Warranty coverage can be limited

All Things Legal

By Jane M. Winand, Legal Assistance Attorney

The Fort Meade Legal Assistance Division frequently counsels clients on warranty coverage.

Whether you purchase an item such as an appliance with free warranty coverage, or you opt to pay for a warranty, you should know what is covered under the warranty and how you may exercise your rights if the warranty is not honored.

A warranty is now a common part of the retail business, but this was not always the case. Long ago, the rule in retail purchasing was “let the buyer beware” or “as is.”

This has changed to the extent that most of us as consumers expect a warranty and assume there is a warranty on any new retail purchase. However, the terms of a warranty are not the same for all purchases, and there is more than one kind of warranty.

There are two major categories of warranty: “express” and “implied.” The express warranty is usually spelled out in writing, and is either a full warranty or a limited warranty.

The two types of implied warranties are the warranty of “merchantability” and the warranty of “fitness for a particular purpose.”

Express warranties are either full warranties or limited warranties. A full warranty means that a defective product will be repaired or replaced free of charge, the product will be repaired within a reasonable period of time, the warranty covers anyone who owns the product during the warranty period, and that the replacement or refund will be offered if the product cannot be repaired within a reasonable period of time.

A limited warranty is by definition anything less than a full warranty.

An implied warranty of merchantability means that a product is in proper condition for sale, that it works for the purpose for which it is intended, and that it will work for a reasonable period of time. This is not expressly stated anywhere, but it is implied by the law.

For example, if an oven does not heat or if it heats unevenly, it is not “merchantable.” Even if there was no express warranty, the manufacturer would have to repair this defect.

A warranty of fitness for a particular purpose is a special type of warranty that arises when a customer relies upon a seller’s advice that the product can be used for a particular purpose.

For example, if a seller advises that a particular washing machine will wash 20-pound loads of wash, and the buyer takes that advice and buys the machine, it must be able to wash 20-pound loads. If the washing machine is incapable of washing such large loads of wash, it may be returned or replaced.

The warranties may work together in some cases. For example, a television may have a limited warranty covering parts and labor on the screen for one year. However, a television lasts a considerable amount of time.

If the TV does not work after one year, a warranty may be implied depending on the period that it is reasonable to expect a television to work, and depending upon the defect.

Any time you have a warranty problem, you should seek to enlist the aid of the retailer first. If the retailer cannot or will not honor the warranty, the manufacturer is next. If that is not successful, you should file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau, and the State Attorney General’s Office.

It may also be possible to file suit in small claims court to enforce the warranty. Many times, the threat of action will encourage the retailer or manufacturer to assist you.

If you have a warranty question, contact the Fort Meade Legal Assistance Division located in the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, 4217 Morrison St., first floor.

Editor’s note: To schedule an appointment, call the Legal Assistance Division at 301-677-9504 or 301-677-9536.

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