Repairing a fridge within warranty

My daughter’s Fisher and Paykel fridge will be two years old in May, so it is within warranty. Last week it flooded the kitchen and stopped working. Now she is waiting until next week for someone to show up and inspect. My feeling about repairing is that she did not buy a repaired refrigerator, so I do not think it is fair practice to repair rather than replace. What advice exists here?

Have they said it will be repaired rather than replaced, or that it depends on what the technician finds when inspecting it?

If the fault is major, the fridge should be replaced, but repair may be reasonable if it’s a minor fault (unless the manufacturer’s warranty promises replacement regardless of the type of fault - which is unlikely).

I suggest that your daughter check the terms of the Fisher & Paykel warranty, and read this document from ACCC, which describes the supplier’s obligations under the Australian Consumer Law.

Electrical & whitegoods - an industry guide to the Australian Consumer Law (PDF)

Some relevant excerpts, with my emphasis:

Minor failures (p4)

  • A minor failure is where a problem with a product can be fixed in a reasonable time and does not have the characteristics of a major failure.
  • Minor faults do not initially allow the consumer to reject the product and demand a refund, replacement or compensation for the difference in value. When the problem is minor, you can choose between providing a repair or offering the consumer a refund or an identical replacement (or one of similar value if reasonably available).
  • If you have identified a minor fault, but have not been able to fix it within a reasonable time, the consumer can choose to get the job done elsewhere and charge you the reasonable costs of this repair.
  • Otherwise, a fault that cannot be repaired, or is not repaired within a reasonable time, can be treated as a major failure and the buyer can reject the product and demand a refund, replacement or the difference in value, accordingly.

That is, your daughter could demand a replacement or refund even if it’s a minor fault, if it can’t be repaired within a reasonable time.

Repairs offered instead of refunds (p12)

If you offer to repair a faulty product, you must take into account whether the problem amounts to a major failure.

When there is a major failure, the consumer can:

  • reject the products and choose a refund or a replacement, or
  • ask for compensation for any drop in value of the products.

The consumer gets to choose, not you or the manufacturer.

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Whether the fridge is or isn’t under warranty does not affect Australian Consumer rights in regards to major and minor faults. As a fridge is an expensive item it is expected to last more than 2 years, . The expected lifetime is around 10 years according to research by CHOICE and backed up by a number of other businesses. So even if the fridge was 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, even 8 to 10 years old if it was a major or minor fault it is most likely even at the upper end of the age range that it will be covered by the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

If the thermostat failed (probably a minor fault under ACL) and the fridge defrosted and flooded the area, repair is probably the most likely outcome and possibly the cost of any loss or damage could be sought. If it was flooded because the (if fitted) water supply broke and caused the compressor and other electricals to fail in the fridge then this is more likely a major failure and refund or replacement might be the chosen option. Until the inspection has taken place, this is all guesswork and so it is hard to give a more definitive response. However as a fridge is now considered a “necessary” (or almost necessary) appliance , compensation for loss and damage may be something to seek as well (whether a major or minor fault). This compensation may possibly also cover the cost of a temporary rental fridge while awaiting assessment and the remedy. Seeking some advice from say a free Consumer Legal advice centre will be useful in determining what is doable and what will not be covered.

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When consumers have a right to compensation

Under consumer law, businesses must meet a set of basic rights known as consumer guarantees when they sell products or services.

If a product or service does not meet the consumer guarantees, the consumer has a right to a repair, replacement or refund.

If the problem causes the consumer to suffer other loss or damage, they also have a right to compensation. This is in addition to getting a repair, replacement, or refund.

It is misleading and against the law for a business to say that it is not responsible for the foreseeable losses a consumer suffers from using the business’s product or service.

What is and isn’t covered

Loss or damage a business must pay for

Businesses must pay for loss or damage that is:

  • caused by the failure to meet a consumer guarantee
  • reasonably foreseeable.

Example of damage that a business must pay for

A consumer’s washing machine breaks down due to a manufacturing fault. Water leaks out of the machine and damages carpet in part of the house.

It is reasonably foreseeable that a leaking washing machine may damage flooring. Therefore, the business must pay to replace the damaged carpet."

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