Consumer Law and Reasonable Lifetime for Small Appliances

What is considered a reasonable life expectancy for a small electrical appliance?

In this case I have a cheap coffee machine that came with a 2 year guarantee and two weeks after the expiry of that warranty, I am into “out of warranty” repairs which cost almost as much as the machine.

I had read somewhere on Choice that 2 years was probably what to expect for a small appliance and to be fair, that is what I got. Despite my protests, the manufacturer (who provides technical and warranty support) is not budging.

To put this in context, the machine cost around $115 so it is not worth wasting a lot of time on - something they are probably well aware of.


The lack of guidance for product lifetimes in the Australian Consumer Law has been the subject of discussion. At the end of the day the onus is on each individual consumer to make their case.

As your ‘cheap coffee machine’ seems to have reached a reasonable life considering its cost you would have to establish that this particular make and model normally goes longer, not an easy task in most cases.


Welcome to the community.

If we could give you a simple answer; that would be great. At the moment, we all have differing expectations on how long goods should last. If you go to the ACCC website, you will see that there is nothing definite. It seems that the more expensive the item, the longer you should reasonably expect it to last. It is up to you to approach the retailer in the first instance and convince them why you expect your product to last longer than the manufacturer’s warranty.
If you search the Choice website you will find a template to write a letter of complaint. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Good luck.


Climate change impacts related to this topic does not appear to have been raised so far in the discussion. The shorter the lifetime of a product the more resources need to be dug up, processed and manufactured (eg steel, copper, plastic) which equates the greater energy use - longer the product life, less energy input; shorter the life, greater energy input.

If we are serious about addressing climate change we need to consider this in a purchase rather than initial price or even value. Governments need to be the leaders by creating incentives to drive choice of the lower energy options.

Addressing climate change just with solar panels, hydrogen and electric vehicles will never get us there. There needs to be a mind shift where energy inputs consideration influences every purchase we make.

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Unfortunately, the price of the product is factored into how long it is expected to last. But, the fact that the manufacturer offered a 2 year warranty and it failed 2 weeks out of that would probably give you a good argument. Go back to the retailer and be clear that your machine has not met the guarantee as to acceptable quality (not durable) and ask for a refund or replacement. Remember that the ACL says it is the retailer that gives the statutory guarantee, not the manufacturer. If you bought from the ‘manufacturer’ you still have the same rights. Good luck and be firm.

There seems anecdotal evidence that some retailers/manufacturers automatically honour the ACL for 6 months and some 12 months beyond written warranties of at least 12 months. For the short term warranties such as 90 days, a consumer could claim double that as being reasonable.

‘customer service’ usually quotes chapter and verse of their written warranty until challenged, but for example store managers and supervisory staff often have discretion to ‘take care of the customer’ - up to a point where an ‘ACL Letter of Complaint’ is required to a more senior level.

I find it illogical that there is an expectation that the manufacturer or retailer give any recompense after an item has reached its warranted lifetime. Smash your car a week after your car insurance runs out, you are out of luck. Get booked for exceeding the speed limit by a few kph, you are out of luck. Miss the bus by 5 seconds, you are out of luck. If there is an expectation that an item should last longer than the warranty period, then the warranty should be extended. Having a ‘maybe we will honour the warranty if you complain hard enough’ policy is discriminatory and adds hidden costs.

Some items have a sliding warranty, if it fails after x years you are entitled to y% of its value. This is a fairer way than a ‘yesterday we fix it for free, today you get to trash it’ warranty.

It should not be up to the consumer to ‘argue a case’. In the case of electrical good today it is a dollar or two to add a microprocessor with sensors that can monitor the usage and abuses of any equipment over a few hundred dollars. Most equipment already has a capable processor. This could be a way of offering a longer or different warranty at the same time protect the manufacturer from mischievous claims. Vehicle manufacturers already do this - Mitsubishi’s Standard New Car Warranty is 5 year/100,000 km (whichever occurs first).

In my opinion the answer is stronger consumer laws that remove the current ambiguities.

Likely sentiments many consumers would agree with.

In setting a challenge,

How is that longer life expectancy going to be determined?

One thought is if it is left to manufacturers, it will always be a bare minimum.
A second is if it is set by an independent standard, how does one allow for similar goods of different quality?

Possible outcomes?
Will competition without regulation lead to longer consumer warranties for everyday consumer items?
Motor vehicle warranties are certainly longer, in part due to competition. However they are very different in value, repairability and maintainability compared to most consumer items, which are not. Consumers might be more displeased at a vehicle that is a lemon after 5 years, than a $50 hair drier that fails after 5 years.

Flat screen TV’s come in similar size packages with similar features. Should a lower cost Aldi brand or TCL model have the same pro-rata warranty as a Sony or LG two or more times more expensive? Or should the warranty on the more expensive brands be twice as long? Which is closer to how the ACL is currently expressed.

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There consumer law disagrees with you. Warranty is voluntary and set at whatever the maker says - including none. Do you want consumer law harmonised with that?

It looks like you want it the other way where warranty is made ubiquitous with a period set in consumer law appropriate for the goods. So who determines what that is? Who pays? How long will it take to implement? What happens if makers refuse?

If another citizen does me wrong I don’t feel I should have to take them to court if they will not make restitution but that is the history of our law.

My inclination is to say yes. Let the market sort it out. The law could say it is mandatory to advertise the warranty period clearly in the same way as we want unit pricing, health information on packaging, and efficiency ratings on appliances. The buyer can then look at two vacuum cleaners next to each other one with a 3 year warranty and a cheaper one with no warranty. With the risk clearly shown, the user can make the decision. Currently warranty is not front and center and the question usually arises when the item stops working. Manufacturers will soon find out which warranty policy gets the sales and react accordingly.

Does the community really want junk products filling the shelves and going to bin the next month?

History is consumers buy on lowest price, many because household budgets are limited. Choice reviews can help pick the good from the bad for performance. It does not follow that cheaper is always a reliable product, despite adequate performance. We have the current Australian Consumer Laws because enough consumers saw purpose in regulation.

How does that improve on the current situation where no warranty is offered or one that is much shorter than reasonable?

You assume that buyers will choose those with good warranty over none or poor warranty. Often they don’t do that now and I doubt making advertising of warranty more prominent (where it exists) will alter that. If buyers want cheap they will continue to buy cheap and forget the warranty.

You also assume that maximising sales is the only option available to make a profit that the maker has. There is also the option to increase margins, one way to do that is to reduce costs. So a shoddy product can still make a profit with no warranty.

The kind of consumer law you envisage has a big risk of being ignored by makers and buyers alike.

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