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Consumers unaware that EU rule offers 2-year product guarantee

A little-known EU law could force vendors to stand behind their products for up to two years -- instead of the one year warranty typically offered. Each year the Finnish consumer authority receives thousands of complaints about warranties for electronic devices.

Kuvassa mies tarkastelee tv:tä elektroniikkaliikkeessä. Miehellä on kädessään kaukosäädin.
Image: YLE / Kalle Niskala

It's a familiar situation -- your camera or laptop breaks down a month or two after its warranty has run out. A salesperson may then advise you that it's not worth fixing and that you should buy a new one.

Jukka Kaakkola, a lawyer with the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority (or FCCA), says you shouldn't accept this if it was an innate fault that appeared in the first TWO years. In short, the law ensures that consumers have the right to a minimum two-year guarantee period at no cost.

"Even if the warranty has expired the liability for defects still exists," Kaakkola observed.

That's guaranteed by a little-known 1999 EU directive. It says retailers can be held liable for all "non-conformities" which show up within two years.

Of course this does not cover damage or malfunctions caused by the user, stressed Marko Ikonen, regional sales manager at JAS Tekniikka, a camera dealership.

"If a device is used carelessly or allowed to get wet, then the warranty is null and void," Ikonen explained.

But sometimes the reason for a problem is not so clear. The salesman added that the company's technician's decision is informed by what happened to the device and advises accordingly. But that may seem like a conflict of interest to some.

Beware of extended warranties

Kaakkola of the FCCA said that his agency gets thousands of complaints annually about gadgets that break down after the manufacturer's or retailer's warranty has expired.

He noted that some companies show up more often in these figures, though he declines to name names. The lawyer also advised consumers to be wary of retailers' offers of extended warranties, which come at a price.

He said that these apparent forms of extra protection are often nothing more than a sales gimmick and don't affect the vendor's liability one way or the other.

According to the EU's Europa website, the two-year guarantee period begins when consumers receive their goods. Consumers who wish to make a claim for goods that are faulty or not as advertised should do so within six months. After six months the onus is on the consumer to prove that alleged defects existed at the time of purchase or receipt of the product.

The EU rule stiuplates that the vendor is always liable for making good on the defect.

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