Warranties in the Void

A survey of warranties from 50 companies finding that 45 void warranties for independent repair.
Released by: U.S. PIRG Education Fund

You buy something, but it breaks or doesn’t work right. So you bring it back to the company that sold it to you to get fixed. Sometimes they fix it -- they want to make sure the customer is happy. But sometimes, they won’t.

Nearly all appliances or electronic devices come with some form of written warranty to clarify when repairs would be covered, and under what conditions. When manufacturers choose to provide written or “express” warranties, there are laws that govern how they work. Recently, several companies have come under fire for breaking those rules. Most people have a general sense that a good warranty will cover manufacturing defects in the short-term, but they don’t read the pages of fine print to fully understand the terms and conditions of warranties. Buried in those warranties, there might be conditions that let manufacturers off the hook. Even if the seller does offer warrantied repair, there might be a clause in the fine print that makes the choice to cover repairs more or less voluntary. In one instance we found, consumers would find that because they bought their product online the warranty will not apply.

Through our examination of 50 members of the industry association AHAM, we found the overwhelming majority would void warranties due to independent or self-repair. The guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advise that “[g]enerally, the [Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act] prohibits warrantors from conditioning warranties on the consumer’s use of a replacement product or repair service identified by brand or name,” with some exceptions explored in this report. 

According to our survey, 45 of the 50 companies stated they void warranty coverage due to independent repair. These companies either had clauses in warranties which claimed that independent repair would void coverage, or their warranties were unclear and their customer service representatives stated that independent repair would void the warranty. Conditioning a warranty to forbid independent repair is generally understood to be a violation of Magnuson-Moss.

Further, we found four companies that didn’t make warranties readily accessible prior to purchasing a product violating another consumer right outlined in Magnuson-Moss. Only four of the companies we reviewed both made their warranties available and permitted repair.

For more information contact Nathan Proctor

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