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What to do with a faulty product

Our expert guide to your rights when something goes wrong.

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CHOICE staff
CHOICE staff
Last updated: 22 September 2022


Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

You've just made an exciting new purchase and not long after, the product breaks unexpectedly. Or maybe it never worked. Perhaps it simply doesn't do what it claims to do.

We've all been there, and after dealing with the initial frustration, perhaps the biggest question you have is: What can I do next? 

This guide can help you deal with a product that hasn't worked out the way you had anticipated.

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Is the fault covered under the ACL?

The Australian Consumer Law (ACL) provides you with a number of consumer guarantees when you buy something in-store or online. 

Acceptable quality

The business you buy from guarantees your product is of 'acceptable quality', which means it:

  • does everything that you reasonably expect of it
  • is of acceptable appearance
  • is safe, durable, and has no defects.

So when you buy a fridge for example, your expectations will be that food will be kept cool, there'll be no scratches or dents, and when opening, the door won't fall off.

Fit for purpose

This may seem obvious, but by law, the product you've bought needs to do what it's supposed to do – or as the ACL puts it, 'fit for purpose'. A swimsuit that becomes see-through when wet, or a mountain bike that isn't suitable for off-road use, are two examples where items aren't fit for purpose.

Some cases may not be so black and white. For example, let's say you're in the market for a diving watch and see one that looks similar to one that your friend owns. You decide to buy the watch without asking whether the watch is suitable to use for diving, but it's a different model, and is only water-resistant, rather than waterproof. 

In this case, you may not be able to make the claim that the watch was not fit for purpose because you didn't disclose (either expressly or by implication) that you wanted the watch for a specified purpose (e.g. diving).

The ACCC website has a more extensive list of the consumer guarantees.

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If your faulty product has two or more minor failures of the consumer guarantees, it can be considered a major failure.

Is the fault a major or minor failure?

When you're sure your product has failed to meet a consumer guarantee, your next step is to decide whether the failure is major or minor.

What's a major failure?

When you're deciding if there is a major failure, here are the five things to consider:

  1. You would not have bought the product if you had known about the problem. For example: You would not purchase a laptop if the screen became unreadable within a few weeks.
  2. The product is significantly different from the description, sample or demonstration model. For example: You order red shorts online to match your sports team's uniform, but the retailer sends you a black pair. In this situation, you can ask for a refund, replacement or compensation.
  3. The product is unfit for their normal purpose or the purpose specified to the supplier and can't be fixed in a reasonable time. For example: Your new gumboots have a hole in the sole and can't be worn in the rain.
  4. The product is unsafe. For example: your new toaster sends out sparks when you switch it on.
  5. The product has two or more minor failures, and you would not have bought the product if you knew the nature and extent of these failures. (Note: These failures don't need to relate to the same consumer guarantee.)

What's a minor failure?

A minor failure is one that can be fixed within a reasonable time frame. A good example of a minor failure is if you find a piece of loose thread on an item of clothing you've just bought.

However, if the product has two or more minor failures, it can be considered a major failure. 

What remedy are you entitled to?

For a major failure, you can request your choice of a refund, replacement or repair (if possible) from the business. Also, they can't make you accept a credit note or exchange or replacement if you tell them that you want a refund.

For a minor failure, the business can offer you a refund, replacement or to repair the product free of charge. If the business refuses to fix the problem or is taking too long, you can ask someone else to fix the problem and request compensation from the retailer.

For both minor and major failures, any replacement product must be the same type and of similar value as what is being replaced. If that's not possible, you may have to choose between receiving a refund or opting for a repair.

Tips for dealing with a business

For the most part, a quick phone call may be enough to resolve any problems, but if not, take notes of any conversations you've had with a business including dates and names of people that you've spoken with.

If you find that the retailer is not responsive, you can contact your state or territory's fair trading or consumer protection office.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.