Retailers and manufacturers are given a lot of grief about the value of their extended warranties, and quite rightly so in many cases.
However, what rights do you have if, after a couple of years, your PC dies on you and you don't have a warranty? Is the law on your side?
Angela Murphy wrote to me about a Packard Bell PC she bought nearly three years ago from Dixons for £1,634. A couple of months ago the machine packed up.
"As it was out of warranty I took it to an independent computer firm. They said the hard drive, motherboard and CD-Rom were faulty, but it would be too expensive to fix as the tower was so slim, so I may as well buy another machine," she said.
Not surprisingly that was the last thing she wanted or could afford. And she says Dixons offered little help or advice when she asked for help. "Can you give me some advice on my rights?" she asked me.
The problem here is proving fault. Although the Sale of Goods Act gives you six years to make a claim, this doesn't mean that you can safely say a product should last that long. So should you take it to court if met with stony silence from the retailer?
James Hutchinson, a consumer lawyer for Beale and Company, warned: "A retailer or manufacturer could easily argue that after two years you have had good use and the fault was not inherent and down to the customer.
"The success rates are not high even if you have the PC looked at by an independent computer expert."
Under these circumstances, you must give the retailer or manufacturer an opportunity to examine the PC before you make any such move. If they then won't help, small claims is an option but not the best route initially.
"Try to reach a compromise with the retailer first. Be firm, but it is unlikely they will want to face a court case," said Hutchinson.
To test this out I called Packard Bell and asked whether the PC would be too expensive to fix because of the tower. "No," they said, because although it was compact, the 'guts' of the PC, such as the hard drive, were still standard components.
"It would have been better for her to come to us first for advice," a spokesman for Packard Bell said.
I also called Dixons and was told that Mrs Murphy could take it to a PC World Clinic for a free diagnosis.
"If she could prove it was an inherent fault, even with no warranty, Dixons would refund the cost of the independent assessment plus repair the PC free," a spokeswoman told me.
I have let Mrs Murphy know and, hopefully armed with this knowledge, Dixons' staff won't fob her off this time. Even if she has to pay for some of the parts if there was no inherent fault, it will be cheaper than buying a new PC.
You do have rights, you can go to court, but as James Hutchinson explains, being "firm, polite and fair" may prove more fruitful.
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