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Sourcing spare parts: Availability and the law
07 May 2014
The British Compressed Air Society (BCAS) is often asked about what requirements there are in law in relation to spare parts for compressed air equipment, especially with regards to availability, and also what rights people have in terms of a warranty. In this article, Greg Bordiak, BCAS technical officer, looks at the most frequently asked questions relating to spare parts and the law.*
It is useful to understand that there are two types of spare parts to be considered - 'functional parts' and 'cosmetic parts'. Functional spare parts are considered to be any mechanical or electro-mechanical parts, while cosmetic spare parts are considered to be non-functional and decorative items that are not essential to the operation of the machine. However it should be noted that this can include spares such as control knobs, handles and so on.
Where a cosmetic spare part fails and there is a potential safety concern (wiring or electrical components left accessible, danger of injury from cuts etc.) it can be the case that a machine is effectively written off due to the non-availability of such a part if the conditions would present any danger.
For how long do manufacturers have to provide genuine spare parts?
The short answer is that there is currently no legislation that states that spare parts have to be available for any set period of time, either in UK or EU legislation.
What this means is that if you buy any equipment such as a compressor, dryer or pneumatic tool, the manufacturer or brand owner has no responsibility to ensure that spare parts are available for any set period at all, and you have no recourse in law to challenge a genuine spare part not being available.
The reason for the lack of availability could be that the manufacturer has decided not to support the product or that the support will only last for a finite period of time. The part may also be outsourced, and that source could eventually dry up.
Therefore if you are told that a spare part is no longer available, chances are there is little if anything that you can do about it, even on a machine or piece of equipment that is only just outside of its manufacturer’s warranty.
The 'six year rule'
There has been some speculation that the 'six year rule', as it is commonly known under The Sale of Goods Act, would affect this but, in reality, this is unlikely as that rule pertains to defects in the goods from new, not the fact that you cannot get the spare part to repair it. So that avenue would likely prove to be fruitless.
The manufacturer will endeavour to provide functional components so that equipment may be serviced throughout the product’s expected life. Different products have different life spans – and even two identical products can have varying life spans, depending on usage. If components are not available, they will discuss and agree an alternative solution with you – if this involves discounting the price of a replacement product, account will be taken of the use you have had of the original product up to that time. Remember some parts are manufactured by other companies and the manufacturers themselves will not have total control of the component parts supply past the cessation of production.
As a guide manufacturers try to retain functional spares for as long as there is a market for them and in most cases, well beyond. Due to the vast array of product types and the purchase price, the life cycle of all products can vary and therefore so can the length of time parts are to be supplied.
The supply of 'cosmetic' spare parts will differ and they may be supported for shorter time periods than 'functional' spares.
In other words, when you hear about spare parts having to be made available for any period of time, so far as we can tell, it is a myth.
Why spare parts matter
When you buy a new item of compressed air equipment be aware of one thing – it is a machine, and all machines eventually breakdown. At some point in its life every single piece of equipment will require either to be repaired or replaced.
The question that you should be asking is what is the maker's policy on spare parts availability? What we find is that a lot of the 'no-name' brands that spring up in the local discount centre and even from some larger online retailers offer little in the way of on-going support for the products that they sell. The reality is that service and spares cost money and one way to cut prices up front is to remove that infrastructure, and this is exactly what some will do.
Now, if you are buying a cheap product to last a couple of years this might not matter to you all that much. If you are equipping a new facility with new tools and machines then you want to be absolutely sure that 10 years down the road you won't have to rip out and replace with new.
Not choosing your compressed air equipment wisely could cost you a fortune later.
Genuine spare parts
To maintain peak performance, safety and reliability manufacturers promote the use of genuine spare parts, which is supported in any warranty provided with the compressed air equipment. Companies providing service and maintenance for the compressed air equipment will be constrained in the parts that can be used during the life of the warranty.
BCAS members will generally trade well within the accepted industry standards, however they can be constrained by the manufacturer or distributor's availability for genuine spare parts. Within the manufacturer's warranty period or an extended warranty period, they are often not allowed to use alternative spare parts or suppliers due to contractual obligations.
BCAS members are expected to inform you of any possible delays to the delivery of spare parts and to offer you an indication of lead times wherever possible.
How can BCAS help?
We can investigate a lengthy lead-time on a spare part but it should be noted that the trade association cannot force a manufacturer or distributor to supply a spare part any faster than they have already advised. We are also unable to ask a member that is under a contractual obligation to source spares from an alternative supplier, even if the part is available elsewhere.
Unfortunately, we can only offer advice and assistance if your repairer is a BCAS member due to the Code of Conduct they adhere to. If your repairer is not a BCAS member, unfortunately, we are unable to assist.
*The views and responses expressed are from industry experience, and are not intended to be taken as legal advice.