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Know your rights when protesting a faulty product

They just don’t build things like they used to. Or so it seems from the notes readers have sent in recently.

Several have asked about special features of Massachusetts law intended to give consumers added protection when they end up with a product that doesn’t perform as advertised. They are the “implied warranty of merchantability” and its companion, the “implied warranty of fitness.”

What they are meant to do is ensure that products work as promised “for a reasonable time.” That means a microwave oven will heat food and an off-road bicycle will be able to handle rough terrain. If the product is defective, regardless of a seller’s return policy, they are obligated to give you your choice of a repair, replacement, or return.

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And while the laws go beyond most manufacturer warranties, that doesn’t mean that all businesses will follow it. If you end up with a product that doesn’t do what it is supposed to do, be reasonable and clear about the resolution you seek. It’s easier to get what you want when the business works with you.

But if you can’t get there, cite state consumer protection laws and use the tools it provides. If you run into resistance, you can write a 30-day demand letter, which gives the company a last chance to resolve the issue before going to court. In the letter, explain the problem, why it violates the law, the financial harm you’ve suffered, and the resolution you are seeking.

A sample letter appears on the website of the state Office of Consumer Affairs . Consumers also can call the agency’s hotline at 617-973-8787 if they need help with the letter. Small Claims court is the venue for cases that involve less than $7,000, and no lawyer is required.

Another option is to file a complaint with the state attorney general’s office, which provides mediation of consumer disputes and can help resolve matters before they end up in court. Issues involving product defects should be brought to the attention of appropriate government agency, such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission (most consumer products) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (vehicles, tires, and child car seats).

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Consumers have rights. They just need to be exercised.


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