Investigator: The revolving door of returns

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Investigator: The revolving door of returns

How long is a ‘reasonable time’?

Australian consumer law says products should last for a reasonable amount of time given their price and description. We could all accept that a watch costing $1000 should last longer than a $10 torch, but there are plenty of products in between these extremes where it’s harder to make a definitive calculation. And what if it hasn’t been used very much but some time has elapsed?

PC & TA reader Peter is trying to answer these questions in relation to an OCZ solid state drive (SSD) that he bought in May 2011 that developed a fault a bit later because the drive wasn’t being used.

Peter writes that: “It was a while (four months or more) before I got around to installing it. I installed Windows 7 x64 but continued to use my main install on a hard drive of Windows 7.”

Peter says he booted into the SSD only a handful of times and installed the firmware update following OCZ forum instructions; the drive’s Bios continued to work as normal and the drive was accessible from the other Windows install. However, about a week or two later the drive failed. Peter went directly to the manufacturer and not the local retailer Mwave for help.

“It showed only one 55GB partition not two. I sent it back to OCZ (at my expense) for a replacement. The replacement came back in what looked to be a brand new sealed box. It was left sitting on a bench for about six months and when I finally got around to installing the drive, it was the same drive. It had the same problem: only one 55GB volume. I contacted OCZ and they were happy to replace my drive with a RevoDrive 3, which I considered but asked for a refund.”

“After advising them that I paid $359 for the drive they offered me $106.99. I told them that was unacceptable to which they replied they made a mistake. The new offer was $200, but that’s still unacceptable.”

OCZ made the calculations and explained it to Peter in an email. “Based on our prorated system. You have been using the product for 21 months already. You still have 15 months and we will base on the rest of the 15 months to refund you and the price for that is only $149.58. But we gave you $200 for the refund, that is a decent and fair amount ($359/36) * 15 = $149.58.

Peter knows that the drive is now several years old, but isn’t satisfied with the partial refund and that he got virtually no use out of the drive. When he questioned it, the company said that he had two options: a replacement or a $200 refund.

This question of whether to deal with the retailer or manufacturer can be confusing for many consumers. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) advises that consumers can’t demand a repair, replacement or refund from the manufacturer. Consumers can approach the manufacturer or importer directly, but may only be able to recover costs including an amount for reduction in the product’s value and in some cases compensation for damages or loss. If the manufacturer is based overseas, this can all amount to nought because your consumer rights aren’t valid with overseas businesses.

The ACCC says that the retailer who sold you the product or service cannot refuse to help you by sending you to the manufacturer or importer. The retailer is usually the first port of call if there’s a problem and if you want a full refund you’re best advised to deal with them. In practice, however, we all know that plenty of retailers put the onus on consumers to sort out problems when the retailer should be handling it. Oftentimes consumers have no choice but to go through the manufacturer’s own warranty claim process on its website to get a return authority. It’s this or have a faulty unusable product sitting on a shelf.

Investigator advised Peter to talk to the ACCC for advice on his warranty rights in relation to getting a full refund for the product. Investigator suggested that he go back to Mwave and outline his situation and request a refund. Investigator will follow up with Mwave and Peter to see if he gets his money back for his defunct drive.

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