I am wondering about a situation that used to happen with the 2011 series of MacBook Pros.

At one time, they all started to fail, one after the other. The root of the problem was identified and well documented. Ultimately, it was a design flaw.

Apple followed their standard playbook:

  • Claim that only a small number of machines have been affected.
  • Once there is pressure from lawsuits, do a fix, without admitting any mistakes.
  • Claim they're running a quality program to the benefits of customers.

The issue here is that the 2011 models started to fail outside of the warranty period, but the number of failures was so large that there were several lawsuits and this pushed apple to fix all broken machines.

Now the fix involved replacing a broken part with another identical one, with the same flaw and a known limited lifespan.

According to the discussions I had with the customer service, this is considered a repair in their eyes. I disagree.

Their point was that they extend, through replacements, the lifetime of the computer until it is 'vintage'. Vintage seems to be 5 years for them.

My point was that since we have machines made in the 80s that are still running, 5 years is not acceptable as a lifespan. Even if a machine is made obsolete, it should have a significantly longer lifespan. And I argued that swapping a part with another one that both parties know will fail is not a repair.

I made the argument that if a part is known to have catastrophic failure on an airplane, we don't replace that part with the same model, but with a fixed design. At that stage they wouldn't comment anymore.

A current situation is very similar with the Boeing 737 where it was found that, on some planes, a critical component started to fail at 1/3 of its expected lifespan. My assumption is that the component will not be replaced with one that has the same flaw.

The short version of my question is "who is right?" :)

But the real question is:

What is the accepted expectation of 'repair', according to the law?

Is it:

  • put a product back in service, regardless of what may happen later? This would probably be the literal meaning of the word, or
  • perform work on a product so that the part repaired will perform for its expected lifespan?
  • If a part is not working, and you replace that part in order to make it work again, then that is a repair. It doesn't matter if it will fail in the future, or that you know it may fail in the future. Just as a simple example, when I ride my bike and the brakes start to not work, then I replace them with new break pads, and that is a repair. The fact that the new break shoes may fail again a few months from now (depending on how I use them) doesn't change the fact that it is a repair. – Brandin Nov 15 '19 at 8:28
  • It sounds like this is simply a poor product in this case, which is frustrating but I don't see what you expect to do legally. They designed a consumer product with a flaw, and now they are doing their best to keep it working (despite the replacement having the same design flaw). You can't force them to make a poor product into a good one. If this were actually involving something safety critical like an airplane, then this might be a different story. – Brandin Nov 15 '19 at 8:35
  • Let me correct your brake analogy: brake pads have a specific life expectancy based on usage. A correct analogy is that while all the competitor's bikes have brake pads lasting 5 years, your brake pads would fail after 3 days and they replace them with the same ones that will also fail after 3 days, but the manufacturer is happy to keep replacing them, at their cost and your inconvenience, until they decide that your bike model is too old, despite the bike still being to perform similarly to other models from the competition. – Thomas Nov 15 '19 at 14:35
  • When you say that if it was safety related, it would be a different story, I think this is where my question hinges: if we take extremes, we agree that for safety we wouldn't consider this practice a repair, but for a consumer product we do. Where is the line drawn? – Thomas Nov 15 '19 at 14:36

Australian Consumer Law you are entitled to a repair, replacement or refund if the product does not meet a consumer gurantee.

If you have a minor problem with a product or service, the business can choose to give you a free repair instead of a replacement or refund. When you have a major problem with a product, you have the right to ask for your choice of a replacement or refund.

A product or good has a major problem when:

  • it has a problem that would have stopped someone from buying it if they’d known about it
  • it is significantly different from the sample or description
  • it is substantially unfit for its common purpose and can’t easily be fixed within a reasonable time
  • it doesn’t do what you asked for and can’t easily be fixed within a reasonable time; or
  • it is unsafe.

The design fault is arguably a major fault because it might "have stopped someone from buying it if they’d known about it". As such you can ask for a replacement or refund. Normally it's the business' choice which you get be clearly replacing a product with one with the same defect will continue to breach the guarantee. You are not entitled to a replacement with a later model with the defect fixed although you can, of course, come to any arrangement you like with the vendor.

It's possible you would not be entitled to a full refund - the business can take into account the type of product, how a consumer is likely to use the product, the length of time for which it is reasonable for the product to be used and the amount of use it could reasonably be expected to tolerate before the failure becomes noticeable. 5 years is a reasonable time for a computing device so if it only lasted 2.5 years you might be entitled to a 50% refund.

Note that the obligation under the law is on the vendor, not (necessarily) the manufacturer.

By the way, it is clearly in breach of the consumer guarantee that a product must be "safe, lasting, with no faults".

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