Getting your money back on defective goods

What should you do if you buy something and it breaks? Use this simple guide from our legal columnist Robyn Goldsmith to know your rights and the proper steps to take.

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Flickr CC 2.0 by Jeremy Keith.

Have you ever bought a product that immediately failed and felt like a dupe? Maybe the store offered you an extended warranty but you declined? The BC Sale of Goods Act is a piece of legislation that everyone should know about. Invoking the Sale of Goods Act when you buy a faulty product may help you get your money back, even without a warranty.

Key to understanding laws about consumer protection is that when you purchase a product, you are making a contract. The contract is essentially that you will trade your money for the desired product; however, along with that contract, there are some conditions mandated by the government.

The meat of the Sale of Goods Act for ordinary consumer purchases is in sections 17 and 18, which say a few important things:

1. What you buy should match with its description. This is relevant for online or catalogue shopping where you don’t get to see a product at the time of purchase.

2. If a buyer makes it clear to the seller or the lessor what the buyer’s purpose for the goods are, and relies on the seller or lessor’s skills and judgment, and it’s a sale in the course of business, there is an implied condition that the goods are reasonably fit for that purpose, unless you seek a particular product under its trade name.

What does that mean? Well, if you go to a used car dealer and say, “I don’t know much about cars, but I would like a car that will be suitable for used highway driving from Revelstoke to Golden three days a week,” and the dealer helps you select a car, and the car breaks down climbing Rogers Pass shortly after purchase, you will be able to claim your money back under section 18(a) of the Sale of Goods Act. However, if you show up at the same dealer and say “I would like a Honda Civic,” your situation will be different. Likewise, if this is a private deal, you will not be covered.

3. There is an implied condition that all goods are of a “merchantable quality”. This one is often useful. If you buy a budget coffee grinder from a store and the motor burns out immediately, that coffee grinder is returnable.

4. Goods should be reasonably durable if being used for their normal purpose.

5. If the goods are used, the seller can contract out of these terms — and many used car dealers will include that as part of their contract of purchase and sale.

So what should you do if a product fails? First, immediately try to return the product. Knowing a bit about the Sale of Goods Act will help empower you. If the seller refuses, try it in writing. If that doesn’t work, you can report your complaint to Consumer Protection BC or the Better Business Bureau. Your last recourse for claims under $25,000 is Small Claims Court. It is easy and inexpensive to bring an action (but won’t be worth it for a $20 toaster).