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Publisher's Letter

Mains surge suppressors are not a condition of electronic product warranties

Because my friends and acquaintances know that I am involved with the production of an electronics magazine, they sometimes ask me what is my recommendation of brand and model of TV, video projector, DVD player, audio amplifier, loudspeaker or in fact, just about any electronic or electrical equipment. Now unless one spent all day, every day checking the specs and performance of such equipment, it is just not possible to make specific recommendations; the models seem to change on a daily basis!

On the other hand, if they ask about a particular brand and model, I can perhaps be more helpful and possibly guide them in their purchase by asking what features they need, suggesting that they might look at an alternative approach, such as a high-quality BluRay player instead of a CD player or maybe look at a home-theatre receiver with 5.1 channels rather than a run-of-the-mill stereo amplifier. Sometimes I can refer them to the makers’ websites or to government websites for more detailed info they should have before making a decision.

And often I won’t hear anything more about it. Sometimes they will tell me what they finally purchased and sometimes the product is far more expensive and up-market than they were originally intending to buy. If they are happy and the product performs as they expect, then all is well.

But then those same people will tell me that they also purchased an extended warranty, an HDMI cable or two and a surge suppressor, with the comment that the surge suppressor was necessary to get the extended warranty. And that’s when I feel that the whole process has gone awry.

Now I know that retail is a tough scene and that retailers often seek to up-sell as much as they can, in order to survive. Nor do I disagree with the concept of extended warranties. Given that service charges can be a major proportion of a replacement TV, then an extended warranty can be worthwhile. But the idea that a surge suppressor is required for a warranty to be valid is just false. If any retailer tried that on with me, I would demand to see where it was in the warranty document. Of course, it won’t be there.

Nor can there be any suggestion that the manufacturer’s warranty specifies the need for a surge suppressor. If that was a condition of the warranty then it would be arguable that the product was not “of merchantable quality”. In other words, the product would not work reliably unless it was plugged in via a particular surge suppressor. Well, that’s just nonsense. If a product is sold in Australia, then it must work in Australia and cope with the normal range of AC mains voltages present in Australia. To suggest otherwise is an indication that the retailer concerned is selling dodgy products.

In any case, while a surge suppressor may do no harm and may provide some protection against transient voltages on the AC mains supply, it will be no help in the case of a lightning strike. As any appliance serviceman can attest, the most effective way to protect electronic equipment from lightning is for it to be switched off and unplugged from everything: the 230VAC mains, modem and ethernet connection, TV and cable and so on. Even then, there is no guarantee that equipment won’t be damaged – lightning is like that.

So if you do decide to buy a big-ticket electronic item, just be aware that the retailer may try to “up-sell” you. Don’t be caught. And shop around for those HDMI cables and other accessories; the chances are that you can purchase them much cheaper elsewhere.

Leo Simpson

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