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What Will Void a Warranty?

A merchant might declare a warranty void under various circumstances. This outcome is more likely if you use a product for something other than its usual purpose. The seller or manufacturer may then choose not to honor the warranty terms.

Sometimes merchants may attempt to void a warranty for illegal reasons. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, a federal law for most U.S. consumer purchases, limits when a seller can refuse to honor a warranty. State laws often add another layer of consumer protection against voiding warranties.

This article focuses on how a merchant may or may not void a product warranty. Learn how to identify your warranty rights for your purchases. Even if a business voids your express warranty, you may still have protection under an implied warranty.

Understand Your Warranty Terms

The best way to avoid jeopardizing your warranty coverage is to understand how it works. Each warranty has unique requirements to follow as a customer if you want remedies for product issues.

Ask yourself the following questions when making a major purchase:

  • How long does the warranty cover your purchase?
  • Does the warranty cover repair, replacement, or a refund of the purchase price if the product fails?
  • Whom should you contact, and what is the process to get warranty service?
  • Which parts and problems are covered by the warranty? Which does it exclude?
  • Does the warranty also cover consequential damages, such as the cost of spoiled food when a freezer fails to operate?
  • Are there any product modifications, changes, or unauthorized uses that could void the warranty?
  • If it is a so-called "lifetime" warranty, does this mean the life of the product or the life of the owner?
  • Is the merchant a reputable company?

Understanding the warranty's conditions and limitations can tell you when the merchant can and can't void it. It's also wise to save your receipt, which may be your only record of the sale.

Acceptable Reasons for Voiding a Warranty

Reasons for voiding a warranty vary with each manufacturer or product. Below are a few of the most common reasons for invalidating a customer's warranty.

The Warranty Period Expired

Warranties are usually valid for a specific period. For example, you may have a six-month warranty. Six months after your purchase, the warranty will expire. You could no longer ask the merchant to help with the product's issues, even if they existed since you bought it.

Some customers want longer coverage for repairs and replacements. If the seller offers an extended warranty or service contract, you can choose to buy it to prolong your protection. This option might not protect your purchase as thoroughly as the original warranty.

The Warranty Doesn't Cover the Defect or Part

Read the fine print of any written warranties, especially if it is a limited warranty. The warranty might list specific problems or qualities that it will cover as well as exclusions.

Full warranties are much less common. They must cover all repairs or replacements for defects during the warranty period.

Lack of Proper Product Maintenance

Some consumer products require you to clean, store, or use them in specific ways. If you fail to care for the product, the business may declare the warranty no longer applies.

The retailer or manufacturer should reasonably explain how to maintain the product. For example, a wool sweater may need a label to disclose “dry clean only" so you know to avoid washing it in a machine.

You Significantly Altered the Product

When you buy a product, you can change it and use it as you please. Before you modify an item, be aware of whether you risk warranty coverage.

Sometimes, even self-repairs or third-party repairs of a defective product can void the warranty. Using a third-party replacement part may or may not risk the warranty. A merchant needs an official waiver to require customers to use parts from its brand exclusively.

While a merchant can't guarantee its product's reliability or quality once enough modifications have changed it, federal warranty law requires the merchant to prove an alteration caused the defect to void a written warranty.

When Can't Merchants Void a Warranty?

In general, businesses can't invalidate a warranty due to unreasonable or undisclosed requirements. They also can't void a warranty to avoid the cost or hassle of honoring its terms.

The type of warranty matters as well. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), merchants can't require you to fill out a registration card to get a full warranty protection. Merchants must state the exact restrictions of limited warranties.

Below are more examples of warranty restrictions or conditions the FTC considers unreasonable:

  • Requiring the return of a product to a warranty service point in person, known as a carry-back policy
  • Requiring customers to return a new car, used car, or boat that is inoperable or could risk further damage or injury to a person (read about lemon laws for more details about car warranties)
  • Requiring customers to pay for shipping or insurance for shipping
  • Making the customer responsible for any items lost or stolen during shipment
  • Requiring you to return defective products in their original packaging, though they may impose this requirement for a regular return
  • Requiring you to explain in detail the nature or origin of the defect instead of only describing how the product failed

If you fail to comply with terms like these, the merchant can't use that failure to void your warranty. Merchants in several states also can't invalidate an implied warranty of merchantability by using disclaimers like "sold as is" or "with all faults." 

Other states allow merchants to waive warranties this way. 

Real-Life Examples of Warranty Limitations

The terms of limited warranties vary from one company to the next. Warranties sometimes even differ within a company's product line.

The following examples illustrate how different consumer warranty limitations can be:

  • Apple: Overriding built-in limitations of an iPhone to run unapproved software, referred to as jailbreaking, voids its warranty. This is despite jailbreaking being a legal product modification.
  • Kohler: The company's lifetime limited warranty covers its faucets for as long as the original purchaser owns their home. The policy states that improper care and cleaning will void the warranty.
  • Chevrolet: Its bumper-to-bumper warranty covers up to the first three years or 36,000 miles. Among other exclusions, the policy does not cover coolant hoses, the engine radiator, or the clutch.

Seller Refusing To Honor a Valid Warranty? Speak With an Attorney

Whether you have a seller's or manufacturer's warranty, the warrantor must uphold its promises. If you believe a business is in breach of warranty, consider speaking with a consumer law attorney. A lawyer can help you understand how federal and state laws shape your legal rights.

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