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Air conditioners sold in Australia are not fit for purpose

We bought a Toshiba split system aircon in January 2018 for about $2,600. Within 2 months, a gecko apparently fried the circuit board. Toshiba said it is not covered under its 5-year warranty. We took them to QCAT and ultimately got them to pay for a new board and installation, around $1500, arguing that their design is not fit for purpose in Australia. Two years later, more geckos, fried board. We reckon air conditioner manufacturers don’t bother to design protectors for their boards for Australia because it is a money-making part of their business model - to sell replacement circuit boards every year or two for about $1K. Shouldn’t the ACCC investigate this ripoff being perpetrated on Australian consumers?

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Welcome to the community @Redlandsneen

I believe yours is the first post on the topic. Without knowing all the details of your area or installation or the specific unit, the first time a gecko fries a board seems a fail but after learning that geckos can infiltrate the inners of the unit, and they are apparently plentiful or curious at your location, one might reasonable expect some protection to be added such as protective screens.

The ACCC’s role is not to investigate designs, it is to protect consumers from various questionable and dodgy trade practices. Product reviews and organisations such as Choice try to provide consumer information, but have limited resources and Choice tests are performance based with reliability and maintenance issues treated from formal member feedback campaigns usually on brand and less so on specific products unless they are routinely called out in those surveys.

IMO it would be a long step to cite Toshiba or any other A/C manufacturer for intentionally designing a product to rip off consumers for spares and service; the design seems lacking but could also be for simplicity of maintenance and field repair or just air flow over the board, so the cause-effect can be arguable. Although you had to go to QCAT you prevailed, but did you (more specifically Toshiba or the installer) learn anything from the experience to upgrade the product or installation?

If this was a common problem Toshiba’s reputation would be damaged as would their sales volume, so would they make more in spares and service against the potential for being pushed out of this market for inferior products? Without further information I would be considering the quality of the installer/installation - after the first episode did anyone suggest some protective measures may be in order?

If it was a common problem one would expect Toshiba et al would have a retrofit or locality specific shield of some sort because their costs of losing at xCAT would far outweigh the costs of such a device.

@Fred123 has a number of posts on the community about his experiences with A/C systems and maintenance in FNQ but none related to animal intrusions that I recall.

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Asian House geckos are the #1 problem with split aircons in the North.

The only brand of aircon I have heard of which offers any protection is Panasonic as they have apparently applied a protective coating on the PCB’s so they Geckos cannot short anything out.

At our previous residence, we even had one get into the box of the telephone system we had and short out the mains input to the power supply, resulting in some of the printed circuit being blown away.

Fortunately, I was able to repair it myself.

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Well done with that outcome.
Vermon of all varieties can create problems with electrical installations in Australia. We’ve also experienced first hand the explosion of the Asian house geckos in Qld since moving back in the 80’s. In our current rural setting they compete with the native geckos, various colonies of ants, termites, wasps, moths, rodents native/immigrant and snakes and lizards and …

Fit for purpose might include excluding all from inside equipment.
Our strategy is to minimise the opportunities, evict the unwanted and look carefully to the household insurance policy.

The issue here may be more with the installer repairer wanting to up sell, than the brand being negligent. From reading elsewhere there are suggestions leading brands are progressively improving their tropic pest proofing. Something Choice might ask and add to future reviews. Australia is not the only locale in SE Asia where air cons are popular. The Asian house gecko is named accordingly.

I will not tempt fate after 30+ years of saying we have evaded misadventure due to their presence. The European rats, mice, local ants and odd termite have done more harm to electrical stuff to date. Should I also mention tropical and coastal forest mould spores as the worst?

P.S. (added edit)
If anyone is confused by my comments re household insurance, generally home owners carry the responsibility, hence we need to do our best to keep them under control. Policies may differ slightly. Suncorp standard household PDS.

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I agree with @Fred123; any locality there are geckos, there are air conditioner problems caused by them.

We had one fry a circuit board at our home on the Gold Coast. Luckily it was fixed under warranty. The serviceman said it was the main cause of problems they encounter.

I don’t think the manufacturers ignore the geckos to make money. Perhaps it just costs them less to pay to have boards replaced than to install the considerable extra protection needed to exclude geckos.

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Well, that is the point I was making. Gecko damage was EXCLUDED from Toshiba (AHI-Carrier) units’ warranty, even when unit was 3 months old, and it took a QCAT claim to get them to replace the circuit board at their cost - almost $1,800 with labour. Most home insurance policies do not cover damage caused by “vermin” although there have been successful cases determining that geckos are not vermin. I have begun a dialogue with AHI-Carrier to see if they will refund part of the original cost so that I can buy another brand of aircon, perhaps investigating the Panasonic brand as recommended by someone in this thread.

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The only tool in my arsenal at this stage is to publicly decry this situation until it is resolved to my satisfaction.

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What brand?

I have heard that gecko damage is not covered under warranty by most brands despite sub-standard manufacture.

If Panasonic can put a protective coating on PCB’s, so could every other manufacturer.

And even if a manufacturer did cover gecko damage for the warranty period, what happens after the warranty expires?

This is probably a good subject for Choice to campaign for.

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BTW, which brand of air conditioner was yours that replaced the circuit board under warranty? We theoretically still have two years on our warranty and no chance that Toshiba/AHI-Carrier will cover it.

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It is an interesting one. I believe that geckos entering an air conditioning fan unit, causing a electrical failure is not a claimable under a warranty.

The Indonesian Geckos aren’t indigenous to Australia and in effect are a pest species. These are the ones which get inside poorly sealed homes and enter small cracks such as that which may exist in the fan unit of a split system.

I wonder if an air conditioner manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that every possible scenario associated with the failure of their air conditioners is considered when designing and manufacturing the air conditioner. Should they consider potentially leaky roof above the fan unit causing a short circuit…or maybe a wall which may not take the weight of a unit and fail causing the fan unit to drop to the ground and smash. How about ants or native bees entering the drain pipe causing a blockage. These three, a reasonable person would say that they a manufacturer should need to design a air conditioner these these scenarios.

Likewise, should an air conditioner manufacturer be responsible for someone’s house which is not sealed, allowing geckos to enter and potentially impact on the fan unit? Should users of the air conditioners in unsealed houses regularly check fan/filters to ensure that creepy crawlies haven’t made a home. (It is also worth noting that a unsealed house which lets geckos in leaking cold/letting in hot air making the air conditioner less efficient).

In Brisbane we did have Indonesian geckos and ended up screening every window and door which we left open. This ensured that the majority stayed out. The only ones which sneaked in were those when the screens were not closed properly…which was our fault allowing the house to be no longer sealed.

I can’t see that a poorly sealed home is the fault of a air conditioner manufacturer.

There are other cases (eg. wasps which get into an aircraft pressure sensor) where insects or animals cause problems, but these are not the responsibility of the manufacturer. An example might be rats which live and eat wiring under the bonnet of a car - is the manufacturer responsible for this as they know it occurs. The operators of the equipment are responsible for ensuring adequate maintenance and checks are carried out before the equipment is used. I can’t see why a gecko living in a air conditioner fan unit is the responsibility of a manufacturer, and why it wouldn’t be claimable under a warranty.

Would I be annoyed if a piece of equipment failed because of an insect/animal? Yes, but I would blame myself or think it as bad luck rather than trying to push the blame to the manufacturer of the product.b

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Daikin. But the repairman was from a local a/c service company, not associated with the original installation. They just happen to provide service for a wide variety of a/cs in this vicinity.

I was told by the repairman, that they also have the same problem with a/cs that have had the spray applied. He said there was some sort of spray available, but to not waste my mone because if didn’t work.

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Certainly in the instance of Qld the official view does not classify them as vermin, whether native or introduced. The introduced species are however ‘pests’ if the semantics are relevant?

https://www.business.qld.gov.au/industries/farms-fishing-forestry/agriculture/land-management/health-pests-weeds-diseases/pests/invasive-animals/other/asian-house-gecko

With Suncorp the challenge question may be whether as a home owner your actions have allowed their entry into your home?

For split systems the outdoor units clearly stand alone. It would make for an interesting insurance claim.

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Yes, if the issue was the outside compressor unit, then one could argue it was not fit for purpose if a bug or animal caused a fault, as outdoor units, one would reasonably expect they should be designed to be protected from the elements, including vertebrates/invertebrates intrusion.

An indoor fan unit is very different as the user/owner has responsibility for ensuring personal health and safety, that the inside of a house is free of vertebrates/invertebrates which may cause issues.

Possibly not. Insurance policies usually require properties to be well maintained/in good order. Allow pests to enter a property causing damage may be seen as negligent action by the policy holder, invalidating any claim.

If it’s not excluded, it’s included.
Vermin are excluded, pests are not.
Well maintained is subjective.

I can see how one might approach a claim given the wording in Suncorp’s policy statement.

It’s not clear that we are in any position to offer absolute advice. Settlements on the public record or court decisions that support a particular position, might be a better guide.

We are talking semantics. While it doesn’t specifically say pests, pests are vermin.

The exotic gecko are vermin…

If a PDS had to use every possible synonym for every word in a policy document, the document would become cumbersome, confusing and potentially illegible.

Geckos would be dealt with similarly to termites, borers, cockroaches, mice, rats etc. That being damage by these critters are a policy exclusions.

I haven’t seen any policy PDS which covers damage by say termites, which are similar to geckos.

There are news reports of individuals thinking termites and geckos are covered by house and contents insurance, only to find out after a claim is made that they are exclusions. Then complaints are made to the media (on social media) when repairs cost hundreds/thousands of dollars.

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Or are vermin a subset of pests?
Dictionary argument or legal definition?
Does the policy define vermin?

As a challenge question, what if the poor gecko you have unintentionally allowed to enter your home, despite best endeavours to keep it out fries the air con and burns your house down? Does the average home owner hope the evidence does not remain? I’d rather the home not burn down regardless. One good reason to be concerned about gecko, cockroach, ants etc.

I’d hope we can be informative. I’m neither an insurance assessor nor a legal professional versed in insurance.

How clear are home insurance policies? Hopefully everyone knows damage due to termites is excluded. No home is assured of being termite proof? Perhaps the same is true of our relationship with geckos.

P.S.
Fit for purpose. Is the average Australian home not fit for purpose? By design they don’t assure exclusion of roaches, termites or geckos. It may be difficult to apply a higher standard of pest exclusion to many other household items.

I just looked at the exclusions in the PDF for our Suncorp Home & Contents Insurance issued 12 months ago and there are no exclusions for vermin, termites and such like other than a requirement to maintain the property free of them.

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These can be excluded by design…and for termites there is an Australian standard about termite barriers.

Likewise with roaches and geckos…screens.

Many consumers chose not to screen their houses which may mean they accept the risk of animals entering their homes, snakes, disease bearing insects, bees/wasps, geckos etc.

Poor house maintenance or poorly considered decisions can allow termites, roaches, geckos etc to enter a home. It could be doing something which removes the barrier or provides direct access (such as garden beds being built up against a wall, leaving a screen open, not repairing a hole in a wall/screen

Older houses were built with different standards, but these can be retrofitted to seal them. It is up to the house owner to do such or accept the risks of not doing such.

No, but standard dictionary definition will be used. Pest is vermin and vermin is pest by definition.

If one looks at a thesaurus, the two terms are interchangeable.

One has to ‘love’ the English language where different words can have the same meaning. It isn’t worth the cost to take such to court when there is enough information to lead a reasonable person (which is a test a court is likely to use) to determine the words have the same meaning.

I wonder if these semantics are similar to whether the claim will or will not be accepted based on whether the water damage is from rising water, falling water, water that escaped it’s normal confines, or runoff.

My policy at every instance enumerates ‘insects, vermin, and rodents’.

The insurance glossaries I scanned for Australia avoid defining the word although use it freely, and some policies explicitly reference both ‘vermin, insects or pest’ and ‘animals or birds biting, chewing or scratching’.

There is also a propensity for various policies to state they are valid everywhere in Australia and in Tasmania. Hmmm.

A gecko is a lizard is it not?

It would be interesting to know how a court of law or tribunal, where law and common sense sometimes skirt each other, would adjudicate the mighty gecko in context. An insurer might be depended on to knock their liability back, but if it was taken further how would it go? If the insurer lost there would be an avalanche of updated PDS so it would never happen again.

Moot either way, excepting for the test case?

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See my previous post as vermin is a pest and pest is vermin.

It is a reptile just like lizards. Depending on the source, some include geckos as lizards, while others differentiate the two animals.

Lizards/reptiles can be pests/vermin, along with any other animal family. Think cane toads, deer, rabbits, turtles, tilapia, carp and the list goes on.