A Warranty by Any Other Name
May 2013, Edition 8, Vol. 5
When you make a major purchase, the manufacturer or seller in turn makes an important promise to stand behind the product. It’s called a warranty. As explained by the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov), federal law requires that warranties be available for you to read before you buy, even when you’re shopping by catalog or on the Internet.
What is specifically covered by a warranty varies from one warranty to another, so you should compare the extent of warranty coverage just as you compare the style, price, and other characteristics of products. This article touches on 1) written warranties, 2) spoke warranties, 3) warranty pieces, and 4) implied warranties.
1. Written Warranties
According to the FTC, written warranties (although not required by law), typically accompany 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.
- Whom 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?
2. Spoken Warranties
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.
3. Warranty Pieces
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 contract, consider:
- 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 such repairs
- 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 warranty—a “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.
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