Shoppers may have more warranty rights than they think, which might help them get satisfaction, says Consumer Reports. Here's what you need to know about warranties.
•The written warranty isn't the whole story. Your rights go beyond what you read in a warranty booklet (also called an “express warranty” or guarantee). Any written or spoken claim made by a manufacturer or retailer – in a print or TV ad, on a package or anywhere else – may be considered an express warranty as well.
What you should do. Keep copies of all performance promises, no matter where you find them. Try to get spoken claims in writing.
•You have a right to see the written warranty before you buy. Under a federal rule, retailers must let you read any written warranty for products costing more than $15. Based on what Consumer Reports has seen, some retailers or their sales staff either don't know the law or ignore it.
What you should do. If a merchant won't show you the warranty even after you explain your rights, consider filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (go to ftccomplaintassistant.gov).
•Laws give you more rights. Along with companies' express warranties, you also have “implied warranties” under state law. The Uniform Commercial Code, a set of laws adopted in much the same form by all states and the District of Columbia, provides an automatic “implied warranty of merchantability.” That unwritten protection guarantees that consumer products are free of substantial defects and will function properly for a reasonable period of time.
What you should do. If you discover that something you bought is defective – even after the written warranty has expired – contact the retailer and manufacturer to ask for a repair, replacement or refund. It doesn't matter what the retailer's return policy is.
•You have other protections, too. You may be able to satisfy a product complaint through other channels, including:
Credit card warranties. Many credit and some debit cards extend the manufacturer's written warranty, usually for up to one year, on most products you buy using the card.
Credit card chargebacks. If you have a problem with the quality of a product or service you paid for with your credit card, federal law gives you up to a year to seek a chargeback.
Goodwill programs. Companies sometimes quietly offer free or discounted out-of-warranty repairs or product replacement for customers who complain.
Lemon laws. Many states have lemon laws for new and used cars, pets and, in New York, even wheelchairs. If a problem can't be fixed after a certain number of attempts or a given period, you're entitled to at least part of your money back.
Recalls. If you suspect that a product is unsafe or if it is recalled, contact the manufacturer or retailer immediately. You can find news of recalls at saferproducts.gov.
•You often have more rights in a walk-in store than on the Internet. You'll find implied warranty disclaimers on many retail websites, typically in the legalese on the terms-of-sale pages, though the law requires that disclaimers be prominently disclosed. The disclaimers mean that if you discover that a product is defective, the site simply might tell you to complain to the manufacturer or that you're out of luck.
What you should do. Buy from a walk-in store, and avoid products sold “as is” or with similar language.
•You don't need the service contract. Extended warranties or service contracts are a bad deal. Most products don't break during the time covered by them – typically years two and three of ownership. Moreover, the typical cost of repair is, on average, not much more than the cost of the contract.
What you should do. Consumer Reports recommends self-insuring by placing the money you would otherwise spend on service contracts into a savings account. Use that when you have to repair or replace a product at your own expense.