When you make
a major purchase, the manufacturer or seller makes an important promise to stand behind
the product. It's called a warranty. Federal law requires that warranties be available for
you to read before you buy. Coverage varies, so you can compare the extent of warranty
coverage just as you compare the style, price, and other characteristics of products.
Although not required by law, written warranties come with most major
purchases. When comparing written warranties, keep the following in mind:
- How long does the warranty last? Check the warranty to see when it
begins and when it expires, as well as any conditions that may void coverage.
- Who do you contact to get warranty service? It may be the seller
or the manufacturer who provides you with service.
- What will the company do if the product fails? Read to see whether
the company will repair the item, replace it, or refund your money.
- What parts and repair problems are covered? Check to see if any
parts of the product or types of repair problems are excluded from coverage. For example,
some warranties require you to pay for labor charges. Also, look for conditions that could
prove expensive or inconvenient, such as a requirement that you ship a heavy object to a
factory for service, or that you return the item in the original carton.
- Does the warranty cover "consequential damages?" Many
warranties do not cover damages caused by the product, or your time and expense in getting
the damage repaired. For example, if your freezer breaks and the food spoils, the company
will not pay for the lost food.
- Are there any conditions or limitations on the warranty? Some
warranties provide coverage only if you maintain or use the product as directed. For
example, a warranty may cover only personal usesas opposed to business usesof
the product. Make sure the warranty will meet your needs.
If a salesperson makes a promise orally, such as that the company will
provide free repairs, get it in writing. Otherwise, you may not be able to get the service
that was promised.
When you buy a car, home, or major appliance, you may be offered a service
contract. Although often called "extended warranties," service contracts are not
warranties. Service contracts, like warranties, provide repair and/or maintenance for a
specific time. Warranties, however, are included in the price of the product; service
contracts costs extra and are sold separately. To determine whether you need a service
- whether the warranty already covers the repairs and 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
- the duration of the service contract;
- the reputation of the company offering the service contract.
Implied warranties are created by state law, and all states have them.
Almost every purchase you make is covered by an implied warranty.
The most common type of implied warrantya "warranty of
merchantability," means that the seller promises that the product will do what it is
supposed to do. For example, a car will run and a toaster will toast.
Another type of implied warranty is the "warranty of fitness for a
particular purpose." This applies when you buy a product on the seller's advice that
it is suitable for a particular use. For example, a person who suggests that you buy a
certain sleeping bag for zero-degree weather warrants that the sleeping bag will be
suitable for zero degrees.
If your purchase does not come with a written warranty, it is still
covered by implied warranties unless the product is marked "as is," or the
seller otherwise indicates in writing that no warranty is given. Several states, including
Kansas, Maine, Maryland,
Massachusetts, Mississippi, Vermont, West Virginia, and the District of
Columbia, do not permit "as is" sales.
If problems arise that are not covered by the written warranty, you
should investigate the protection given by your implied warranty.
Implied warranty coverage can last as long as four years, although the
length of the coverage varies from state to state. A lawyer or a state consumer protection
office can provide more information about implied warranty coverage in your state.
To minimize problems:
- Read the warranty before you buy. Understand exactly what
protection the warranty gives you.
- Consider the reputation of the company offering the warranty. If
you're 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. A warranty is
only as good as the company that stands behind it.
- Save your receipt and file it with the warranty. You may need it
to document the date of your purchase or prove that you're the original owner in the case
of a nontransferable warranty.
- Perform required maintenance and inspections.
- Use the product according to the manufacturer's instructions. Abuse or misuse may void your warranty coverage.
If you have problems with a product or with getting warranty service:
- Read your product instructions and warranty carefully. Don't
expect features or performance that your product wasn't designed for, or assume warranty
coverage that was never promised in writing. A warranty doesn't mean that you'll
automatically get a refund if the product is defectivethe company may be entitled to
try to fix it first. On the other hand, if you reported a defect to the company during the
warranty period and the product wasn't fixed properly, the company must correct the
problem, even if your warranty expires before the product is fixed.
- Try to resolve the problem with the retailer. If you can't, write
to the manufacturer. Your warranty should list the company's mailing address. Send all
letters by certified mail, return receipt requested, and keep copies (see the sample
complaint letter on page 7).
- Contact your state or local consumer protection office. They can
help you if you can't resolve the situation with the seller or manufacturer.
- Research dispute resolution programs that try to informally settle any
disagreements between you and the company. Your local consumer protection office can
suggest organizations to contact. Also, check your warranty; it may require dispute
resolution procedures before going to court.
- Consider small claims court. If your dispute involves less than
$750, you can usually file a lawsuit in small claims court. The costs are relatively low,
procedures are simple, and lawyers usually aren't needed. The clerk of the small claims
court can tell you how to file your lawsuit and your state's dollar limits.
- If all else fails, you may want to consider a lawsuit. You can sue
for damages or any other type of relief the court awards, including legal fees. A lawyer
can advise you how to proceed.
Sample Complaint Letter
Your City, State, Zip
Name of Contact Person
City, State, Zip Code
Dear (Contact Person):
On (date), I purchased (or had repaired) a (name of the product with the
serial or model number or service performed). I made this purchase at (location, date, and
other important details of the transaction).
Unfortunately, your product (or service) has not performed well (or the
service was inadequate) because (state the problem).
Therefore, to resolve the problem, I would appreciate your (state the
specific action you want). Enclosed are copies (copies, not originals) of my records
(receipts, guarantees, warranties, cancelled checks, contracts, model and serial numbers,
and any other documents).
I look forward to your reply and a resolution to my problem and will
wait (set a time limit) before seeking third-party assistance. Please contact me at the
above address or by phone (home or office numbers with area codes).