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Warranty vs. Guarantee: What You Need to Know

While you're shopping for a new car, one dealer guarantees its vehicle for five years. Another dealer provides a five-year warranty for the same car. All things being equal, does the use of warranty vs. guarantee change the meaning of the merchants' promises? In short, no.

warranty provides a promise from one party to the other that certain conditions, such as the lifespan or quality of a product, will be met. If the product doesn't meet the conditions of the warranty, it can usually be returned, repaired, or replaced. If a merchant guarantees a feature of a product, or even your satisfaction with it, the same holds true.

The difference between a warranty and a guarantee is simply a question of word choice.

What Creates a Warranty or Guarantee?

Any promise about a product's quality, condition, or reliability that a seller makes, and that you rely upon when buying it, can create a warranty or guarantee.

A direct statement, either verbal or in writing, that promises a product will meet specific expectations creates an express warranty. For example, if a car salesperson promises a minimum gas mileage for a particular vehicle, they have created a warranty. This guarantee is enforceable under the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.

Even though warranties can start as a spoken promise, it's wise to ask for them in writing as well. This step can create a record of the merchant's promise. A written warranty can also help you understand your options if you discover an issue after your purchase.

Other warranties don't have to be intentionally created at all. These implied warranties are guarantees that state laws add to your transaction. Almost all consumer products have coverage through an implied warranty of merchantability, meaning that the product is guaranteed to work as expected. An implied warranty of fitness also ensures a product will work for a different specific purpose.

A merchant may avoid implied warranties through disclaimers or “as is" sales. Yet, several states will refuse to recognize as is disclaimers for consumer goods.

Some products may have a limited warranty, which restricts the scope of what the warranty covers. Certain actions can also void warranties. For example, a lifetime warranty on your refrigerator may be limited to the product's expected lifetime, such as 10 years, and voided by unauthorized repairs or modifications.

An extended warranty may also be available for purchase through the seller. This type of warranty often covers specified parts or damage for longer than the original product warranty period. This warranty coverage would not protect your product unless you buy it.

No Magic Words Needed

Whether a merchant describes its promise as a guarantee vs. warranty won't prevent it from having legal effect. It's the promise that matters, not the phrasing.

Under the Uniform Commercial Code, which has been adopted in some form by every state, a warranty can begin in several ways:

  • By an affirmation of fact
  • By a promise made by the seller
  • By a description of the goods

Even a sample or model, which is supposed to represent the final product, can create a binding guarantee.

Not all statements result in a legally binding promise. A merchant's blatant opinions or exaggerations, such as describing a vehicle as the “best car on the road" or a household appliance as “a miracle of modern science," don't create warranties or guarantees. Courts treat these forms of advertising as puffery, which average consumers wouldn't consider as serious.

Satisfaction Guaranteed, or Your Money Back

Some products guarantee your satisfaction or provide a money-back guarantee. If a merchant advertises a product in this way, they must be willing to offer a full refund if a customer, for any reason, decides to return the product. These guarantees may be limited to certain durations, such as 30 days after the date of purchase.

Other Meanings of Guarantee

Using guarantee vs. warranty is only significant in a few legal circumstances. A guarantee, as opposed to a warranty, can also be described as a legal promise to be responsible for someone's debt or obligations.

For example, a parent may guarantee a child's car loan. If the child fails to make payment, the parent will be responsible to the lender for those missed payments. In this situation, the parent is the guarantor of the child's obligations. Since the parent's guarantee is conditional, the child has to fail in their obligations before the parent becomes responsible.

Talking to a Consumer Protection Attorney

If you believe you've purchased a product that has failed to live up to its guarantee or warranty, it may be in breach of warranty. Retailers may help you return or repair the item.

 If a warrantor fails to keep its promises and you're considering making a warranty claim, consider contacting a consumer law attorney to discuss your options.

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