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When you make a major purchase, the manufacturer or seller often gives you a warranty — a promise they make to stand behind the product. Whenever there’s a warranty, the law says it must be available for you to read before you buy something. That’s true whether you shop in person, online, or with a catalog. Warranties might cover a lot or a little, so be sure to look into the details.

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. It can also be a deciding factor when you compare products. Here’s what to look for as you consider the warranty:

  • 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 the company. Or check with your local or state consumer protection office to see if they have information about the company.
  • How long does the warranty last?
  • Which parts and repairs are covered by the warranty, and which aren’t? If specific parts of the product or specific repairs aren’t listed in the warranty, you should assume they aren’t covered.
  • Will there be extra costs? Some warranties make you pay for labor or to ship the product back for repairs, which could be expensive for heavy items.
  • Are there limits to the warranty coverage? Are you required to return a product registration card in order to get warranty service? Some limited warranties require that. Some warranties cover problems that happen when you maintain or use the product according to the directions. But many warranties won’t cover problems that happen if you misuse a product or change the way it works. Federal law says a manufacturer can’t require you to use specific parts and service to keep warranty coverage, unless it provides the parts and services for free, or gets a waiver from the FTC to make that requirement.
  • How do you get warranty service? Do you have to contact the manufacturer for help, or can you go back to the seller?
  • What will the company do if the product fails? Will the company repair it, replace it, or refund the money you paid for it?
  • Does the warranty cover "consequential damages?" Those are damages the product causes. Few warranties cover them, or the time and money you spend to repair such damage.

Keep records

After you buy a product that has a warranty

  • Read and save a copy of the warranty. If you shop online, print or download a copy for your records. Understand exactly what protection the warranty gives you.
  • Save your product receipt with the warranty. You may need it to prove the date you bought the product, or 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 it in writing. If you don’t, you may not be able to get the service that was promised.

Implied Warranties

Unlike spoken warranties, implied warranties are unspoken promises created by state law. All states have them. Almost everything you buy is covered by an implied warranty. Here are some common implied warranties:

  • A "warranty of merchantability" means that 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 when you buy a product based on a seller's advice that it’s suitable for a particular use. For example, if a seller says a certain sleeping bag is good for zero-degree weather, it is giving an implied warranty to buyers that the sleeping bag will be suitable for zero degrees.

If your purchase doesn’t come with a written warranty, it’s still covered by implied warranties. That’s true unless the seller gives a written notice that there’s no warranty, or the product is marked "as is," where state law allows that.

If you have problems that aren’t covered by a written warranty, see if there’s protection from an implied warranty. Implied warranty coverage can last as long as four years, although the length of the coverage varies from state to state. A lawyer or a state consumer protection office can tell you more 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 you an extended warranty or service contract. An extended warranty or service contract costs extra and is sold separately from a product. It’s not the same as a warranty, which is included in the price of 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 and what to consider before you buy one.

Resolving Problems With Products

If you have a problem with a product

  • Try to resolve the problem with the retailer first.
  • If you can’t resolve the problem with the retailer, write to the manufacturer. Your warranty should list the address of the company that provides the warranty. You may want to send your letter by certified mail and request a return receipt, so you’ll have proof that the company got your letter and signed for it.

Having a warranty doesn't mean you’ll automatically get a refund if a product is defective. The company may have a right to try to fix it before it gives you a refund. But 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 your letter or emails don’t resolve the issue, report problems with a company to