Warranty Rights FAQ

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

What is an express warranty?

An express warranty is a verbal 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 may 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 most states, an implied warranty lasts for four years. In a few states, however, the implied warranty lasts only as long as any express warranty that comes with a product.

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.

How do I enforce a warranty if something is wrong with what I bought?

Most of the time, if an item you buy is defective, the defect will show up immediately and you can ask the seller or manufacturer to fix or replace it. If the seller or manufacturer won't fix it, or gives up after one try and the fixed or replaced item is still defective, you'll have to take further steps.

If you haven't fully paid for the item, in some cases you can simply stop paying. However, not all problems or defects are serious enough to allow you to stop making payments. In order to have a good reason to stop payment:

  • the problem must be substantial
  • you must not have known about it when you bought the product
  • you must have given the seller or manufacturer a reasonable chance to repair the warranty problem,
  • and you must not have damaged or abused the product.

Even if you meet these criteria, withholding payments can be risky. If you are making payments to the manufacturer or seller, they may not agree with your version of events and may sue you for not making payments.

And if you took out a loan to purchase the product, the lender may not care whether it works properly. Even though you may feel that you are in the right, the lender may sue you if you stop making payments. If you aren't sure what to do, consider consulting an attorney.

If the seller refuses to cooperate, see if the seller will agree to mediate the dispute through a community or Better Business Bureau mediation program. If you can't get anywhere informally, you can sue. In many states, you must sue the seller or manufacturer within four years of when you discovered the defect, but in some states it's as little as three years and, in a few, it's 10 or 15 years. How much time you have to sue is also affected by whether you signed a written contract or bought it on a handshake.

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 stereo system, 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 Shae Irving and the editors of Nolo (Nolo).

When I buy a consumer product, is it covered by a warranty?

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.

Some warranties are implied and some are expressed, or "express." An express warranty can be written or oral. For more information, see What is an express warranty? below. While only some products are sold with an express warranty, all products come with implied warranties unless the seller or manufacturer has "disclaimed" the implied warranty. For more information, see What is an implied warranty? below.

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