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What Will Void a Warranty?

Under certain circumstances, especially when the consumer has used a product for something other than its intended purpose, a merchant may choose not to honor the terms of a warranty by declaring it void. But sometimes merchants may attempt to void a warranty for reasons that are strictly prohibited by the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, a federal law governing most consumer purchases in the U.S., or various state laws.

While the federal act establishes a groundwork for U.S. consumers, state laws add another layer and often more protections for consumers. Even if your written warranty is voided, you may be protected by an implied warranty.

This article focuses on how a merchant may or may not void a warranty. See "Product Warranties and Returns" for more articles about your warranty rights as a consumer.

Acceptable Reasons for Voiding a Warranty

The best way to protect your interests and avoid having your warranty invalidated is to fully understand the terms of your warranty, reading the fine print if it is a limited warranty. Full warranties are much less common than limited ones and are legally required to cover all repairs or replacements pertaining to defects within the warranty period.

Therefore, reasons for voiding a limited warranty usually vary with the manufacturer or individual product. Understanding the conditions and limitations of a warranty will usually inform you of when the warranty can and cannot be invalidated. It's also advisable to save your receipt, which may be the only record of the sale.

Ask yourself the following questions when making a major purchase:

  • How long does the warranty cover your purchase?
  • Does the warranty cover repair, replacement, or a refund if the product fails?
  • Who should you contact and what are the procedures for obtaining warranty service?
  • Which parts and problems are covered by the warranty? Which are specifically excluded?
  • Does the warranty also cover "consequential damages," such as the cost of spoiled food when a freezer fails to operate?
  • Are there any modifications, changes or unauthorized uses of the product that could void the warranty? Under federal law, the merchant must prove that a defect was caused by the alteration in order to void a written warranty.
  • If it is a so-called "lifetime" warranty, does this mean the life of the product or the life of the owner?
  • Is the merchant a reputable company?

Below are some of the most common reasons warranties are invalidated by merchants:

  • The warranty period has expired
  • The defect or part is not covered
  • The product failure is due to misuse or lack of proper maintenance
  • You have made significant alterations to the product, affecting its performance

When Merchants Cannot Invalidate a Warranty

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which enforces federal consumer laws, states that merchants may not require consumers to fill out a registration card in order to take advantage of a full warranty's protections. While very few limitations may be placed on full warranties, the exact limits of limited warranties must be clearly stated for the consumer.

Below are examples of additional warranty restrictions or conditions the FTC considers unreasonable, for which failure to comply cannot be used as reasons to invalidate a warranty:

  • Requiring the return of a product to a warranty service point in person (also called "carry back")
  • Requiring customers to return an automobile (or boat) that is inoperable or which if operated would cause risk of further damage or injury to a person
  • Requiring customers to pay for shipping or insurance for shipping
  • Making the customer responsible for any items lost or stolen in shipment
  • Requiring products be returned in their original packaging
  • Requiring customer to explain in detail the nature or origin of the defect (as opposed to simply describing how it failed)

Merchants in certain states may not invalidate an implied warranty by using the phrases "sold as is" or "with all faults," as is allowed in other states. See "What is an Implied Warranty?" for more information. The FTC's "Facts for Consumers: Warranties" also provides useful information.

Real-Life Examples of Warranty Limitations

The terms of limited warranties differ from one company to the next, and sometimes even within one company's product line. The following examples illustrate this diversity:

  • Apple: The act of "jailbreaking" an iPhone, whereby users override built-in limitations in order to run unapproved software, voids its warranty. Jailbreaking is legal, though.
  • Kohler: The company's lifetime limited warranty covers its faucets for as long as the original purchaser owns his or her home. The policy states that "improper care and cleaning will void the warranty."
  • Chevrolet: Its "bumper-to-bumper" warranty covers the first three years or 36,000 miles. Among other exclusions, the policy does not cover coolant hoses, the engine radiator, or clutch.
  • Integrity Windows and Doors: Its limited warranty covers stress cracks caused by product defects for 10 years. Non-glass components are not covered for windows "installed within one mile of a sea coast."
  • Buck Knives: The knife maker's "forever" warranty is essentially a full lifetime warranty, with a few conditions. Knives damaged by misuse, improper maintenance, self-repair, or tampering are not covered.

 

Next Steps
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