According to the Consumer Affairs Act, consumers have specific legal rights when purchasing a product. These rights cannot be diminished or negatively affected by any warranty provided by the supplier or manufacturer. The latter can only add to the protection and benefits provided by the law.

The Consumer Affairs Act protects consumers by imposing on suppliers of goods the responsibility to provide goods that: match the descriptions and specifications in the contract of sale; are fit for their intended purpose; fit for the particular purpose for which the consumer requires them and made known to the trader at the time of sale; and show quality and performance typical in goods of the same type.

When the goods purchased fail to meet these requirements, consumers are entitled to claim a remedy. In the first instance, consumers may request that the goods are repaired or replaced for free.

Reduction in the price or termination of the contract can be claimed when neither repair nor replacement are possible solutions or, if opted for, may cause a significant inconvenience to consumers. The time limit for these remedies is two years from the date of delivery.

Besides these legal rights, consumers may also be given a commercial guarantee and/or be offered to purchase an extended warranty. When selling an extended warranty, traders should inform consumers about the legal protection and then explain what the extended warranty offers more to consumers. It would be considered an unfair commercial practice to sell rights consumers already have by law. Before buying an extended warranty, consumers should make sure it offers more protection than the law.

Consumers’ legal rights cannot be diminished or negatively affected by any warranty provided by the supplier or manufacturer

Other factors to consider before buying an extended warranty is the cost of the warranty and the likelihood of having to use it. As consumers, we should evaluate the money we are spending on the product and the cost of repairing or replacing the product if it breaks down.

Furthermore, before making such a purchase we should shop around and see what other retailers have to offer with regards to standard commercial guarantees. When shopping around, we may find similar products which, for the same price, also offer a free commercial guarantee.

Before purchasing an extended warranty, we should have a look at its terms and conditions and understand what is covered under the warranty. We should keep in mind that warranties do not always cover every problem.

Most only cover mechanical breakdown, not wear and tear or accidental damage. Hence, if this is the case, even though we are in possession of a valid warranty, we may still have to pay for some parts, transportation of the goods, or for damage caused by misuse or frequent use.

A beneficial extended guarantee should at least cover the product purchased for a number of years which is more than two years and should also cover damages caused by wear and tear. It is also important that the guarantee covers parts and labour and not just labour or parts.

Something else to take into consideration is whether the extended warranty allows for replacement of the defective product and/or money refund. The more advantages the extended warranty offers, the more consumers benefit if they decide to invest their money in such a guarantee.

The terms and conditions of commercial and extended warranties have to be clearly written and honoured by the guarantor. If not, consumers may file a complaint with the Office for Consumer Affairs so necessary legal action is taken.

Odette Vella is senior information officer, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

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