My washing machine is now out of guarantee, but I don't think I should have to pay for a repair
Guarantees are, "an addition to, and do not affect your statutory rights". The guarantee you get with your washing machine is built into the price of the washing machine. It is not really free, you have paid for it. This is quite separate from your consumer rights, which state that your washing machine must be "of merchantable quality", and "fit for the purpose it was made for". It's also expected to last a "reasonable" length of time and be free from inherent faults. If a major fault develops even after the guarantee has expired, you may still be entitled to claim the washing machine wasn't of merchantable quality and therefore claim a partial refund or damages though you are highly likely to have to fight for this compensation and maybe go to the small claims court.
Another way in which we are protected by consumer law is that we can claim compensation if a washing machine can be shown to have an "inherent fault" (usually the cost of the repair). An inherent fault is a fault that was present when you bought it. These faults will normally be dealt with under the manufacturer's guarantee because they will be apparent within the first 6 - 12 months. But there can be inherent faults that are not apparent until much later. An error in design, or an error in manufacturing can mean that technically a faulty part was fitted into the washing machine, which takes a long time to fail, but still fails unreasonably soon. The "fault" may not become apparent immediately, but it was there at the time of sale, and so the product was not of satisfactory standard or might be shown to have had an inherent fault.
That's alright in theory but..
Words such as "reasonable" and "merchantable quality" are open to subjective interpretation. What is reasonable to one person may not be accepted as reasonable to another, so the courts often have to decide. In practice, if the drum bearings fail in your washing machine after 4 years, which is a major fault (and with some modern washing machines requires an entire new outer tub) you will not normally find the manufacturer, or the company you bought your washing machine from interested in repairing it free of charge - even if they failed after only 18 months. The initial guarantee has expired and as far as they are concerned it's sad, but tough. However, you could argue that a new washing machine should last longer than 4 years and therefore it was not "fit for its purpose" or it has not lasted a "reasonable" amount of time. You may also find evidence that hundreds or even thousands of people have had the exact same fault, and that it is a design fault.
The problem is that you may need to take the company you bought it from to (the small claims) court (or at least threaten to) in order to force them to compensate you. Many have done so and been successful, but relatively few are prepared for such a confrontation. UK consumer law allows up to 6 years from purchase (5 in Scotland) to take legal action against a seller. Therefore it is possible to claim that your washing machine was inherently faulty if it suffers a major fault even at 5 or 6 years old. Whether you would win or not is pretty unclear and depends on all circumstances. If your washing machine cost only £200 and you've washed every day for 3 years for a family of 4 or 5 it may be judged that it has lasted a reasonable time under those circumstances. On the other hand if you paind £700 for a brand selling on a reputation of quality and only washed for 2 people it may well be judged that it has not lasted a reasonable time.
Fair wear and tear
You should be cautious about jumping to legal action unless you are sure of your case. There is help and advice available, but you may need to be prepared to fight your case. Don't make the mistake of assuming any breakdowns on your washing machine within the first 5 or 6 years means you can take the seller to court. A washing machine (like any other goods purchased) cannot be expected never to break down, and even a break down after a year or two of washing may be considered reasonable depending on the fault and the amount of laundry the machine has been washing.
To successfully claim under the consumer legislation when your washing machine is out of the manufacturer's guarantee, you have to show that the washing machine either had an inherent fault, that was present on the day of purchase (but not detectable) or that it was not of reasonable quality (maybe because of repeated breakdowns)
[ Related: EU 2 year guarantee. Sale of Goods Act gives us 6 years to claim for faulty appliances read my white goods Blog article - please add your comment or experience to help build up a picture which can help others ]
Why can't I complain to the washing machine manufacturer? They made the washing machine - aren't they ultimately responsible?
I agree, the people who made the washing machine are responsible for the quality, or lack of quality. They often make design errors, or are let down themselves by the companies they pay to make individual parts. However, the consumer law puts the onus on the people who sold you the washing machine.
On the face of it this seems unfair, and if you sell washing machines it's a major responsibility (that needs covering with product liability insurance) However, I do agree that this makes sense. The people you buy the washing machine from are your main contact. You know where they are, who they are, and have made a contract with them. Why should you have to argue your case with the faceless washing machine manufacturer with whom you have no relationship and little information about? Their engineer is the only representative they are likely to send out to look at it, and they are trained only to repair things. They aren't equipped to deal with consumer issues and neither is their immediate superior. Everyone should claim from the party they bought the appliance from. You the customer claim from the people you bought the washing machine from, they in turn can complain to who they bought it from (a wholesaler or the manufacturer), and they in turn can claim from the people they paid to make the individual part(s) in question or accept the responsibility themselves.
I like to think that another reason the law puts the onus on the seller is that if a company or individual sells a certain make or model of washing machine that turns out to be rubbish, and they get nothing but grief from their customers, this should make them put pressure on the manufacturer to improve things. Better still they should stop selling the washing machine altogether and the manufacturer would be forced to improve it. The logical conclusion of this is that eventually, most shops would only sell decent, reliable products. This is a wonderful theory but alas it doesn't seem to work too well. Large electrical retailers continue to sell rubbish on a large scale despite substantial conflict with customers and thousands of very dissatisfied customers. They play the numbers game, which means selling poor quality washing machines on a large scale can still be profitable. They also rely heavily on most people not pushing for their true consumer rights because it's so much hassle and potentially stressful.
In my opinion, if the majority of consumers were more familiar with, and insisted on, their full consumer rights, it could significantly change the way major retailers work. They may well find it unprofitable to sell poor quality washing machines because of all the compensation and small claims action against them. As it is, people are subsidising their mistakes in selling poorly made products - yet keep going back for more because of their obsession with cheap prices. Ultimately, the public have mostly themselves to blame because retailers are simply trying to give what the public demand - unrealistically cheap washing machines.Go to top of page
More on next column (including taking the seller to court) ...
All information is meant to be fair and balanced. All advice is given in good faith and without liability, and is meant as a general guideline only. With consumer issues, always double check advice using the free Government & consumer group's literature as well.
Related consumer advice
Consumer advice on Washerhelp is written to specifically relate to washing machines but should equally apply to other products and services.
Which? Online have lots of consumer related advice and researchWhich? have a Website where you can research immediately online (not just washing machines) and benefit from their highly respected opinions and experience of consumer issues. ( Which? Consumer Rights - Which? 1 month for £1 trial offer details )
Are you covered by your house contents insurance? Coins can virtually write off many modern washing machines because they can punch through the plastic outer tub causing a repair bill that may well be uneconomical. If your washing machine has been damaged by coins, you may find the repair company want to charge you as this clearly isn't covered under the washing machine's guarantee.
If you took out an extended repair warranty then you may be covered for accidental damage (check the small print). If not, and you have household insurance that covers accidental damage you may be able to claim from that policy
Compensation, taking seller or repairer to court
- I want to claim compensation from the repair company or the washing machine seller
- I'm thinking of taking them to the small claims court
- The company I bought my washing machine from has gone out of business, what are my rights?
- EU 2 year guarantee my white goods Blog article looking at the 5 & 6 year limitations on claims under the sale of goods act - add your comment? )