iPhones break. The screen might smash when it slips from your hand; you might drop it in the toilet (if so, take a look at How to fix a wet iPhone); or the battery might just start draining more quickly than you'd like. It's happened to the best of us.
Whatever has gone wrong with your device, the big question is this: "Will Apple replace my broken iPhone for free?"
In this article we help you to find out. We explore the insurance and replacement programmes that are available, your legal rights, and the various options you've got for each kind of damage or mishap that may have afflicted your smartphone.
You may also have heard that Apple's been prohibiting third-party iPhone repairs - which may anger you if you wish to keep the cost of a repair down to a minimum. In this article we mention two cases where Apple's been seen to deter customers from third party replacements: read more about the issues relating to screen replacements and battery replacements below.
For related advice, see How to get a Mac repaired. And if you'd prefer a DIY approach, take a look at our guide to the Best tools for repairing & upgrading Macs & iPhones.
Update: In December 2020 Apple started a iPhone 11 recall - find out if your iPhone qualifies for free replacement by Apple.
Insurance and replacement programmes
It's actually quite unusual to expect a company to replace a product when you break it. But when it comes to the iPhone, people seem to have high expectations, either because they spent so much on the phone in the first place, or because when you sign up to a contract for a year or two you expect the phone to last the journey.
Obviously your likelihood of a replacement depends in part on whether you've got warranty or support coverage. Apple offers AppleCare+ protection in the UK and US, which means it will replace an iPhone that has suffered accidental damage. You only get two chances for a replacement, though, and it costs at least £89/$99 - and there's a chance you'll be charged an excess fee too.
You may have insurance. For more information about whether to take out iPhone insurance read our article: is iPhone insurance worth it? We also help you decide which iPhone insurance policy is best for you.
Finally, when a problem with an Apple product becomes particularly commonplace, there's a chance that Apple will institute a free replacement programme. Take a look in our Apple replacement programmes article to see if your issue is covered by that.
But what if your iPhone isn't part of one of these replacement programmes, and you haven't got insurance or warranty coverage? Can you expect Apple to replace your iPhone for free? To answer this question there are a few things that need to be considered.
What are your legal rights?
First things first: if you've only had your iPhone for a year or two there are actually laws that may mean Apple, or the company that sold it to you, have to replace your iPhone.
If you're going to exercise your consumer rights it's worth giving Apple's warranty conditions the once-over, along with the legal requirements Apple would have to abide by in the UK.
What does Apple's warranty include?
Every iPhone comes with complimentary telephone technical support for 90 days from your iPhone purchase and a one-year limited warranty.
Specifically, Apple's warranty covers the following: "Apple warrants the Apple-branded iPhone, iPad or iPod hardware product and accessories contained in the original packaging ("Apple Product") against defects in materials and workmanship when used normally in accordance with Apple's published guidelines for a period of ONE (1) YEAR from the date of original retail purchase by the end-user purchaser ("Warranty Period"). Apple's published guidelines include but are not limited to information contained in technical specifications, user manuals and service communications."
What doesn't the warranty include?
While the Apple warranty means that your iPhone is covered for a year from the day you purchase it, Apple states that its Limited Warranty for iPhone excludes coverage for "damage resulting from accident, disassembly, unauthorized service and unauthorized modifications." The warranty may also be void if the Liquid Contact indicator in your product has been triggered.
Apple states in the legal document that the warranty does not apply in the following cases: "(a) to consumable parts, such as batteries or protective coatings that are designed to diminish over time, unless failure has occurred due to a defect in materials or workmanship; (b) to cosmetic damage, including but not limited to scratches, dents and broken plastic on ports; (c) to damage caused by use with another product; (d) to damage caused by accident, abuse, misuse, liquid contact, fire, earthquake or other external cause; (e) to damage caused by operating the Apple Product outside Apple's published guidelines; (f) to damage caused by service (including upgrades and expansions) performed by anyone who is not a representative of Apple or an Apple Authorized Service Provider ("AASP"); (g) to an Apple Product that has been modified to alter functionality or capability without the written permission of Apple; (h) to defects caused by normal wear and tear or otherwise due to the normal aging of the Apple Product, or (i) if any serial number has been removed or defaced from the Apple Product."
However, Apple does note that even an iPhone that is ineligible for warranty service may be eligible for Out-of-Warranty (OOW) Service (for a price). That is as long as it meets the requirements of the OOW service. Certain damage is ineligible for OOW service notes Apple, including: "Catastrophic damage, such as the device separating into multiple pieces, and inoperability caused by unauthorized modifications."
What does AppleCare include?
Apple sells AppleCare protection to extend that telephone and warranty support that comes with your iPhone from 90 days to two years. You have to purchase this within 30 days of your iPhone purchase.
If you've already got AppleCare, you may have the original, more limited version, but those who purchase AppleCare for their iPhone will now only have the option to choose AppleCare+, an extended service that provides expert technical support, up to two years of additional hardware coverage and up to two incidents of accidental damage coverage. In addition to being able to take the iPhone into the store, under AppleCare+ it is possible to get an express replacement service.
Under AppleCare+ you are only able to drop or accidentally damage your iPhone and get it replaced twice. Some point out that there are other insurance plans that will replace your iPhone more times should anything happen to it. You may want to consider this while deciding whether to pay your money.
With AppleCare+ you also get additional hardware coverage that covers the battery (battery depletion of 50 per cent or more from original specification) and the included USB cable and power adapter that came with the iPhone.
Also worth considering: you may not even need the second year's additional coverage. Apple emphasises that its One-Year Limited Warranty and AppleCare+ Protection Plan benefits are in addition to rights provided under consumer law. (This is because Apple has got in trouble with various courts around Europe for selling two years of coverage without making it clear to customers that there are local laws that may give them sufficient coverage anyway).
We examine the question of What is AppleCare Plus, and is it worth it? in a separate article.
What do consumer laws say about broken iPhones?
Apple notes the following on its website: "When you purchase Apple products, European Union consumer law provides statutory warranty rights in addition to the coverage you receive from the Apple One-Year Limited Warranty and the optional AppleCare Protection Plan."
This EU Consumer Law ensures that you will receive free repair or replacement coverage for defects present when you take delivery (Apple's warranty includes defects arising after you took delivery). The key message here is that if a defect was present when you took delivery (such as a faulty antenna) the device should be repaired or replaced. Replacement of a device that had a fault when you bought is not limited to two years; it could be even longer. You're first point of contact should be the seller, which may or may not be Apple.
Consumers in the UK have the right to ask the retailer to replace or repair any faulty item for up to six years after an item is purchased (five years in Scotland). The only drag is you may have to prove that the fault was present when you bought the item and not something that was the result of normal wear and tear.
UK Specific information about the Sales of Goods Act from 1979 can be found here. The act indicates that consumers can expect that goods will be: as described; of a satisfactory quality; fit for the purpose made known.
This final clause is significant if your fault wasn't there when you bought the iPhone. Chances are you bought your iPhone on a contract, if this is the case you could go back to your mobile network provider and argue that the iPhone failed to meet the terms of the contract due to the fault.
You may even be able to use the Sale of Goods Act to argue that issues arising from wear and tear were due to a manufacturing defect, although to do this you may need an expert's report from an engineer or a mechanic.
The main problem with the Sale of Goods Act is it's much harder to get a refund after the first six months. During the first six months after the purchase, it is up to the retailer to show that any fault is down to the actions or misuse of the buyer, rather than an inherent fault in the product. After the first six months it's up to the buyer to prove that the fault was pre-existing.
However, as well as the Sale of Goods Act there is also an EU directive that gives consumers extra rights. EU directive 1999/44/EC states that: "A two-year guarantee applies for the sale of all consumer goods everywhere in the EU. In some countries, this may be more, and some manufacturers also choose to offer a longer warranty period."
Crucially a key point in this directive is that it doesn't require the buyer to show the fault is inherent in the product and not down to their actions, unlike the Sale of Goods Act. There is more info here, plus Which? has loads of information about what to do if you want to return faulty goods.
Apple offers a service for out-of-warranty iPhones so while it is unlikely you can get it fixed for free you may be able to get a replacement for a knocked down price. In its out-of-warranty terms Apple states: "Certain damage is ineligible for out-of-warranty service, including catastrophic damage, such as the device separating into multiple pieces, and inoperability caused by unauthorised modifications. However, an iPhone that has failed due to contact with liquid may be eligible for out-of-warranty service."
In other words if you drop your iPhone and it smashes into a thousand pieces Apple isn't going to help you, nor will it help if you have drowned it in tea, however, if you turn up with a broken, out-of-warranty iPhone Apple may be able to offer you a replacement, at a price.
However, you may still be able to use one of the laws described above. For example, if your iPhone is not "fit for purpose" but you still have a year left on your contract go to your network and quote the Sales of Goods Act at them. If you believe that a fault in manufacturing has caused an issue that you are only experiencing now you may need to get help to prove this is the case, but you don't need to worry if it's been longer than two years since you bought the device.
How can I get Apple to replace my iPhone?
Having said that, it is our experience that returning an iPhone to Apple for a replacement is a stress-free experience and you may not need to follow any of the advice above.
Next section: What happened to your iPhone?