Lifetime Warranties and Other Consumer Tips

Buyer beware: learn warranty details before you make a big-ticket purchase.

ByABC News
October 3, 2008, 6:05 PM

Sept. 7, 2009 — -- It's back-to-school season and, for many, that means some shopping. College-bound students may be investing in big-ticket items like computers to take to campus with them. And younger kids have a slew of needs and wants, too. So it's a good time for me to remind you about product warranties and how they really work.

First off, you should know that a "lifetime warranty" is only as good as the company backing it. You probably assumed "lifetime" means your lifetime, right? Not always.

There's no set legal definition of "lifetime warranty." Some weaselly companies choose to interpret it as the lifetime of the product. I know, it's ridiculous. That's like saying, "This product is warranted to last as long as it lasts."

Companies that do it this way set an amount of time that they think their product should reasonably last. If your item breaks during that time, they'll repair or replace it. If it breaks later, you're out of luck.

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I have this soft-sided leather briefcase that I absolutely love. I've had it for 10 years -- or at least one like it. You see, the briefcase came with a lifetime warranty. I've had it replaced twice. Once, the strap broke under the massive weight of my files. The second time the stitching unraveled under the massive weight of my files. Both times the manufacturer came through for me. It's a good company. Not all are so generous.

Now some more upbeat warranty news: Even if the product you buy doesn't come with a written warranty, you are still covered by some unwritten warranties guaranteed by the federal government. The first is called an "implied warranty of merchantability," which basically means that a product must do what it's supposed to do. In other words, a blender must blend and a toaster must toast. If the item you buy turns out to be defective, even if the seller has a "no returns" policy, you should be able to return it anyway.