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 self-destruct right after the warranty period ends.
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. It’s also unfair for consumers to pay for repairs necessitated by a known manufacturing defect. The old-time warning caveat emptor (buyer beware) no longer applies because the seller nowadays is typically held to a higher standard.
What you can do if the warranty period expired
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. Here are some steps you can take if you need repairs and you suspect the warranty period expired.
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 principal 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.
Ask for a manager
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. Sometimes, the person you speak to might have actually been trained to discourage you from pursuing your claim. Escalating the issue to a supervisor may increase your chances of scoring the repairs you need.