You’ve probably bought a product with a warranty. Maybe you could exchange the product in 30 days – or any time, forever. Maybe you used the warranty, maybe you didn’t. But if you did, you probably learned that warranties can be tricky. They have rules. So how do you get the most out of a warranty? How do you protect your purchases? This is what you need to know.
What Is A Warranty?
By definition, a product warranty is a guarantee that sets the consumer’s expectations about how long a product should last. A warranty gives you peace of mind and leverage if your product is deficient. At their root, warranties are legal agreements.
“A warranty is a promise that a manufacturer or seller of a product will stand behind a product,” says Laura Basford, an attorney in the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “A warranty is also something you don’t pay for separately.”
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act gives the federal government (via the FTC) the ability to regulate written warranties. It also requires the buyer of a product to fulfill specific terms for the warranty to be honored (for example, the product can’t be altered or modified, and it must be sent to a repair shop that’s verified by the manufacturer).
While Basford says you can submit a complaint to the FTC about violations of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act—which helps them track businesses that are misbehaving—you’d be more likely to get help with a defective product if you first submit a warranty claim to the manufacturer. If for some reason the company chooses not to honor a warranty, you might consider retaining a lawyer and taking legal action per your state’s laws. (Basford notes that this rarely happens, though it’s more common with larger purchases, like cars, than smaller purchases, like printers.) Federal law also doesn’t cover return policies, which are implemented by the business itself.
Here are a few types of warranties you might encounter:
- Express warranty: An explicit, written explanation of guarantees on a product that basically says the seller will fix or repair a whole product or its parts within a certain period of time after the product is purchased. Online shopping growth has pushed companies to include express warranties that cover, for example, shipping costs to replace an article of clothing that arrives in the wrong size, color or style.
- Implied warranty: An implied warranty is the unspoken assumption that a product is fit for the duty for which it was purchased. When you go to a grocery store, that store implies that all the products it sells are edible. A lawsuit was filed in the 1950s by someone who bought lettuce at a market and then sued the market when his whole family got sick with food poisoning. His suit was based on the idea that a market must sell food that is fit for human consumption. If a supermarket cannot give this kind of peace of mind to its consumers, who would shop there for food? It’s worth noting that this isn’t relevant for most people filing warranty claims, and only applies if you need to go to court for a product that injured you or made you sick.
- Extended warranty: A buyer will get an extended warranty policy to extend the warranty coverage period set by the manufacturer. Just like a regular warranty, this covers the cost of replacements or repairs caused by workmanship or a manufacturing defect. You’d buy this for something like a used car that’s about to go past its regular warranty, especially if you can’t afford repairs if it suddenly stops working. But Basford notes that legally, an extended warranty isn’t a warranty because you have to pay for it. An extended warranty is actually a service agreement, which means it can be harder to get what you need from the contract. It isn’t covered by the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. Most of the time, it’s not worth the money to purchase an extended warranty—but you should do the math to figure out if the upfront price is more than the cost of getting the item repaired, if needed (it usually is).
- Limited warranty: A limited warranty applies to a piece of equipment, such as a car or a heat pump, but only covers the parts for repair and not the labor required to repair it. It also may only cover specific defects and only for a specific amount of time.
Why Buy A Product That Offers A Warranty?
A warranty indicates that you can trust the product you’re buying. Warranties also support good business practices: Companies that treat their customers well get more business. Refurbished gear also sometimes comes with a limited warranty. This matters because it gives you confidence that the used item has been well repaired.
“A warranty program is essential from a brand perspective because it provides customers with a level of trust and confidence in our product,” says Orlando Gadea, the vice president of B2C Customer Service at Stanley Black & Decker. “We believe our warranty program sets our brand apart and builds loyalty with consumers.”
A warranty is most important in a couple of instances: First, you may want a warranty to safeguard your investment, just in case something happens. Second, if you don’t have the financial means to repair or replace a product on your own dime, you’ll want a warranty. Warranties are especially important when you’re buying a big-ticket item, like a car, boat or roof.
What Does A Warranty Look Like?
Here are a few companies with stellar warranty programs, broken down by product category:
Nectar, the maker of the best mattress overall in our best mattresses review, offers a lifetime “Forever Warranty” on its mattresses.
Tools And Gear
Craftsman, a company that makes tools, offers a lifetime warranty for the replacement of most of its products with no proof of purchase required. This even applies to simpler hand tools, as long as they’re returned to one of the company’s retail partners.
Leatherman, a company that makes multi-tools, offers a 25-year warranty on its products.
Osprey has an “All Mighty Guarantee” which is known as one of the best in the outdoor gear business, and the company often goes into the field to prove it. Warranty and repair manager Andrew Baxley says, “No matter what the problem is, whether it’s the person’s fault, whether it’s an animal’s fault, whether it’s our fault, we’re gonna cover it.”
Small Kitchen Appliances
Vitamix, known for its quality kitchen appliances, offers a 10-year warranty on its blenders.
Moccamaster backs its beloved coffee maker with a five-year warranty.
Darn Tough has a unique setup: The company incorporates returns and refurbishment into its manufacturing process. Returns are recycled and made into another pair of socks.
“Our guarantee allows us to be in direct contact with our consumers and learn from the wear and tear that they put our product through,” says Courtney Laggner, brand & community marketing manager. The warranty has no strings or conditions attached; simply send the socks back to the company’s Vermont HQ once they get a hole, and you’ll receive a brand new identical pair, no receipt needed.
Outerknown guarantees its jeans for life.
Gibson, a major producer of guitars and amps, has a reputation for offering a solid warranty because it will replace or repair any defect at any time, if those defects are a result of faulty materials or workmanship. This warranty program has garnered hundreds of positive reviews online. “If replacement of your instrument is deemed appropriate by our staff, Gibson will replace the instrument with one of the same or most similar style of a value not in excess of the original purchase price of your instrument,” it notes.
How To Use A Warranty
Here are some best practices for using a warranty and getting the protection you need:
Read the small print and understand the warranty and any guarantees before you buy. You’ll get paperwork—read it! Always save and keep a copy in your records, too. This avoids any hearsay complications if you need to take legal action. Make a folder on your computer or drive, or create a folder in your filing cabinet, to keep track of these records. Then make sure you follow instructions on both the user manual (if applicable) and the warranty itself to make sure you don’t unintentionally void your warranty.
Research the company. Take time to research the history and practices of the company you’re buying from. Check the FTC enforcement page or Better Business Bureau. You can also read online reviews on websites like Forbes Vetted that provide long-term feedback on products.
Know who to contact in case you have questions about your warranty. Most companies have some sort of support system in place for needed repairs. This can be found in the user manual and on the company website. In most cases, you’ll need proof of purchase, a dated receipt and your serial number (if applicable). Most companies will ask you to file a warranty claim; then, there is usually a waiting period. Eventually—ideally within a few weeks—you’ll be contacted by a representative who will ask about how the product was purchased, what state it was purchased in, and what happened to cause a claim to be filed.
Avoid extended warranties. The internet is rife with conjecture about whether extended warranties are worth it, and most of that conversation revolves around buying a car. (You’ll also find extended warranties from major retailers, like Home Depot.) These warranties are often (but not always) outsourced by the manufacturer to larger third-party insurance companies, which then add strings to make using the warranty very difficult. When in doubt, avoid them.
The bottom line is that warranties can be tricky, and they vary from company to company. Make sure to read the fine print so you know who to talk to if a product isn’t working well for you. If you need to fix a product, avoid using third-party replacement parts or products, as this is likely to void your warranty. And if you do need to file a warranty claim, come prepared with information about the product and the issue you’re having.