Published on November 18, 2019 by the FairShake Team
From clothing, home goods, and electronics, to bigger ticket items like smartphones, computers, appliances, and even vehicles, when people buy something, they expect it to work properly.
Sometimes, you end up with a faulty product.
That can range from buying a new jacket that shows up with a broken zipper or a hole in the lining, to buying a new laptop that won’t turn on out of the box. In these cases , the buyer has a right to get their product replaced by one that’s in perfect condition, or get their money refunded.
But how? If you receive a bad product, what should your first step be? What should you do if the company that sold you that bad product won’t work with you to make it right?
You’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn all of the basics about warranties and product defects, how to shop smart to avoid problems, how warranty laws can help protect you, and, step-by-step, what you should do when a warranty on a product you purchased is violated.
Let’s start with the basics: What’s a warranty?
In its simplest form, a warranty is a type of contract between a buyer and a seller or manufacturer. It binds the parties to perform in specific ways; for example, a warranty might require the seller/manufacturer to provide a product that accomplishes a specific task, or to deliver a service that provides certain minimal benefits. On the other hand, a warranty might require the purchaser to perform scheduled maintenance or other steps to keep the product working properly.
Warranties are provided for all kinds of products and services, but for the purposes of this article, we’re going to focus on product warranties. There are two types of product warranties: Express and implied.
By definition, an express warranty can be written or verbal, but there are some things to keep in mind.
If a seller offers you a verbal warranty, you should always ask to receive it in writing. Verbal warranties are not always enforceable, since they come down to your word versus the seller’s word.
Warranties in Advertisements
If a claim about a product is made in its advertising, that can often be considered a type of express warranty. For example, let’s say you bought light bulbs that the advertisement claims lasts for 100,000 hours, but the light bulbs come with a written warranty for just 30 days. If the light bulbs die after 30 days, but before they’ve been used for 100,000 hours (which is more than 11 years), the company is on the hook for repairing or replacing the bulbs, or refunding what you paid for them. You’ll have to prove your claim; make sure you hang onto copies of any written promises, even in advertisements.
Written warranties are preferable whenever possible, and they come with many purchases by default. When examining a written warranty, here are the things you should see:
There’s no federal warranty law in the United States, but there is what’s called the Uniform Commercial Code, which is a set of laws that has been adopted in a similar form by all 50 states and Washington, D.C. The Uniform Commercial Code covers implied warranties.
Although the law grants consumers more protections than they would have without it, it’s not comprehensive. Basically, the law says consumer products have to be sold without substantial defects, and, when used properly, need to function properly for a “reasonable” amount of time. What’s considered a reasonable amount of time can vary by product and by state. Some state codes have definitions for certain products. If you’re wondering about your legal protections, you’ll have to look up your state’s consumer protection laws.
Keep in mind that this varies by state, but in many places, companies are allowed to “disclaim” the implied warranty by simply stating there isn’t one. In some places, companies can negate it by saying products are being sold “as is,” or by disclosing any faults with the products. Again, the best way to know what your legal rights are is to look up consumer protection laws in your state.
When making a major purchase (think a car, a home, or a large appliance), you may be offered a service contract. Service contracts are often called “extended warranties” by sellers and manufacturers, but they’re not the same thing.
Service contracts might look similar to warranties on paper, in that they often promise maintenance or repairs for a specified amount of time. However, warranties are included in the purchase cost of items, and service contracts need to be bought separately.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t ever buy a service contract. Here are some things to consider when making that decision:
The most common issues that are likely covered by warranty are defects in the design, warnings, or manufacturing of a product.
It’s impossible to completely eliminate the chance that you’ll accidentally purchase a faulty product at some point, but there are some safe shopping best practices you can use to minimize your risk, know all your rights, and protect yourself for when it does happen.
The first line of defense is knowing and understanding which warranty is available before you even buy the product. That’s why you should always read the warranty in its entirety before making any payments. You have a right to receive the warranty for any product in writing, so ask for that.
If you decide to make a purchase, keep a hard copy of the written warranty in your records, along with the receipt. If you have any other communication with the seller or manufacturer, try to do so in writing, and keep copies of the communication for your records as well.
Before accepting a company’s warranty and making a purchase (especially a large one), consider the company’s reputation. Check with licensing and regulatory agencies for businesses and nonprofits. Look for online reviews, and see if you can find a mailing address and other contact information. Keep in mind the warranty is only good if you can reach the company and trust it to hold up their end of the contract.
To make sure your warranty stays in effect, make sure you perform any maintenance or inspections that are required, and only use the product according to the instructions provided by the seller or manufacturer.
Even if you carefully inspect warranties and know all the shopping habits and legal protections that apply, you might end up with a faulty product anyway. Don’t panic! You still have options.
First things first: Go back to whatever documents you filed away when you bought the product. You need to know as much as possible about the warranty and your rights.
Read the product instructions carefully, and make sure you’ve been using the product according to the instructions and it intended use. Then, read the express warranty carefully and determine what warranty coverage you might still have. Ask yourself these questions:
If you’re not covered by the warranty for any reason, you should contact the retailer anyway.
If the product is faulty at the time you buy it, or if it breaks down within your warranty period, follow the warranty instructions for submitting a claim. Your written warranty should specify who you should contact and how you contact the company. You may need to contact the seller or the manufacturer, and you may need to do it online, in writing, or over the phone. If your warranty doesn’t specify how to get in touch, start by contacting a customer service representative for the company that sold you the product, and if he or she is not the right person to help you, they should be able to suggest who you should try next.
When you contact the seller or manufacturer, explain the problem, and point out the product is still covered by its written warranty. In most faulty product cases, this is all you’ll need to do, as most businesses understand it’s important they honor their promises. If the business tries to deny your warranty claim, you may need to escalate your complaint.
If the company refuses to honor the warranty, ask for the reason why. Try to get the details in writing. It may come in handy later.
If a company refuses to honor its own warranty, you can file a complaint against the company with a consumer protection agency. On the federal level, the Federal Trade Commission or the Consumer Product Safety Commission are good places to start.
States and sometimes counties also have their own local consumer protection offices. If you’re not sure where to file your complaint, get in touch with your state Attorney General’s office and explain the situation. They’ll offer advice about what you should do next.
Filing a complaint will alert consumer protection agencies to the seller or manufacturer’s shady dealings, but it may not help you get resolution for your warranty complaint. If the company continues to refuse to work with you, it’s time to consider other options you have.
You might want to start by looking into dispute resolution programs, which help facilitate a settlement for the disagreement between you and the company. Consider filing for consumer arbitration, as it is generally faster and cheaper than going to court. Instead of a judge or jury, you and the company present your sides to an unbiased person called an arbitrator, who then issues a binding decision.
Another option is to consider a lawsuit. In many cases, this kind of dispute will meet the requirements for small claims court. However, if the value of the faulty product is significant, like if you were sold a faulty car or major appliance, you may need to sue for damages. If you choose to go this route, you should consult with a lawyer.
Knowing your rights and how to protect yourself is the best defense you have.
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