problem than a lack of major repair parts.

Example. About 4 years ago I bought a Breville CBG450 coffee grinder, and I've finally got round to admitting the burrs - essentially a consumable item that foreseeably wears out - need replacing as it won't grind espresso-fine any longer. On consulting Breville, no spares are available, and as far as I'm aware the product only went off the market about 3 years ago.

Breville did offer to sell me (sigh) another grinder model at a discount and I told them not stocking consumables was poor form, and pointed them to the right to repair movement before I said "no".

FYI: I've bought a no-brand simple, small grinder that looks like it's out of the 1950's, is built like a tank, comes with an assembly diagram and fuses(!) - and the seller holds replacement burrs (which are chunky beasts) in NZ for about $40. It's also fast, tolerably quiet and cost about $190. Time will tell how durable it is.

Mike H.
01 Oct 2020
No brand simple

The no brand simple sounds like it should be promoted. Who supplies those?

JJTE
17 Sep 2020
Product stewardship vs opening up parts and repairs

Kia Ora! I'm glad to see conversation about the idea of a right to repair. It's an idea that could give people more choices about the things we buy, including getting them fixed, or replacing parts rather than throwing them away.

There are some policy challenges, for example it might be important to look at whether current settings in patent and copyright law would let people do some types of repairs. It might also be important to think about how to enable open secondary markets in parts and repairs, so people have choices about who does their repairs and where to get parts. If this is not consciously thought about, manufacturers might want to turn product stewardship schemes into a way to control how repairs are done, and make more money or shut others out of the process.

I look forward to more thinking, and am happy to be in touch if a policy perspective would be useful too :-)

Bill F.
06 Sep 2020
F & P Dryer Model ED56

The circular glass window detached from the white door frame when the screws snapped the plastic screw sockets. Hot air leaked out into the room. I ordered a new door frame and fixed it myself for about $70. The dryer is 20 years old.

Gordon R.
29 Aug 2020
Great Opportunity

I am a fanatical DIYer. I try to repair everything that breaks down, I don’t believe in bumping anything..
I’m certain there are many like me who could provide an essential service if only we could get spare parts at a reasonable price.
A pat on the back for F&P. My wife and I lived overseas for a number of years and we took all our F&P appliances with us, we didn’t have a lot of problems but when we did F&P supplied parts, repair manuals and training videos. Let’s aim for that level of support.

John B.
19 Feb 2020
Parts manuals and repair manuals also needed as part of "right to repair"

I've successfully extended the life of 2 laptops by several years using parts bought at a reasonable price over the internet and information from youtube. But there were risks as the youtube videos weren't that accurate for the model laptops I repaired. The right to repair should also include manufacturers making the same troubleshooting, service and parts information available free or for a minimal charge (pdf files are essentially free) as they do for their repairers.

Kane D.
07 Dec 2020
Hidden Costs

Also, brand reputation needs to be considered in this discussion. A company like Apple for example spends significant sums of money on maintaining their leading build quality, and high customer satisfaction - and yet their products are among the least repairable by unauthorised people. The risk is that if products get readily repaired by third parties or DIY jobs by people with limited knowledge, or by using cheap knock off parts, then when those devices get recirculated on the second hand market (as they do), then when things go wrong... you're going to blame "Apple" because it's the brand name on the box. Think about it... If I buy a used Toyota, and a month later, the ABS Control unit packs up... are you going to bleat "That bloody useless Toyota"... or "That bloody useless Bosch"? That's right... the person who sold the car to you may have previously replaced the ABS unit with a second hand part from a wrecker which was a Bosch branded unit.... But you wouldn't have necessarily known that. I appreciate right to repair, but as with all such ideologies, there is the law of negative consequences.

Fiona B.
10 Apr 2019
Thank you for highlighting this

I feel very passionately that manufacturers should be held accountable to the durability of their products and end-of-life waste. We cannot keep going with the throw-away mentality towards appliances. We have a 13 year old Samsung fridge/freezer, and have had to have a couple of repairs done in recent years. I was told by the service technician that it's just as well our appliance is of that particular vintage, as the new models are just not lasting - he was seeing 5/6 year old models having to be dumped. This is just not good enough.

Graeme W.
05 Mar 2019
Cost to fix is the big issue

I have a samsung washing machine that sprung a leak at just over 3yrs old. The warranty was 3yrs. Samsung quoted a call out fee, from memory about $100 plus any parts etc, so likely to end up at several hundred. The machine was on sale for $700 new so we actually weighed up taking it to the tip, as this was likely to be the most cost effective option. We only gave passing consideration to the CGA as past issues (including twice where i've taken retailers to disputes tribunal over it and lost) have removed any energy i had to fight and fight and fight for my rights (because it's never one fight). When we removed it to get rid of it, i suggested a final run, outside, to see if we could locate the leak. Turned out to be a $30 pipe we could get from Mitre 10. But the point is, the CGA is just too hard, we need mandatory standards that a washing machine for example should be built to last at least 10years and MUST have a 10yr manufacturer warranty to give them the right incentives to comply.

Peter H.
04 Mar 2019
Spare parts - but at what price?

Many years ago at work a laser printer was damaged through faulty mains wiring. The supplier advised that a replacement circuit board was available - for significantly more than what we paid for the whole printer!

Any right-to-repair legislation will have to enforce reasonable costs for parts. Expect very heavy lobbying by all industry players against this.

Ross E.
05 Sep 2020
Printers

A number of times, I have bought spare printers when they are on sale because they came with a full set of ink cartridges, and the sale price was less than a set of replacement cartridges! You need to be careful though, as some makers only supply a greatly reduced volume of ink with new printers.

Graeme Robert E.
03 Mar 2019
disappointed Miele dryer owner. Ideas?

We bought a miele top end dryer 7 years ago because of the reputation for good quality metal engineering. The bearing has worn and we thought it was a bit soon however we assumed it could be replaced. It can but along with the whole drum and at an exobidant cost. We are advised a new dryer is a better option. Any ideas?

Peter H.
04 Mar 2019
DIY?

I suggest you remove the drum (or get it removed) and take it to an engineering shop. If the first one you go to says 'no can do', try another. I have been amazed at what some people can fix.

Llyvonne B.
02 Mar 2019
Right to repair needed

A few years ago the door on my front loader broke. The hinge was a single piece of light metal. I tried to get a replacement but I could not even get a guarantee of the right model because it was a rebrand. It looked as though I would have to replace the entire machine because of one tiny part. Fortunately, I have friends who are good with their hands and tools and one was able to drill out the broken piece and had a tube that fit perfectly. Since then, the plastic handle snapped off. I now have to open the door with my multitool - easy enough to do. I do not see why perfectly good products that still have a good lifespan should need to be replaced because of poor quality parts.

Nigel V.
02 Mar 2019
What a fantastic initiative !

Timely article, the water pump in my 10 year old front loading washer machine gave up yesterday. A quick search on TradeMe located a replacement which was couriered overnight. What was good to see, is that there are now online traders locally who have replacement parts for all different makes and models of appliances, and there are others offering second hand parts from scrapped appliances. Obviously not everyone is going to repair their own appliances ... but, with the free guides readily available and a quick search by part number, swapping out a broken or defective part on an out of warranty machine isn't an impossible task.