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What is the Difference Between a Full Warranty and a Limited Warranty?

Just because a consumer product comes with a warranty (either written or implied) does not mean it absolutely will be fixed or replaced with no questions asked. There are several different kinds of guarantees for consumer products, some which only cover certain parts or defects, and some which expire after a limited time. Usually, the covered product will have an indication that it carries either a full warranty or a limited warranty.

The federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act regulates all consumer product warranties for items costing consumers more than fifteen dollars ($15.00), requiring that they be designated as either full or limited. Limited warranties are substantially more common. Understanding the difference between the two main warranty types will help you make better consumer choices.

See FindLaw's Product Warranties and Returns section for additional articles, including Consumer Warranty Basics.

Full Warranty

Any company offering a full warranty must repair or replace the product during the specified warranty period. Federal and some state laws mandate that if a company plans to fix the covered item, they must do within a reasonable amount of time and it must be reasonably convenient for the consumer to get the item to and from the place where it will be repaired. Typically, this is handled through the mail or a private parcel delivery service.

Additionally, full warranties do not often cover normal wear and tear.

A full warranty may be active for just a limited time after the item is purchased, perhaps 60 or 90 days, or it may cover the product "for life" (the same goes for limited warranties). But the actual scope of a lifetime warranty may mean the item is covered for its lifetime on the market (until it is discontinued) or it may last only for as long as the original buyer owns it, but it rarely comes without conditions.

Limited Warranty

As its name implies, a limited warranty is limited to just the specified parts, certain types of defects, or other conditions. But since it can mean virtually anything the retailer decides, it is important to fully understand the meaning of "limited" when buying such a product. Often, it covers just the parts and not the labor required to fully fix something. A limited warranty also may include the stipulation that the manufacturer and the consumer split the cost of repairs for a given period of time.

Typically, both limited and full warranties cost extra as an add-on. Sometimes, particularly with car dealerships, a range of warranty options are offered. For example, a new car that comes with a five-year warranty might offer the option to pay for a 10-year limited warranty.

Whether you are planning to buy a product with a full warranty or a limited warranty, understanding the fine print can help you make informed consumer decisions.

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