Ask LH: Do Warranty Laws Mean AppleCare Is Irrelevant?

Dear Lifehacker, In the light of the new consumer laws introduced earlier this year, I'm wondering if we should question whether we should be paying to extend the limited warranty of one year on new Apple computers? Apple likes to promote the extended three-year AppleCare warranty as a logical extension of the 12 months "limited warranty" that it already offers, but I'm wondering if that falls within the law.

The ACCC's own site makes it clear that extended warranties don't eliminate the rights consumers already have. I understand that AppleCare offers more than just extended repairs to hardware problems but if you don't need any tech support or software support should we be OK to buy an Apple machine and have the confidence that if something does go wrong with a machine, it will be repaired at Apple's expense within the first 3 years?

I actually raised the question with an Apple sales representative and received a response which said Apple couldn't guarantee or promise any coverage outside of the first year. Can it do that as a company?

If the new law in Australia protects our investment beyond the advertised one-year period, I feel this is something that needs to be brought to people's attention so that Apple and other manufacturer's alike can be more transparent. Is this something that Lifehacker and Gizmodo could research to shed some light on the matter?

Thanks, Savings-Minded

Pedant note: This question was in fact originally sent to Gizmodo, but editor Nick immediately pegged it as "much more a Lifehacker thing" and passed it on to me.

Dear Savings-Minded,

The short answer is this: the one-year AppleCare warranty doesn't supplant your rights as a consumer or mean that Apple can disclaim responsibility after a year, but that doesn't mean that your basic rights are more comprehensive than the three-year warranty AppleCare offers for an additional fee either. All that is worth diving into in a little more detail.

The first important point to note is that Apple is in no position to supplant existing consumer law, and no number of disclaimers will let it do that. Apple is an odd company in this respect. On the one hand, most people who have cause to use it are generally very positive about the Apple support experience. On the other hand, it's very evident that Apple often likes to act like its own internal policies should supplant specific consumer laws. That's simply not so.

It's also clear that Apple is keen to sell AppleCare to anyone who purchases hardware from it. Here's a typical spiel it uses to promote AppleCare:

Your iMac comes with a one-year limited hardware warranty and complimentary phone support for the first 90 days after you buy it. So you can call our highly trained AppleCare advisors with questions about moving your files, connecting to a network, using Mac OS X, and more. Extend your coverage to three years from your computer’s purchase date with the AppleCare Protection Plan.

It's hard to imagine that it was not exactly this kind of approach that the ACCC had in mind when it gave this example of how extended warranties can be promoted in a misleading way:

It is important to remember that regardless of any warranty a business chooses to offer, consumers still have rights under the consumer guarantees. The extra warranty does not alter or limit consumers’ rights under the guarantees, and businesses should be careful that their warranties do not mislead consumers about their rights.

Businesses should take particular care when describing and selling extended warranties to ensure that consumers are not misled into thinking that they are required to pay for rights that are already provided by the consumer guarantees.

For example:

A computer is sold with a free 12-month warranty given by the manufacturer. The seller advises the consumer that they need to purchase a three year extended warranty, otherwise they will have no right to a remedy after the 12-month warranty period expires.

In this case, the seller is likely to have breached the ACL by advising the consumer that they need to pay for rights provided for under the consumer guarantees.

The key point here is this: it's not in any way reasonable for Apple to assume on the 366th day that you own a piece of hardware that it has no responsibility whatsoever towards servicing that hardware. The ATO, for instance, assumes that the functional lifespan of PC hardware is at least three years. Given that, presuming that the hardware could die after the first year is unreasonable. If you've spent several thousand dollars on hardware, treated it reasonably and not damaged it, Apple can't tell you that it has no obligations simply because you didn't purchase AppleCare and you've had the equipment for more than 12 months.

With all that said, though, there's equally no basis to assume that you could get exactly the same rights by not buying AppleCare at all. That service includes options which aren't part of your explicit consumer rights -- including the ability to get phone support for a whole range of features, and the ability to get overseas repairs. (The original seller has to offer assistance under Australian law for problems with goods its sells you, but that doesn't extend to offshore locations.)

If I was buying a piece of Apple hardware, I suspect I'd pay for AppleCare -- it doesn't seem that expensive to me for what you get. That said, I wouldn't assume that it was supplanting my consumer rights. I'd assume it was supplementing them. If an Apple representative told you there was no guarantee of how your hardware might perform after the first year, it evident that approach goes against the tenor of the law. Whether that would change your purchase decision is up to you.

Cheers Lifehacker

Lifehacker's weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.

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