Business

Consumer Alert

Rules — and exceptions — to product warranties

It’s time to get some perspective folks. Two consumers I wrote about recently ended up with new replacement products after the ones they bought turned out to be lemons. One got a new washer and the other a new computer system.

It seemed to be clear (at least to me) that what these people got was much more of an exception than the rule. Most warranties do not offer a brand-new product to take the place of one that failed.

But several letters from readers followed making demands for brand-new merchandise because of repair issues. Warranties are intended to ensure that you get a product that functions as it is supposed to. That usually means a repair.

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While it is a plus for consumers that Massachusetts has a law of implied warranty (you have protection even without a written warranty), it isn’t a ticket to get something new every time you have a product that fails. The law is vague, saying the product should work as it is supposed to “for at least a reasonable period of time.”

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Is it reasonable to expect that period to be a few weeks, a few months, or a few years? That all depends. But it’s safe to say that the more time that goes by, the less likely you are to persuade anyone it’s reasonable.

Additionally, the law doesn’t say you get a brand-new product to replace the faulty one. What it does say is, “You will receive repairs, a replacement, or a refund if it is not the quality or condition represented.”

While it is understandable to want a brand-new item, most situations don’t call for that. If the product was recently purchased, or is defective and can’t be fixed, you could end up with a new one. But most companies won’t want to give up a new product when they could provide a refurbished model or make repairs instead.

If you’re going demand a new product as a replacement, consider that the company has some latitude, so make a clear case for why. It’s OK to make a play for what you’d really like, but the odds can be long and your expectations should be set accordingly.

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers out of jams for the past two decades. He lives in Worcester and also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. Mitch can be reached at ConsumerNews@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.