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What's the Difference Between a Full Warranty and a Limited Warranty?

A full warranty covers more damage types or product parts than a limited warranty, but both warranty types can have exclusions and exceptions.

Just because a consumer product comes with a warranty, either written or implied, does not mean the business will fix or replace it in all circumstances. There are several different kinds of guarantees for consumer products. Some only cover certain parts or defects, and others expire after a limited period of time.

Limited warranties are more common than full warranties. Understanding the difference between the two main warranty types may help you make better consumer choices.

What Is a Full Warranty?

A full warranty often covers repair or replacement for all product parts. In general, full warranties don't cover normal wear and tear. They give customers a way to fix substantial problems with the product. Any company offering a full warranty must repair or replace the product during the specified warranty period.

Federal law and some state laws require a company that plans to fix the covered item to do so within a reasonable amount of time. The process must be reasonably convenient for the consumer to get the item to and from the place for repairs. Warranty service often involves sending the item through the mail or a private parcel delivery service.

Does a Full Warranty Last Forever?

No, most full warranties expire, which customers might not realize unless they read the disclaimers. A full warranty may be active for a short time after your purchase, such as 60 or 90 days.

Some full warranties, and even some limited warranties, may cover the product "for life." The actual scope of a lifetime warranty may only include the product's lifetime on the market until its discontinuation. In other cases, the warranty may only last as long as the original purchaser owns the item. In either case, lifetime warranties often have special conditions.

What Is a Limited Warranty?

As its name implies, a limited warranty is limited to specified parts, certain types of defects, or other conditions. Since it can be any number of things that the retailer decides, understanding the limitations is important when buying such a product.

Often, a limited warranty covers just the parts but not the necessary labor for a repair. It may also include a stipulation that you and the manufacturer will split the cost of repairs for a given period.

Comprehensive Warranties

"Comprehensive" might make a warranty sound like it covers the entire product the same way a full warranty would. In general, a comprehensive warranty is a type of limited warranty specific to motor vehicles.

It's rare for an auto manufacturer's warranty to be full warranties. Their limited warranties may range in coverage. A comprehensive warranty offers the most coverage among the warrantor's options.

Check the Terms of Extended Warranties

Both types of warranties may cost extra if the seller offers them as an add-on. You may buy an extended warranty to get more protection for your product, often in the form of a limited warranty.

Sometimes, you can have many warranty and service contract options. This is common with car dealerships. For example, a new car that comes with a five-year warranty might give you an extra option to buy a 10-year limited warranty.

The extended warranty option might give you different coverage than the original warranty. Extended warranty coverage might be narrow, even if the product started with a full warranty.

In the example above, imagine that the five-year car warranty is a “bumper-to-bumper" comprehensive warranty, covering dozens of parts like the heated seats and digital center console. The 10-year warranty may be limited, covering only the engine and transmission.

Both Are Written Warranties — Not Implied

Though full and limited warranties offer different coverage, they are both express warranties. A seller must create a written guarantee describing what they will cover and for how long. The product's advertisement or sales documents can show whether it carries either a full or limited warranty.

Written warranties often also list circumstances that allow the seller or manufacturer to void the warranty. Warranty coverage will have a premature end if it becomes void, regardless of how long it would otherwise last.

If the seller doesn't offer a written warranty, your product won't have full or limited warranty protection. You may still seek a remedy under implied warranty laws. The implied warranty of merchantability gives you basic legal rights against defective products.

Full and Limited Warranty Laws

The federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act regulates all written consumer product warranties for items over $15. Consumers often turn to this federal lemon law to understand their warranty rights. Each state may also have individual consumer protection laws for limited and full warranties.

The Act requires warrantors to label their warranties as either full or limited. Sellers and manufacturers must also describe in detail what the warranty covers. Knowing the exact coverage of your warranty can help you determine when the warrantor must solve a product-related problem.

If a seller or manufacturer does not provide a repair or replacement as promised, it may be in breach of warranty. Consumers can sometimes use their rights under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act to file a claim against the warrantor. You may also report sellers with deceptive warranties or sales tactics to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or your state attorney general.

Get Advice for Warranty Issues

When planning to buy a product with a full or limited warranty, reading the fine print can help you make informed decisions. A consumer protection lawyer can help you understand the warranty for your purchase.

An attorney can guide you through your options if you have a claim. If you bring a case to court and win, the business may be responsible for covering your attorneys' fees under the Magnuson-Moss Act.

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