What is the Policy on Returning Defective Parts or Components?

When buying expensive items like computers & appliances we expect them to last for a reasonable amount of time. Learn about implied & express warranties & how they can protect you from defective merchandise.

What is the Policy on Returning Defective Parts or Components?

When you buy a computer, stove, ceiling fan, or robotic vacuum, you expect it to work for a reasonable amount of time. It's incredibly frustrating when a poorly made part, design defect, or other issue turns what seemed like the perfect purchase into a headache or a waste of money. Maybe your refrigerator stops cooling a month after the warranty expires and the necessary repairs cost hundreds of dollars. It seems that such an expensive purchase should last longer.

Manufacturers that offer warranties urge buyers to contact them to arrange a repair or replacement, rather than returning items to stores. It may be worth contacting the manufacturer initially, just to make sure you're using the product correctly. But if the problem really is a defect, it's best to return the item for a refund or exchange if the retailer allows it and you're still in the return period. After all, it has your money; if you want a refund, that's the one who will provide it to you. Even if the return period has expired, it's reasonable to expect a retailer to stand behind the products they sell.

Under implied warranty laws, you have the right to have merchandise free from defects, regardless of the restrictions imposed by the store's return policy. In the United States, we discuss implied warranties and how they can protect you from instant purchases. If the store has a no-return policy or if its return period has expired, the next step is to explore your warranty rights. Most consumers are familiar with the express guarantees offered by manufacturers and, sometimes, stores; we discuss them in the next section. However, most consumers are unaware of their rights under the implied warranty of merchantability, which is the automatic protection required by law against defective merchandise by sellers in the United States.

If you buy something that is defective and doesn't come with a warranty, or its warranty has expired, you might be satisfied with the argument that it was covered by an implied warranty. Many new products, especially the most expensive ones, include manufacturer warranties, which are promises to correct defects. Sometimes, when you buy used merchandise, you get similar guarantees from retailers. These “express” warranties generally do not cover normal wear and tear and are often void if products are misused or not maintained as prescribed. Companies are not required to provide express guarantees. However, once they commit to doing so in writing, the warranty must comply with the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which regulates how warranties must be presented.

Under a full warranty - now rare - the company must fully support the product throughout the warranty period, even if you sell it or give it to someone else. The supplier cannot impose any charges to fix things; and customers cannot be required to do anything as a condition of receiving service unless it is reasonable. Unlike a limited warranty, a full warranty must cover both parts and labor needed to install them. Finally, after a reasonable number of repair attempts, customers must be allowed to choose between a full refund or replacement.

Limited warranties - much more common - contain one or more clauses that reduce buyers' right to request repair or are void if certain conditions are not met. All warranties usually have time limits. However, even if the warranty has expired, it's likely that you'll still be covered for any unresolved issues you reported while it was still in effect - according to Carolyn Carter from National Center for Consumer Law. She also advised remembering that some products are covered by more than one express warranty.

For example: new cars may have separate coverage for transmission, battery and tires; motorhomes may have separate warranties for appliances, electronic components, generator or chassis. You might think that “limited lifetime warranties” mean your life - sometimes this is true but more often it concerns product shelf life which is open to interpretation. Often “useful life” period expires when model is discontinued or replacement parts are no longer available. In addition - as with any limited warranty - lifetime warranty does not necessarily mean that customer receives repair or replacement product completely free of charge.

For example: warranty may cover only parts but not labor costs. Just by selling product - under laws of all states and District of Columbia - retailer (and sometimes manufacturer) ensures there is nothing wrong with it. In other words: in United States implied warranties apply to new (and sometimes used) items but only those purchased from sellers who normally sell such merchandise - not private sales like on eBay. As mentioned before: if you notice defect in something recently purchased best thing to do is return it immediately to store.

Having seller issue refund or exchange is almost always more practical than filing claim under any manufacturer's express warranty. If seller balks and customer paid by credit card consider challenging charge. Implied warranty may apply not only to defects discovered shortly after making purchase but also those becoming apparent later on. If item fails in excessively short period of time it may be sign of inherent defect - argument is easier if other consumers have same problem; what constitutes “reasonable period of time” for discovering defects varies by product type (usually maximum 4 years).

In most states retailer or manufacturer can circumvent statutory implied warranty requirements.