Consumer Guide to Product Warranties

When you buy a new product, it’s only natural to expect a certain level of performance from it. Whether talking gizmos or gadgets, as a consumer, you have a right to goods that work, at least for a time.

That’s the thinking behind warranties. The tricky part is knowing just exactly what’s covered and for how long. While that, of course, varies across products and manufacturers, here are eight basics you should understand, plus an important note about extended warranties.

  • All new products come with a warranty, either express or implied. Express warranties are those provided by a manufacturer, in writing, with its product. Implied warranties offer minimum protections required by state law. They come in any sales transaction involving a new product where the manufacturer has not offered express written warranties on its product.

  • Implied warranties assure purchasers of a product’s “merchantability” and its "fitness for a particular purpose."Implied warranties do not cover instances where products malfunction due to ordinary wear, abuse, misuse, improper maintenance or failure to follow directions. Rather, they assure that the product you purchase is in the condition you would expect of a new product and that it will serve its intended purpose at the time of purchase.

  • Written warranties supersede implied warranties. Written warranties allow manufacturers to exercise some control over the terms and conditions of the warranties offered on their consumer goods. It’s important to note, however, that the substance and use of written warranties are limited by statutes and administrative rules.

  • Consumers are entitled to review a product’s entire warranty before purchase.

  • Warranties do not establish or guarantee that a product will have a specific life span. Warranties simply say the product is fit and proper for sale at the point of sale. Problems that arise with the product may trigger some protection within the term of the relevant warranty.

  • Used products are treated a little differently. Warranties on used products are modified to reflect the age, condition, and price of the used product. They typically apply only when sold by a retailer or business, though some states prohibit "as is" sales.

  • Warranties typically do not apply to private sales. If you buy a used lawn mower or snow blower from your next door neighbor, for example, the warranty on it likely will not apply. There are occasional exceptions, especially those where are an extended warranty was purchased.

  • As their names suggest, full warranties offer more protection than limited warranties. Full warranties generally mean that the entire product is covered and that it will be repaired or replaced without charge. Limited warranties refer to those where only parts are covered, only prorated refunds apply or owners have some sort of duty (beyond the notifying of the manufacturer) to effect repair or replacement.

Consumers who want more extensive guarantees concerning a product’s performance may be lured by the further protection promised by extended warranties. Most consumer protection entities that have examined the value of product warranties say they’re rarely worth the added expense. When deciding whether to invest in an add-on warranty, it’s wise to look at these two factors:

  • How much does the product cost? Weigh the cost against how long you expect the product to last and how much it would cost to replace. Generally, it’s less expensive in the long run to replace relatively inexpensive items (e.g., notebook computers, blenders, toys) than to purchase an extended warranty. Faulty products often show problems within the first few weeks of use, a time when the basic warranty would still apply.

  • How long has the item or its technology been on the market? If you’re purchasing a cutting-edge technology (think plasma-screen TVs or electric lawn mowers when first introduced), chances are good you’re going to be spending a lot of money for a product that has yet to prove its durability. That may be an instance where the extended warranty deserves consideration. 

For more information on consumer law, contact Johns, Flaherty & Collins, SC at 608-784-5678.


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