What If Your Christmas Present Turns Out To Be A Lemon?

Understanding Consumer Warranties

This is the time of year when many people splurge on big-ticket items for themselves and their family members, but when these gifts break they often end up in the trash because of warranties that are either too complicated to comply with or expire too soon.

Warranties aren’t required by law, but consumers have come to expect them for most major purchases. Here are some issues to be aware of.

Read before You Buy

A more expensive product with identical features may be worth it if it comes with a longer warranty. For example, the blender that costs $30 more may offer a five-year warranty instead of only one year. If you’re a hardcore smoothie-maker, that could be worth a lot to you.

If warranty terms aren’t printed on the outside of the box, ask a salesperson to open the box for you so you can read the warranty before you buy.

Federal law requires that warranties be available for consumers to read before buying (including online) so if a salesperson balks at providing a warranty, tell them that it’s required by law, ask to talk to a manager, or shop at another store.

A verbal promise by a salesperson to provide any level of service above-and-beyond what’s in the manufacturer’s warranty may well be worthless – especially if that salesperson isn’t even working in the store after the holidays. Get it in writing on the store’s letterhead and with a manager’s signature.

Warranty Terms

When reading and comparing warranties, here are some terms to keep in mind:

  • How long does the warranty last?
  • Who provides service under the warranty – the place you bought the item, or the manufacturer, or a specific repair shop? How convenient or inconvenient would it be for the person getting the item to get it to the location?
  • What happens if the product breaks? Does the seller need to repair it, replace it, or refund your money?
  • Are both parts and labor covered under the warranty?
  • Does the warranty cover “consequential damages”? For example, if a hot tub springs a leak and drowns your begonias, are you covered?
  • Does a warranty cover your intended use of a product? For example, a warranty may cover personal use but not business use, and you might buy a personal printer that you end up using to print flyers for your new home-based business.

Extended Warranties

Many stores offer “extended warranties” or “service contracts” on big ticket items.

According to an expert quoted by US News & World Report,

From a purely economic standpoint, it usually doesn’t make sense to buy an extended warranty….  Most expensive consumer products — refrigerators, washing machines, big-screen TVs and stereos, for example — are reliable and don’t break down often…. And if they do, it usually happens within the original warranty window.


If a warranty is more than 20 percent of the product’s price, it may be too much….Most extended warranties are 10 to 20 percent of the sales price.

Some things to think about when considering paying for extra coverage:

  • What are you already covered for under the standard warranty, and how much more do you get by paying extra?
  • How much did the product cost, and how long would you expect to use it? (For example, if you replace your smartphone every two years, a four-year warranty extension might not make sense for you.)
  • Will the paid warranty cover damage that’s your own fault (such as dropping the smartphone in the toilet?)
  • Does your credit card (especially at the “gold” level and above) extend your warranties for free?
  • Is there a deductible?
  • Would it be cheaper just to pay to have the item fixed?

Getting Service under Your Warranty

One of the biggest barriers to enforcing a warranty is simply FINDING the damn thing.

When opening presents on Christmas morning, it’s a very good idea to have a large envelope set aside for all the warranty documents, and to file this away somewhere you can find it again.

To make things even easier, write the names of the items on the outside of the envelope, along with the year of purchase and the day and month the warranty expires.

Keep the receipts for the big-ticket items handy until you’re sure everything works, then you can staple them to the warranties and file them away together.

As a backup, it’s smart to scan the receipt and warranty and save them on your computer, or take a picture on your smartphone.

Also, some warranties require that products be returned in the original carton. If this is the case, you’ll need to store it away somewhere until the end of the warranty period. (You can put a note on the warranty card or booklet reminding yourself where you stored the box. And write the warranty end date on the box as well, so you know when it’s safe to toss it.)

Understand Your Contracts before You Sign Them

A warranty is a kind of contract between you and the manufacturer or seller of the goods covered by the warranty. It’s almost always offered on a “take it or leave it” basis.

Other contracts, such as leases and employment agreements, are more flexible and there’s room to negotiate.

Make sure you protect your consumer rights and don’t sign a contract that will get you into hot water later. The LawGeex online tool can help you understand how standard your contract really is, before you sign. Simply upload your legal document to to find out what’s common, uncommon, and missing in your legal documents. Plus, you’ll get explanations to confusing legal language – empowering you to make smarter legal decisions.

The information and materials in this blog are provided for general informational purposes only and are not intended to be legal advice.


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