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Buying a big-ticket item like a car or home appliance? Manufacturers or sellers often include a warranty — a promise to stand behind the product. Whenever there’s a warranty, the law says it must be available for you to read before you buy. That’s true whether you shop in person or online. Warranties might cover a lot or a little, but the details should be in writing.

Written Warranties

Most major purchases like cars and home appliances come with a written warranty. A good warranty can make a difference if you have problems with your purchase later on and might be a good reason to choose one product over another.

Here's what to look for as you consider the warranty:

  • Reputation. What’s the reputation of the company offering the warranty? Type the company’s name into a search engine with the words “complaint” or “review.” That’ll help you find out what other people say about their experience with the company. Or check with your local or state consumer protection office to see if they have information about the company.
  • Length of coverage. Will the warranty last for a certain amount of time? Does the warranty expire after a certain mileage, for example?
  • Coverage. A warranty won't necessarily cover all situations or repairs and sometimes you'll have to return a product registration card first to qualify for warranty service. To find out what limitations apply, ask a few questions:
    • Are specific parts of the product or specific repairs not listed as covered? If they aren't listed, assume they aren't covered.
    • Does the warranty say what the company will do if the product fails? Will it repair or replace the product, or refund the money you paid?
    • Will the warranty cover problems that happen if you change the way a product works or misuse it? Or does it cover only problems that happen after you maintain or use the product according to the directions?
  • Claims process and repairs. Do you have to contact the manufacturer for help, or can you go back to the original seller? Do you have to pay for labor or to ship the product back for repairs? Federal law says a manufacturer can't require you to use specific parts or services to keep the warranty coverage unless it gives you the parts and services for free or gets a waiver from the FTC to make that requirement.

Keep records

After you buy a product that has a warranty

  • Save a copy of the warranty. If you shop online, print or download a copy for your records.
  • Save your product receipt with the warranty. The receipt proves the date you bought the product and that you're the original product owner.

Spoken Warranties

If a salesperson makes a spoken promise, like saying the company will give you free repairs, get the promise in writing. A business might later refuse to perform a service if the promise isn't in writing.

Implied Warranties

Laws in every state create implied warranties - unspoken promises - that cover almost everything you buy. Here are some common implied warranties:

  • A "warranty of merchantability" means the seller promises that a product will do what it’s supposed to do. For example, a car will run and a toaster will toast.
  • A "warranty of fitness for a particular purpose" applies to the product you buy based on a seller's advice that it’s right for a particular job. For example, if a seller says a certain sleeping bag is good for zero-degree weather, the seller is giving an implied warranty that the sleeping bag will be suitable for sleeping in zero degrees.

Implied warranties cover products even when there isn't a written warranty, unless the seller gives a written notice that there’s no warranty, or marks the product "as is," if your state law allows that.

Implied warranties might cover problems a written warranty doesn't. Implied warranties last as long as four years in some states. Contact a lawyer or a state consumer protection office for more information about implied warranty coverage in your state.

Service Contracts Aren’t Warranties

When you buy a car, home, or major appliance, a seller may offer an extended warranty or service contract. An extended warranty or service contract costs extra and is sold separately from a product. It’s different from the warranty that may automatically come with a product.

Extended warranties and service contracts cover repairs and/or maintenance for a set amount of time, but your warranty may cover the same repairs for the same time. Read more about extended warranties and service contracts before you buy one.

Resolving Problems With Products

If you have a problem with a product contact the seller. If the seller doesn't resolve the problem, write to the manufacturer. The warranty should list the manufacturer's address. To prove that the company got your letter, send it by certified mail and request a return receipt with a signature of the person who accepted the letter. Know that a company may have the right to fix the product before it refunds your money.

If you report a defect to the company during the warranty period and the product isn't fixed properly, the company must correct the problem, even if your warranty expires before the product is fixed.

Report Problems

If a company doesn't resolve the problem after you've tried to work it out, report the company to