A lifetime warranty sounds great, but it may not last more than a few years—and it doesn’t necessarily cover every aspect of your appliance or fixture
Most homeowners hear the phrase “lifetime warranty” and consider it a great value-added benefit to a purchase. After all, that new hot water heater’s lifetime warranty means you’ll never have to pay to replace it, right? Unfortunately, that’s hardly ever the case.
Lifetime warranties can (and do!) exclude many circumstances from their terms, and most manufacturers will set out certain conditions you have to meet before they’re obligated to repair or replace the product.
Because there are no specific laws that define what the term “lifetime” means as it applies to warranties, companies have a lot of leeway and flexibility in crafting their own warranty terms. This means you’ll need to read those warranty terms carefully and make sure you comply with their restrictions and conditions so you don’t accidentally void the warranty and wind up having to pay for costly repairs yourself.
Express vs. Implied Warranties
There are two kinds of warranties: express and implied.
For implied warranties, the terms are established by law. For example, even if the seller of your new refrigerator doesn’t offer any express warranty terms in writing, you’ll still hold an implied warranty of merchantability. That basically means that the refrigerator works as it’s supposed to, keeping foods at a safe temperature. No matter what the sales representative claims, that warranty won’t change.
Express warranties might be set out either in writing or through speech from the seller or manufacturer. Either way, the terms of that warranty are determined by the words used. If the seller says “I guarantee this fridge will last 25 years,” but it breaks down in year 24, that’s a breach of an express warranty. Usually, however, express warranty terms will be provided in writing somewhere within the packaging or transmitted separately when you buy the item.
What’s more, a sales rep can’t claim additional or different terms than those set out in writing. The written warranty terms will always prevail.
Laws That Govern Warranties
While some U.S. states have statutes that cover warranties for consumer product purchases, the only federal law that governs warranties is the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. It only covers products that you buy, not services you pay for. So, for example, it would apply to your new fridge ... but not to the repair services you need if the refrigerator breaks down.
As a result, manufacturers get to choose whether to guarantee installation services—and for how long. They can also decide what actions void that warranty altogether.
That’s why it’s so important to hang on to that warranty information card that comes with your new appliance or fixture. Read it carefully to find out exactly how to keep the warranty active.
How Long Does a Lifetime Warranty Last?
Who decides what constitutes a “lifetime”? Is it your life, as the consumer? Occasionally that might be true, but far more often the word “lifetime” refers to the average useful life of the product itself, as decided by the manufacturer or the seller, depending on who’s offering the warranty.
So, for some appliances, for example, a lifetime warranty might only mean—shocker!—five years. Or it could mean “as long as the manufacturer is in business.” If that company shuts down a year after you buy the appliance, then that’s all the warranty you get.
What’s more, that lifetime can be prematurely cut short by any number of events or conditions. Some of the most common warranty-terminating conditions include:
Failure to keep up with a recommended schedule of maintenance
Using the product in a way that’s outside the bounds of common or normal usage
Adding after-market parts or upgrades that aren’t approved by the manufacturer or seller
An attempt to repair the item yourself, instead of seeking the services of a licensed repair professional
What a Lifetime Warranty Covers
Warranties can apply to consumer products (things you buy for your home including appliances, fixtures, and furnishings). You may also have a warranty on your home itself, or some portion of it. Regardless of what you bought, the warranty terms can and do vary—sometimes wildly.
No matter how long they’re set to last, lifetime warranties won’t usually cover every kind of damage or loss. If you’ve ever dropped your smartphone into a sink full of water, you’ve probably learned this the hard way. Or, for another example, your new roof warranty might cover some types of damage but not others.
Manufacturers, merchants, and third-party extended warranty companies set their own terms for what the terms of their warranties cover and what might be excluded. Read the terms of the warranty carefully before you decide which product to buy. If company A offers a far more generous lifetime warranty than company B, that might make company A’s product a much better value, even if it’s priced a bit higher.
The Bottom Line
Take care to note what kinds of damage aren’t covered by your warranty and when the warranty expires. In many cases you can supplement coverage by purchasing additional coverage. For example, you can get an extended warranty or a maintenance plan for a new HVAC system, but in some cases, that additional coverage isn’t worth the cost. Compare the terms carefully before you buy.