What is a "warranty"?

A warranty is a promise by a manufacturer to stand behind its product. Under federal law, warranties must be available for you to read before you buy, even when you are purchasing through a catalog or on the Internet. A warranty must be written in plain language and contain the following information:

  • the name and address of the company making the warranty;
  • the product or parts covered;
  • whether replacement, repair or refund is covered and if there are any expenses you would have to pay;
  • length of warranty;
  • damages not covered by warranty;
  • action to be taken if you need to take advantage of the warranty;
  • whether the company requires you to use any specific methods to settle a dispute; and
  • a description of your legal rights.

What types of warranties exist?

  • Full warranties promise that the product will be fixed at no cost to the buyer within a reasonable time after the owner has complained; the owner will not have to undertake any unreasonable task to return the product for repair; and a defective product will be replaced with a new one or the buyer's money will be returned when the product cannot be fixed after a reasonable number of attempts.
  • Limited warranties offer fewer benefits than a full warranty, most often offering only free parts, not labor.

Sidebar: It is possible that one part of a product could be covered by a full warranty and the rest covered by a limited warranty.

  • Express warranties are those offered by the manufacture on a voluntary basis and are meant to encourage customers to buy a product. They can be both written and verbal.
  • Implied warranties guarantee that the product is suitable for sale. This means all parts work effectively, and the product does what it was designed to do, whether or not any other warranty exists. These warranties are required by state law, and in most states, you have up to 4 years to enforce an implied warranty after the transaction starts.

TIP: If a seller states in writing that the product is sold "as is," implied warranties do not apply. This is true even if the salesperson makes a verbal promise to take care of any problems that may arise. Several states, including Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Vermont, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, do not permit "as is" sales.

My warranty says that it does not cover "consequential damages." What are they?

Consequential damages are losses resulting from failure of the product, including your time and expense in getting the damage repaired.

Example: If your refrigerator breaks down, you may get a new refrigerator, but you will not be able to cover the cost of the food that spoils as a result.

Can I rely on an oral warranty?

There is no requirement that a company honor an oral warranty. To protect yourself, if a salesperson makes an oral promise to you, get it in writing.

What is an extended warranty?

An extended warranty is actually a service contract, not a warranty. Like a warranty, a service contract provides repair and/or maintenance of a product for a specific amount of time. Unlike a warranty, service contracts are not included in the price of the product; they will cost you extra money and are sold separately.

Should I pay for an extended warranty?

Whether or not you should purchase an extended warranty is up to you. To determine whether you need a service contract, consider:

  • whether the product warranty already covers the repairs that you would get under the service contract;
  • whether the warranty already covers some of the time period of coverage that you would get under the service contract;
  • whether the product is likely to need repairs and the potential costs of such repairs;
  • the duration of the service contract;
  • whether there is a deductible amount; and
  • the reputation of the company offering the service contract.

I did not register my product after buying it. Can I still take advantage of its warranty?

Under federal law, the answer depends on whether it is a "full" or "limited" warranty. Full warranties cannot be conditioned on the return of a registration card; limited warranties can.

How can I minimize problems?

  • Always read the warranty before you buy a product. Understand exactly what protection is available under the warranty. When shopping online, look for hyperlinks leading you to the full warranty or to an address where you can write to get a free copy. If a copy of the warranty is available online, print it out and keep it with your records.
  • Consider the reputation of the company offering the warranty. If you are not familiar with the company, ask your local or state consumer protection office or Better Business Bureau if they have any complaints against the company.
  • Save your receipt through the warranty period and file it away with the warranty. It is your proof of when the warranty period started and that you are the original owner.
  • Perform required maintenance and inspections. Any violation of the manufacturer's operating and service instructions may void the warranty.

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