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I have TV that failed about a week after the 3 year guarantee expired.

Obviously this is annoying, and I'm back to using a 15 year old TV that I dug out from the attic.

Realistically, this failure so close to expiry of the guarantee is probably just a co-incidence, but it did get me thinking, the TV is a 'smart TV' with lots of electronics inside. It wouldn't be difficult to deliberately design it to stop working after exactly 3 years. If a manufacturer deliberately did this (and didn't mention it in their sales literature) would this be lawful?

This is slightly different from 'planned obsolescence' whereby spare parts aren't available, or an item can't be disassembled without destroying it, I'm talking about something very similar to buying a software license - where a fixed fee up-front allows you to use a product for exactly 12 months.

In practice, when I buy a physical item I regard the guarantee as the minimum period the item should work for with the expectation that with a bit of luck it should work for a lot longer. Could a manufacturer lawfully sell a TV/kettle/electric drill deliberately designed to fail after a fixed period?

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    Also consider the opposite: they potentially did very well in predicting how long they could make their warranty. Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 21:07
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    Warranty periods are sometimes slightly squishy in the name of customer service and avoiding disputes. If it was just one week, it may be worth seeing if they'll honor the guarantee anyway. Commented Nov 21, 2023 at 6:17
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    Side note: The Umweltbundesamt (German Environment Agency) published some studies about obsolescence a while ago. In 2012, they found that TVs were replaced on average after 5.6 years, and 60 % of the newly bought ones replaced a functioning device, only about 1/4 replaced a broken one (see umweltbundesamt.de/presse/pressemitteilungen/…). Commented Nov 21, 2023 at 7:35
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    I recall reading a Mad Magazine comic back in the 1980s about an appliance of some sort that had a timer that caused the device to need an "expensive" repair right after the warranty expired (where the repair was just resetting a secret switch somewhere in the guts of the device). So this idea isn't exactly new...
    – Andy
    Commented Nov 21, 2023 at 15:12
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    A modern issue is that security and other software support may be guaranteed for a given period, after which you are on your own and at real risk. The device may work in some sense, but not safely or satisfactorily - it may need an internet connection to work but is not protected while making one.
    – Henry
    Commented Nov 21, 2023 at 19:37

3 Answers 3

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Deliberately rendering the TV non-operational through software would appear to be malicious damage.

Under the Australian Consumer Law, one of the statutory guarantees is that a product must be “durable”. Manufacturer’s can offer explicit warranties in addition but these in no way impact on the statutory guarantees.

What durable means depends on the product and the price paid for it. For a low end TV, 3 years might be durable enough although it’s arguable, but for a high end TV it wouldn’t be. For whitegoods, 10 years would be appropriate. A similar period would be appropriate for a car. However, for a Mars bar, maybe a week. And a restaurant meal, a half hour.

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If your machine actively destroys itself after the warranty is up, you commit the crime of damage to someone else's property under StGB § 303. You might also be liable for fraud, as this feature was not advertised - the "this machine will destroy itself after three years" is a crucial feature that people need to be informed about to form a proper contract.

If your machine just wears out after the warranty is up, then your machine is just suffering from a case of planned obsolescence. That is currently still allowed.

However the EU parliament is discussing making planned obsolescence itself illegal and items that suffer from it banned from the EU market.

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Law Meta, or in Law Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Dale M
    Commented Nov 24, 2023 at 2:30
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In the UK for consumer products you can normally claim for a fault that was present or developing at the time of sale for up to six years after purchase (five in Scotland). However, after six months the onus is on the customer to prove that the faut was present of developing at the time of purchase (which in your case it may not have been and even if it was, you might need an expensive engineer's report to prove). Note that your rights are against the retailer not the manufacturer (unless they are the same entity).

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/somethings-gone-wrong-with-a-purchase/claim-using-a-warranty-or-guarantee/

There is obviously some flexibility in this in that not every product could be reasonably expected to last that long. If some kind of deliberate failure mechanism was built in then it would obviously be present at the time of purchase though so you would be able to claim. It seems an unlikely strategy for a mass market product as you would get potentially thousands of products failing at the same time for the same reason which would cause suspicion and be a big PR hit.

It's probably worth speaking to the retailer anyway to see if they would honour the warranty or offer some sort of goodwill - a voucher or discount maybe.

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    Five or six years is the maximum claim period. It is not how long the product is supposed to be free of fault. That is “a reasonable time”, usually two years.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 17:59
  • The retailer will usually have a contract with the manufacturer; you deal with the retailer, but the manufacturer will pay the retailer, so your repair doesn’t cost the retailer any money. After the “reasonable” time is over, it might be very expensive for the retailer to help you, because the manufacturer may refuse to pay.
    – gnasher729
    Commented May 20 at 8:35
  • As stated in the answer the six year term (or five in Scotland) applies when "a fault that was present or developing at the time of sale". For faults that develop after the time of sale then different regulations will apply. For some products it may be "reasonable" for them to last two years, for some much longer or much less. For example fresh milk would not reasonably be expected to last very long but if it was sold to you already mouldy you would theoretically have the 6/5 years to make a claim.
    – SBFrancies
    Commented May 20 at 9:54
  • Another thing to note is that the onus can be on the purchaser to prove that a fault was present or developing at the time of sale. For example when purchasing a used car, if a problem is reported within the first six months it would normally be up to the seller to prove that the fault was not present or developing at the time of sale. After six months it us up to the purchaser to show that it was.
    – SBFrancies
    Commented May 20 at 9:57

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