Imagine that when shopping for a new car, one dealer guarantees its product for five years, and the other provides a five year warranty for the same car. All things being equal, does the use of warranty vs. guarantee change the meaning of the merchants’ promises? In short, no.
A warranty provides a promise from one party to the other that certain conditions, such as the quality or life span of a product, will be met. If the product doesn’t meet the conditions of the warranty, it can usually be returned, repaired or replaced. If a merchant guarantees a feature of a product, or even your satisfaction with it, the same holds true. The difference between a warranty and a guarantee is largely a question of word choice.
What Creates a Warranty or Guarantee?
Any promise about the quality, condition, or reliability of a product that a seller makes and that you rely upon when buying a product can create a warranty or guarantee. A direct statement, either verbally or in writing, promising that a product will meet specific expectations creates an express warranty. For example, if a car salesperson promises a minimum gas mileage for a particular vehicle, they have created a warranty. However, even though warrantees can be created orally, it’s smart to ask for them in writing as well, in order to create a record of the merchant’s promise.
Other warranties don’t have to be expressed explicitly at all. These implied warrantees are guarantees that the law reads into your transaction. Almost all consumer products, for example, are covered by an implied warranty of merchantability, meaning that the product is guaranteed to work as typically expected. A merchant can disclaim implied warranties through disclaimers or “as is” sales, but several states will refuse to recognize “as is” disclaimers for consumer goods. Similarly, some warranties can be limited in scope and others may be voided by certain actions. For example, a lifetime guarantee on your refrigerator may be limited to the expected lifetime, say ten years, of the product and voided by unauthorized repairs or modifications.
No Magic Words Needed
Whether a merchant describes his promise as a guarantee vs. warranty won’t prevent it from having legal effect. It’s the promise, not the phrasing that matters. Under the Uniform Commercial Code, which has been adopted in some form by every state, a warranty can be created by an affirmation of fact, promise made by the seller, or description of the goods can create a warranty. Even a sample or model which is supposed to represent the final product can create a binding guarantee.
However, not all statements will result in a promise the seller can be held to. A merchant’s comments that are blatant opinions or exaggerations, such as describing a vehicle as the “best car on the road” or a household appliance as “a miracle of modern science,” don’t create warranties or guarantees. Courts treat these forms of advertising as puffery, which normal consumers wouldn’t take seriously.
Satisfaction Guaranteed, or Your Money Back
Some products guarantee your satisfaction or provide a “money back guarantee." If a merchant advertises a product in this way, they must be willing to provide a full refund if a customer, for any reason, decides to return the product. These guarantees may be limited to certain durations, such as 30 days after purchase.
Other Meanings of Guarantee
In only very specific legal situations will the use of guarantee vs. warranty be significant. Legally, a guarantee, as opposed to a warranty, can also be describe as a promise to be responsible for another’s debt or obligations. For example, a parent may guarantee a child’s car loan. If the child fails to make payment, the parent will be responsible to the lender for the child’s missed payments. In this situation, the parent acts as the guarantor of the child’s obligations. Since the parent’s guarantee is conditional, the child will have to fail in his or her obligations before the parent becomes responsible.
Talking to a Consumer Protection Attorney
If you believe you’ve purchased a product that has failed to live up to its guarantee or warranty, consider contacting a consumer protection lawyer to discuss your options.