If you haven’t personally experienced this, you probably know someone who has. A vehicle, appliance or other item breaks shortly after the warranty expires. This scenario is so common it’s cliché. So much so that some folks openly wonder if the products are actually designed to somehow self-destruct right after the warranty period ends, forcing the consumer to spend money on costly repairs or replacement items.
Manufacturers are not likely clapping their hands and laughing devilishly as products fail. But any statistician will tell you that warranty periods are designed and intended to cover the period during which most of the items will remain in good, working condition. In addition, retailers want to sell extended warranties and manufacturers are reluctant to inhibit that opportunity. At the end of the day, it wouldn’t be cost effective or fair for a manufacturer to cover repairs forever.
But neither is it fair for consumers to foot the bill for repairs on items that are just out of warranty, or for certain other repairs, such as those necessitated by a known manufacturing defect. The old-time warning caveat emptor (buyer beware) no longer applies because the seller nowadays is held to a higher standard of disclosure and has responsibilities for defects which a buyer cannot see from a casual inspection.
As it turns out, many manufacturers agree that the negative feelings – and public airings of the complaints – are simply not worth the cost of the repair, and they are offering to pay. Large manufacturers, particularly in the auto industry, are giving customer service representatives more and more leeway when it comes to authorizing out-of-warranty repairs.
What you can do
Check the date. In many cases, if the product breaks or becomes unusable before it is six months old the law assumes that the manufacturer is at fault. You, the buyer, are entitled to a replacement or repair – but the seller can decide which. If neither is possible, you can claim a full or partial refund. After six months, it is your responsibility to demonstrate that the fault is with the manufacturer.
Check with others. Search online forums and social networking sites for other customers who have experienced the same problem. Research recalls and service bulletins (communications to the dealers about known problems). For vehicle-related problems, visit www.nhtsa.gov and search for technical service bulletin or information service bulletin, along with the make and model of the vehicle in question.
The main U.S. governmental agency protecting consumers is the Federal Trade Commission and 15 USC Chapter 50, Consumer Product Warranties is the principle instrument of protection for Americans buying products in the United States. State and local governments also offer consumer protection information and means for what to do when the warranty runs out, so find out what your state’s laws are.
Massachusetts, for example, offers consumers an implied warranty – the right to expect that you’ve gotten what you paid for. In California, Consumer Action is a potentially useful site for consumer complaint advice.
Keep good records. Register all new purchases. And if you’ve taken excellent care of your item, show it. Keep all of your vehicle maintenance records, for example. Make a case for why you don’t believe you should pay for the repair. If you really think you’ll need to do some convincing, see if you can first find others who have had the same problem.
Ask for coverage. You won’t get anyone to make an exception and pay for your repair unless you try. So even if your item is out of warranty, ask. If the warranty ended very recently, or if the problem is widespread, you might get a quick yes. If the item was purchased with a credit card, find out if the credit card company offers automatic extended coverage (many do).
Be realistic in your expectations. Ask for what you feel is fair, not for something outrageously out of proportion to the situation. The manufacturer is not obligated to help you out, so keep in mind that this is a negotiation. Be flexible.
Cultivate and maintain relationships. Bought two cars from the same dealer? Three cars of the same make? Remind them. Customer loyalty is a valuable bargaining chip. Stay cool when you have the conversation. Rants, fighting words or an angry tone won’t inspire anyone to jump up to help you. Be professional. Reach out on Facebook or Twitter. Most large manufacturers and many small ones maintain staff who monitor social media accounts. It’s often a quick way to get in touch with the right person about your complaint.
Reach higher. If the first person you talk to refuses to cover repair costs, try going up the chain of command with your request. Sometimes you need to get past a few gatekeepers before you can talk to someone who has the authority to approve your request. And sometimes people make mistakes. In 2010, Best Buy representatives mistakenly told customers that certain repairs weren’t covered. Still other times, the person you speak to might have actually been trained to discourage you from pursuing your claim.
Kimberly Rotter is a writer, businesswoman and mother in San Diego, CA. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in English, a Master’s degree in Business Administration, and a Graduate Certificate in Distance Education. Kim and her husband own two homes, a couple of vehicles and a few investments, and live with minimal debt. Both are successfully self-employed, each in their own field.