Car Warranties: The Basics

Learn about express and implied automobile warranties and how to enforce them.

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An automobile warranty is a promise by a manufacturer or dealer that it will repair or replace defects in your car, or that your car will be of a certain quality, for a specified period of time.

Warranties are not just for new cars and are not always in writing. In some cases, even used cars purchased "as is" are covered by warranties. If you take the time to find out what warranties come with your car, what repairs those warranties cover, and how to enforce your warranties, you may save yourself a significant amount of money when your car needs repair. (To learn about automobile service contracts, also called extended warranties, see Nolo's article Automobile Service Contracts: Are They Worth It?)

Express Warranties

Express warranties are specific promises to repair your car, or statements about the quality of your car, that are written or orally communicated to you by the manufacturer or seller. An express warranty can also be created through promises in advertisements. For example, an ad claiming that "This car is made of pure steel!" is an express warranty that the automobile is made of steel. If you discover that the car is made of plastic, you can demand that the warrantor take the car back because it has breached the warranty.

All new cars come with a manufacturer's warranty that covers most repairs for a specified period of time -- usually three to four years or 36,000 to 48,000 miles, whichever comes first. Some used cars also come with an express warranty. For example, if the car is less than a year or two old, the manufacturer's warranty may still be in effect. Or, the seller may offer a warranty that covers certain systems or repairs.

Implied Warranties

Implied warranties are not written or spoken, but automatically apply when you purchase a car (unless the car is sold "as is"). There are two types of implied warranties: the implied warranty of merchantability and the implied warranty of fitness.

Implied Warranty of Merchantability

The implied warranty of merchantability assures that an automobile will work as expected, given its age and condition. This usually means that the car is in average condition for the price paid and is fit for safe and reliable transportation. It does not guarantee a perfect car.

Implied Warranty of Fitness

The implied warranty of fitness applies when you buy an automobile with a specific purpose in mind. If you make the seller aware of your purpose for the car (for example, to climb your steep driveway) and rely on the seller's judgment to select a suitable car, the implied warranty of fitness guarantees that the car will work for that purpose.

In most states, implied warranties last forever. In a few states, however, the length of the implied warranty is the same as that of any express warranty that comes with the automobile.

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