Warranty Rights FAQ

Answers to frequently asked questions about express and implied product warranties.

Most new consumer products today are covered by a warranty. A warranty—also called a guarantee—is an assurance or promise about the quality of goods or services you buy. It's purpose is to give you recourse if something you purchase fails to live up to what you were promised. Keep reading to find answers to frequently asked questions about warranties.

Questions

What is an express warranty?

An express warranty is an oral or written statement that guarantees that a product is of a certain quality or will work in a certain way or for a certain amount of time. Most express warranties say something like, "This product is warranted against defects in materials or workmanship" or "We will repair or replace parts that are defective in materials or workmanship" for a specified time.

You are not automatically entitled to an express warranty. Most express warranties either come directly from the manufacturer or are included in the sales contract you sign with the seller. However, an express warranty might also be a feature in an advertisement or on a sign in the store—for example, "all dresses 100% silk"—or it may be an oral description of a product's features that you rely on in making your purchasing decision.

What is an implied warranty?

There are two types of implied warranties: the implied warranty of merchantability and the implied warranty of fitness. Virtually every consumer product you buy comes with an implied warranty of merchantability. This is an assurance that a new item will work if you use it for a reasonably expected purpose. For used items, the warranty of merchantability is a promise that the product will work as expected, given its age and condition.

The implied warranty of fitness applies when you buy an item with a specific (even unusual) purpose in mind. If you relate your specific needs to the seller, and the seller assists you in selecting the item, the implied warranty of fitness assures you that the item will fill your need. For instance, if you tell a retailer that you need a sleeping bag for sub-zero weather and the retailer sells you such as bag, it comes with an implied warranty that the sleeping bag will keep you warm in sub-zero temperatures.

In certain states, an implied warranty lasts for four years. In some states, however, the implied warranty lasts only as long as any express warranty that comes with a product. (To find out the law where you live, talk to an attorney.)

Sellers sometimes try to avoid implied warranties by selling a product "as is." In order to effectively negate implied warranties, however, the seller must follow state law requirements. For example, some states require that the disclaimer be in writing and the language be obvious. A few states don't permit "as is" sales. Also, implied warranties can't be disclaimed when there is an express written warranty that comes with the product.

Can I file a lawsuit if something is wrong with what I bought?

After you purchase an item with a written warranty, if you find that the product is defective, you may file a suit against the warrantor (the person or company that made the warranty). You'll first have to “exhaust” your warranty remedies though. Under most circumstances, this means that you've tried (but not succeeded) at taking advantage of your remedies, which could include getting a replacement, repair, or refund. If you prevail in your breach of warranty case in court, you can recover attorneys' fees and court costs.

Consider handling the suit yourself in small claims court or, if the matter is complicated or there's a lot of money at stake, consider hiring a lawyer to represent you in the suit. (To learn more, see Breach of Warranty Cases in Small Claims Court.)

Do I have any recourse if the item breaks after the warranty expires?

In most states, if the item gave you some trouble while it was under the warranty (and you had it repaired by someone authorized by the manufacturer to make repairs), the manufacturer must extend your original warranty for the amount of time the item sat in the shop. Call the manufacturer and ask to speak to the department that handles warranties.

If your product was trouble-free during the warranty period, the manufacturer may offer a free repair for a problem that arose after the warranty expired if the problem is a widespread one. Many manufacturers have secret fix-it lists—items with defects that don't affect safety and therefore don't require a recall, but that the manufacturer will repair for free. It can't hurt to call and ask.

I just bought a major appliance and the sales clerk tried to sell me an extended warranty contract. Should I have bought the contract?

Probably not. Merchants encourage consumers to buy extended warranties (also called service contracts) when buying autos, appliances, or electronic items because these warranties are a source of big profits for stores, which pocket up to 50% of the amount you pay.

Rarely will you have the chance to exercise your rights under an extended warranty. Name-brand electronic equipment and appliances usually don't break down during the first few years (and if they do, they're covered by the original warranty), and often have a life span well beyond the length of the extended warranty.

For More Information

For concise, plain-English answers to hundreds of the most frequently asked legal questions about issues you face every day, read Nolo's Encyclopedia of Everyday Law: Answer to Your Most Frequently Asked Legal Questions, by the Editors of Nolo.

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