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Warranties, Guarantees and their ilk

A client recently noted to me that the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) says a computer should last 5 years. Intrigued, I looked into it further. The truth is not quite so black and white; technically, the CGA states an item should last the amount of time an item of that type is expected to last for. But even technical experts can have wildly differing estimates on how long an item 'should' last. At least this gives people an avenue to pursue would-be offenders in court or Tribunal though, should things go south on the longevity side.

Consumer.org.nz thinks the period should be 5 years minimum for computers, I would say that's a little hazy personally. Different components have different life-expectancies, for good reason. CPU's and motherboards are the core of a machine and can be difficult or impossible to replace further down the line, so they tend to have long warranties. Hard drives, too, can cause catastrophe if they fail early (which they sometimes do) and so have historically had longer warranties. Printers, keyboards and other assorted peripherals are expected to have a lot of physical user interaction and are replaceable if they fail, so have shorter warranties.

But when you say "computer", are you lumping all those things in together? Of course. The consumer.org.nz essentially basically extends the guarantee of the unit as a whole to the warranty lifespan of itís critical components (CPU + motherboard) which is 5 years. However if a non-critical and easily-replaceable component fails outside of warranty time limits, I would guess it's going to be hard to push for replacement under the CGA. Example: regular non-solid-state hard drives have a median lifespan of 6 years, with a quarter failing within the first 4 years. Most warranties for these items are 3 years. If you buy the computer as a package, is it reasonable to expect that the hard drive would not fail within 5 years? Maybe, but would the CGA cover it? And would it cover the cost related to loss of data, if you hadnít backed up your documents?

The answer is probably no, largely because the hard drive is easily replaceable and backing up data regularly is considered basic computer practice. However if a core component like the motherboard or CPU fails or the power supply freaks out and subsequently fries the rest of the components, I think the CGA would cover replacement of the computer as a whole - though it should be noted, I am not a lawyer (thank god). Generally we see individual component warranties line up with the CGA to an extent. The caveat to this is for name-brand desktop and laptops, which tend to just have a singular (reasonably short) warranty. If one of those fails one can reasonably expect to pursue justice in the case of failure before a 5 year mark.

Itís good to know we have legal bulwarks in place, should warranties not suffice - at least, in the majority of circumstances. In my experience a good quality desktop computer lasts 8-10 years, a good quality laptop 5-6, and HP computers, well, as long as it takes for the warranty to expire.

- Matt Bentley, computer expert at Bentley Home PC Support.
Email info@homepcsupport.co.nz or phone 0211348576.

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