Nothing Fine about Fine Print: A Guide to Reading Your Warranty

When it comes to reading the fine print in a warranty, there are three types of people.

1. The Rebel. The Rebel will open up a new product and quickly toss the warranty back in the box or quite possibly, straight out the window. Rebels throw caution to the wind and say “Warranty? I don’t need no stinking warranty.” They shun the very thought of reading the fine print because they don’t think that it will come in handy when they need it. Fine print doesn’t get a second glance.

 2. The Overachiever. The Overachiever loves soaking up all the dry, legal terms and conditions. They open a new product and read the instructions cover-to-cover, then curl up with a mug of hot chocolate and dive into the warranty. Legalese is their second language and they swim in a sea of fine print.

3. The Scaredy Cat. The Scaredy Cat opens a new product and is filled with dread at the sight of the warranty staring up at them from the bottom of the box. The warranty intimidates them because they know it’s confusing and dull. To the Scaredy Cat, a warranty is like a long, boring homework assignment that will cost them money if they fail to turn it in.

So, if you have ever felt like a rebel or a scaredy cat, or if you have ever looked at a warranty and thought, “There is no way I’m going to read that.” this post is for you. We have gathered a list of what to look for when you read a warranty. These are the key points to read and understand so that the next time you voyage through a forest of fine print, it will be a walk in the park.

•    What Does it Cover? It may seem obvious, but it is crucial to find out exactly what your warranty covers. Some warranties only cover moving parts, others cover parts and the labor required to fix it, and others cover everything except for accidental physical damage. The point is, at a minimum, you need to know what is covered.

•    Who Does it Cover? While you may be the current owner, there is a possibility that you aren’t covered under warranty. If your warranty is “limited” and you did not buy the product directly from the retailer or manufacturer, the warranty may not transfer to you at all. For example, Chrysler’s 2007 “lifetime” warranty boasted that it would remain in effect for as long as the owner lived. However, the guarantee was only good for the first owner, and once the car was sold, all bets were off.

•    When Does it Expire? Expiration dates are critical for warranties and if you look closely, you will probably find this information right in the title. Some examples include “90-day limited warranty” or “4 Year Extended Warranty”.

•    What will they do to correct a problem? It’s important to know what the retailer or manufacturer will do if your product breaks down. Will they repair it, replace it or simply provide technical support over the phone? If you need to ship the product back to them, who pays for shipping and handling? These are important questions to ask.

•    What about other damages? If the product breaks and causes damage to other items in your home (such as your kitchen counters, walls or floors) will the company cover the damage? This is especially important for homeowners who have invested money into their homes. If your dishwasher breaks and causes water damage to your beautiful new hard woods floors, you need to know if the additional damage is covered by your warranty as well.

•    What do I have to do to keep the warranty in effect? Be sure to look for any indication that you are required to perform scheduled maintenance on your product. This will likely include, installing and using the product according to directions, connecting the product to a power supply of sufficient voltage, replacing blown fuses and repairing loose connections or defects in the house wiring. If you’ve owned an air conditioner for thirty years and have never changed the filter, your warranty might be void. In the words of Ricky Ricardo: “You’ve got some ‘splaining to do.”

Make it your goal to answer these questions when you read through your warranty and you’ll feel much more in control if your product breaks down. If you measure your warranty against this list and you’re not satisfied, you may want to consider an extended service contract from a third party provider.

Reprinted with permission from

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