Faulty goods: know the difference between a warranty and the law

Two queries illustrate the limits of warranties and the intricacies of mistaken prices

In November 2017 a reader called John bought a pair of golf shoes “from a local, well-known sports shop for €80”. He says his new shoes had a one-year waterproof warranty. Last month, just 10 months into his ownership of them, they started to leak. Last week he brought them back to the shop.

“Rather than get them replaced for an exact same pair or ask for a refund, I decided to add an extra €50 and part-exchange for a pair of shoes valued at €130,” he says. “These shoes are a different brand to the previous pair, but also come with a one-year waterproof warranty. The warranties on both products come from the manufacturer and not the shop.”

He was less than happy when he was told that rather than getting a new, year-long waterproof warranty for his new pair of shoes, “the shop has insisted that I have to continue on the old warranty, which ends on October 31st.

He wants to know if he should get a completely new warranty “or is the shop correct and I have to continue on my old warranty? And can I return this new pair of shoes (which I haven’t worn yet) and get the full €130 value back in cash, which I would be inclined to do if I am not entitled to a new warranty.”


No good news

We don’t have much by way of good news for John. If a product proves to be faulty and a replacement is given out under warranty, then the warranty clock is never reset to zero. So if your laptop breaks after 10 months and you get a new one, do not be surprised if the manufacturer tells you the new laptop has a warranty of only two months. John’s story is, however complicated somewhat given that he paid a further €50 for an entirely different product and was not simply given a like-for-like replacement.

The retailer did not have to do that and could have insisted on either sending the leaky shoes for repair or giving him a straight swap, so there is little he can do.

As for his second idea, that is a complete non-starter. A retailer is under no obligation to give him any money back – despite the fact that the shoes are unworn – because there is nothing wrong with them.

It is also worth pointing out that a warranty is not the be-all and end-all. It is offered by a manufacturer but does not trump statutory consumer rights. Under the Sale of Goods Act, consumers have up to six years to seek redress for faulty or defective items. There are limits to this law, however. And the limits are typically governed by how much you pay for something, what it is supposed to do and what you do with it. A watch that costs €10 is probably not going to last long, so if it breaks after a year you have no real comeback. A pair of golf shoes with a sale price of €130 should last more than a year, and if they don’t, the retailer will have a case to answer, warranty or no warranty.

The price is wrong

We have another case of consumer confusion this week. Fiona from Galway was in an electronics retailer when she saw a tablet selling for €199. “It seemed like a good price to me, but when I brought it to the till the price suddenly jumped to €399. I argued that I had the right to get it at the advertised price but they wouldn’t budge. What can I do?”

The short answer is nothing. If you find something that is incorrectly priced, you have no legal right to buy it for that price as long as the sales assistant working the till spots the error, in which case they can refuse to sell it to you for that price. In law the price on the shelf is viewed as an “invitation to treat” – effectively, the retailer is asking you to offer that price for their product. When you do, the retailer can choose to accept it or not.

If they notice the mistake before cash changes hands, then no contract is in place and they can simply take it off you despite your howls of protest. If they don’t notice the mistake and the sale goes through, however, then the transaction stands. Shops can be fined and otherwise penalised for this kind of carry-on, but if it is a genuine error, consumers are not allowed profit from it.