A typical call often made during our readers’ consultation-hour at the editorial office:„After only one and a half years, there are some fine cracks in my frame where down tube and head tube meet. My dealer sent the frame to the importer, but he rejected the complaint, arguing the warranty was valid only one year. Is there a possibility of getting the damage compensated or do I have to buy a new frame?“ The typical answer often given as well is: „It depends.“ On the individual case.
There are some laws about purchase, warranty and guarantee which allow clear statements concerning the legal position. But there are also conditions agreed upon in the sales contract which define details. And the amount of inquiries leads to the conclusion that apparently neither buyer nor dealer nor manufacturer really get them. In order to change this, you have to do everything properly from the very beginning: the purchase. Because at this point, the future legally binding rights and duties of the parties involved are agreed upon.
Since the law of obligations was amended in January 2002, the law regulating the so-called liability for defects has been pivotal in the relationship between customer and dealer. It says that the seller of a product is liable for its being free of defects when giving it to the customer – the term „defect“ being quite widely put: A defect is also when the product does not have one of the expected characteristics. Casually put: If the dealer claims that a bike frame weighs nine kilograms, but in fact it weighs 10.5 kilograms, this will be a defect in the legal sense. From the moment the sold product is handed over to the customer, the liability for defects is valid 24 months. During the first six months, the dealer has to prove to the customer that the product sold was free of defects, after this period, the burden of proof passes over to the customer. There is no way for the dealer to evade this liability. Bikes and parts bought after January, 1, 2002 come under this law, which is gradually ratified by all European countries.
As clear as this law may appear – in individual cases, there can be a lot of problems.If, for example, the head race wears out within the 24 months period or worn out rear derailleur rollers make smooth gear shifting impossible, these things cannot immediately be classified as defects without any doubt. Because such defects usually only arise when the bike is poorly maintained. Maintenance, however, is one of the customer’s duties – if the dealer together with the manufacturer pointed this out to the customer. In case of doubt the customer therefore has to prove that she/he, for example, controlled the bearing play and exchanged the chain regularly. The easiest way to do so is by showing invoices of spare parts, inspections and repairs.
Thus, law makes it compulsory to give the customer information about maintenance intervals, the correct use of the bike, about wear and tear and special assembly instructions when handing over the product – an owner’s manual. Also important: an invoice that deserves its name. A sales slip with only the price stated on it, is not sufficient when buying an individually assembled roadbike for several thousand Euros. Service oriented bike dealers therefore give their customers a bike passport, sometimes even a parts list and a completion certificate.
According to law, the dealer has to react "within an adequate period" in case of complaint – a term which is unfortunately as vague as it sounds. Which steps the dealer has to take in which order is also laid down by the law. First of all, the customer has to give him the opportunity to repair the defect or touch up the faulty product. If these attempts fail, a reduction of the purchase price can be negotiated and finally a cancellation of sale can be agreed upon: the product is given back, the money is returned.
Warranties and their catches
Liability of defects does not cover manufacturers’ warranties of three or more years – they are a voluntary promise. Of course, such warranties are used as sales argument, but you have to be aware of the fact that manufacturers are almost free in determining the conditions for their guarantee giving. This concerns duration, coverage and conditions and reaches from sensible stipulations to conditions as unreasonable as the warranty not covering the use of a roadbike in training rides and races.
Even what sounds generous can turn out very scant. If, for example, a manufacturer commits himself to exchanging a bike frame in certain cases for a successor of his own choice without further taking over of costs, you strictly speaking don’t have a hold – except for good will – if the new frame’s seat tube has another diameter or an integrated head bearing instead of a conventional one. New parts necessary have to be paid by the customer just like the cost of reassembly. The dealer is out of it as the manufacturer granted the warranty.
It looks bad for the customer when it takes months for the manufacturer to handle the complaint. She/he is not entitled to some kind of substitute, like a rental bike, unless the manufacturer promised this in the warranty.
The warranty conditions at the time of purchase are decisive for the handling of a complaint. The warranty is purchased as an essential part of the product, therefore it should be read before the purchase just as carefully as the other product information and should be compared to it. The warranty conditions are, together with the other bike documents, the base for later complaints. Also if the importer of a brand has changed.
Advice on purchase and complaint
You should insist on the following documents:
Follow the owner’s manuals instructions and document their carrying out
Submit documents, but only give away (certified) copies
Collect repair invoices and submit themDo not disassemble the bike in any case or change something on it
In case the complaint is rejected, ask a lawyerBe friendly and cooperative, no threatening
Advice for accidents caused by material failure
Have injuries documented by a doctor
Keep torn clothes and damaged accessories
Further proceedings like with complaint
If the manufacturer wants you to send in the bike or parts for examination, first have the evidence preserved professionally by a bike expert before giving it/them away
If the manufacturer refuses loss adjustment or does not meet your demands, appoint an expert lawyer
"Arguing with manufacturers is often hopeless"
Questions to lawyer Doctor Michael Heidelbach, Stuttgart
Who takes over warranty if the manufacturer goes bankrupt?
Then the warranty claim turns into an insolvency claim. Theoretically, the buyer can stake out her/his claim at the insolvency administrator. This is difficult and usually hopeless. Normally, the warranty is gone – bad luck for the customer.
Is there a legal liability when buying second-hand?
Yes. Also when buying a bike second-hand, the commercial seller cannot exclude a legal liability for redhibitory defects. He can, however, limit it to one year.
Are there warranties for second-hand purchases?
Of course the seller can give a warranty on second-hand bikes. This is already quite common on the market for second-hand cars, for example. Existing guarantees and warranties pass over to the new buyer.
What is the biggest difficulty in handling justified complaints?
It is difficult to take action against foreign manufacturers. As experience shows, such cases get caught in the maze of different international laws for a long time or forever. Especially correspondence with Italian manufacturers and their insurance companies takes very long. Chances of success may be better with German manufacturers or German-based importers. Another difficulty is the money for court, lawyer, expert’s report and so on which the person injured has to advance – sometimes for several months or years. It is advisable to have a legal expense insurance financially covering such an argument.
Can you claim damages for pain and suffering?
It is possible to get damages for pain and suffering in case of severe injury. The law amendment of August 2002 was a big improvement. Now you can also claim damages for pain and suffering in cases of absolute liability and product liability. There does not necessarily have to be culpable action of the dealer or manufacturer in every case.
Author: Dirk Zedler