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What is an Implied Warranty?

While the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act protects consumers with respect to written warranties, state laws govern so-called implied warranties for nearly all other purchases. Such unwritten and unspoken warranties are legal contracts based upon the common law concept of "fair value for money spent."

U.S. law also backs the enforceability of implied contracts (see the "merchantability" section below). In other words, consumers always have at least some recourse for goods that don't live up to basic expectations.

There are two main kinds of implied warranties, which are discussed in greater detail below. See "Product Warranties and Returns" for more information.

Implied Warranty of Merchantability

Just about every consumer product purchase comes with an implied warranty of merchantability, which means it is guaranteed to work if used for its intended purpose. If you buy a blender that simply doesn't work, then you have the right to take it back for an exchange or . This also applies to used items, with the extra disclaimer that it will work as intended, given its condition at the time of resale.

The standards for merchantability are relatively low, basically guaranteeing that goods sold will do what they are supposed to do; have nothing significantly wrong with them; and are fit to be sold.

Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) dictates that items are "merchantable" if they meet the following criteria:

  • Must conform to the standards of the trade as applicable to the contract for sale
  • Must be fit for the purposes such goods are ordinarily used, even if the buyer ordered them for use otherwise
  • They must be uniform as to quality and quantity, within tolerances of the contract for sale
  • They must be packed and labeled per the contract for sale
  • They must meet the specifications on the package labels, even if not so specified by the contract for sale

Implied Warranty of Fitness

Some purchases come with what is called an implied warranty of fitness. This means that a product is guaranteed for a specific purpose, beyond the lower threshold of merchantability. So if you asked a salesperson to recommend a blender specifically for making frozen cocktails, but the one that's recommended turns out to not have enough power to crush ice cubes, then you may return the item under its implied warranty of fitness.

That means sales of consumer goods that work perfectly fine, just not for the customer's planned and stated use, may breach an implied warranty of fitness. The warranty usually is implied through the salesperson's assurance or recommendation of an item for a specific purpose.

Items Sold 'As Is'

Retailers sometimes mark items with the words "sold as is" or "with all faults" in an effort to disclaim an implied warranty, but this is not allowed in the following states:

  • Alabama
  • Connecticut
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • New Hampshire
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • District of Columbia.

Differences in State Laws

Since implied warranties are by definition unwritten, they are not covered by federal law (which covers all written and verbal warranties). However, most state laws require four years of coverage under an implied warranty. Some states only require implied warranties to last as long as any express warranty that also came with the purchase.

Other states limit the ability of merchants to disclaim any such implied warranty, including Maryland. Disclaimers such as "sold as is" have no legal bearing on transactions in the state, which means customers may always return items that meet the criteria of "merchantability." The one exception in Maryland is an automobile more than six years old and with more than 60,000 miles.

Contact a local consumer protection lawyer if you have questions about warranty laws in your state.

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