Fine PrintCar companies love to tout the length of their warranties, and electronics stores turn big profits by selling customers extended warranties with their computers. But warranty agreements are chock-full of fine print, and if you’re not careful you could wind up partially or entirely voiding it.
Some are obvious – if you drop your phone in the toilet or pry off the back of your iPad to see what makes it tick, don’t expect to invoke your warranty to get it repaired for free. But others are less so. For example, did you know that smoking near your Mac could damage it in ways that the warranty doesn’t cover, or that taking your new car drag racing can void the warranty altogether?
Since so few of us actually take the time to read the fine print – and since that fine print is often open to interpretation – we decided to track down some of the unexpected ways that consumers have found their warranties voided.
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Drag RacingChances are you bought that new sports car to pick up women or cope with your midlife crisis. But if you actually intended to get fast and furious with that Mitsubishi Eclipse, be warned: Racing it competitively is one of the few things that can void the entire warranty.
“If you’re caught racing with the car and you blow the motor, they’re going to be able to tell sometimes,” says Ron Montoya, consumer advice associate for Edmunds.com. “You can’t be involved in racing or competition.”
The question, of course, is how the dealer will be able to tell that you’ve been racing. Montoya says he’s heard of car company representatives going to races to copy down license plate numbers, then using that information against the owner if he or she comes in for a repair under warranty. But in general it’s more a matter of educated guessing on the dealer’s part.
“It kind of goes with the personality of the car,” Montoya says. “If you get a sports car and there are problems with the engine, they’ll connect the dots.”
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Extra PartsOf course, that doesn’t mean that the dealer will automatically assume you’ve been drag-racing if your sports car has engine trouble – they’ll often look for circumstantial evidence, like after-market modifications. And even if those after-market parts aren’t taken as evidence that you’ve been racing, a dealer can still cite them as a reason for denying a repair under warranty.
“People get sports cars and want to put performance parts on it, and they don’t realize it can void the warranty,” says Montoya. “They’re going to blame [the part] even if it had nothing to do with the failure.”
There are limits, of course: No dealer is going to try to blame an engine failure on an after-market spoiler, for instance. And Montoya notes that the Magnusson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975 says that a dealer must prove that the after-market part caused the damage in order to deny warranty coverage.
Still, if you decide to get oversized wheels and your suspension goes out on you, don’t be stunned when the dealer refuses to fix it under warranty.
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The Wrong Boxspring“Many mattress makers will not honor the warranty if you don’t buy the matching box spring,” says Christine Frietchen, editor-in-chief of ConsumerSearch.com.
Frietchen explains that mattress warranties will usually say that the product can be replaced if it’s sagging in the middle by a certain amount.
“Somebody actually comes to your house and measures it, and if they find a box spring that isn’t the matching one, they can say that it’s because of a bad box spring,” she says.
The explanation, of course, is that the box spring is specially designed to fit with the mattress. But it sure seems like a rule that’s designed to stimulate box spring sales and give them an excuse to get out of their warranty obligations.
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JailbreakingAs popular as the iPhone has been, some users have found the device to be a little restrictive. Until a few months ago it could only be used on AT&T’s network, and the App Store, while vast, only includes apps that have been approved by Apple.
These restrictions inevitably led to the rise of unlocking and jailbreaking, processes that allow you to use the phone on non-AT&T networks and download banned apps, respectively. While jailbreaking was recently ruled legal, that hasn’t stopped Apple from deciding that any kind of jailbreaking automatically voids the device’s warranty.
“You still have people jailbreaking to get on T-Mobile or use features like tethering [using the phone as a wireless hotspot],” says Steve Abernethy, president and CEO of SquareTrade, which sells after-market extended warranties on a variety of devices.
The good news is that any evidence of jailbreaking can be reverted by restoring the phone’s factory settings. But if for some reason you’re unable to do so, Apple can use it as an excuse to void the entire warranty, even if the failure has nothing to do with the jailbreaking.
For what it’s worth, SquareTrade will only void the warranty if it’s clear that the phone was “bricked” (that is, suffered a catastrophic software error) as a result of the jailbreaking.
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SmokingWhile we’re on the topic of Apple, it bears mentioning that Apple employees and secondhand smoke apparently don’t mix.
According to a story posted on Consumerist in late 2009, a number of Mac users have reported that they had their AppleCare warranties effectively voided when the company refused to fix their broken Macs. Apple’s reasoning was the users (or someone in their home) were heavy smokers, resulting in a buildup of the nasty chemicals found in today’s cigarettes.
While it’s not clear that those chemicals in any way damaged the computers, Apple apparently explained to these users that the chemicals constituted a bio-hazard for their employees, meaning they couldn’t work on them without violating workplace safety laws.
We haven’t heard of any other company voiding warranties because the users were smokers. So if you’re thinking of switching to a Mac, you may want to consider kicking your nicotine habit first.
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Hot Showers and HumidityIf your warranty doesn’t protect against accidental damage and you get the phone wet, you’re pretty much out of luck. Manufacturers can generally determine this by way of a “water dot” that changes color when the phone is exposed to moisture. If the dot has changed color, the manufacturer can claim that the phone’s failure was due to it being submerged in water, and the repair will not be covered under the warranty.
That much everyone knows, but what some people don’t realize, says Abernethy, is that the water dot can be activated by prolonged exposure to high levels of humidity. So if you live in Houston or you regularly keep your phone in the bathroom while you’re taking a shower, you could be voiding the warranty even if the moisture isn’t damaging your phone.
Some manufacturers and warranty companies may believe you when you say that it’s been a humid summer in New Orleans, but others will be less forgiving. Short of moving to more temperate climes, your best bet is to keep the air conditioning on and hope that the company is feeling charitable.
Photo Credit: Dalal Al Mudhaf
Commercial UseSome products are designed for personal use, but using them for commercial purposes voids the warranty. The idea is that they’re only designed for a certain level of usage, and using them in a commercial setting tends to place a greater burden on them.
Take vacuum cleaners, for example. If you used yours at home you might vacuum every couple of weeks, but if you’re using it to clean your business you’ll likely use it every couple of days. That places more of a burden on the vacuum over the life of the warranty.
“Lets say you’re on the condo board and the maintenance guy uses it in the hallway,” says Frietchen. “That’s considered a higher-traffic area.”
She says the same applies to fitness equipment. If you buy a treadmill ostensibly for personal use and then put it in your business’s on-site gym, it will receive more traffic than it would if it were sitting in your basement. As such, the warranty would be voided.
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Printer Cartridge ShenanigansMuch as adding oversized spinning rims to your car could void the manufacturer’s warranty, so too could adding certain unofficial accessories to your electronic equipment.
Frietchen points to printer manufacturers in particular, which generally stipulate that the use of off-brand printer cartridges voids the warranty. (It’s easy to see why – these companies use a “razor and blade” business model, often taking a modest loss on the printer itself in order to rake in profits on proprietary cartridges.)
Of course, many of the manufacturers make it difficult, if not impossible to create generic versions of their printer cartridges. But some consumers will still try to save money by injecting fresh ink into empty cartridges – a practice that also voids the warranty if the company sees what you’ve been doing.
“If you do the hypodermic needle thing with the printer cartridges, don’t leave them in the printer [when you send it in],” she says. If the manufacturer discovers that you’ve been tampering with the cartridges it can void the entire warranty, even if the problem has nothing to do with ink.
Photo Credit: Daan Berg
Different Definitions of “Lifetime”If a product comes with a “lifetime warranty,” that means it’s guaranteed for as long as you live, right?
Not so fast, says Tony Giorgianni, associate finance editor of Consumer Reports Money Adviser.
“It depends on the definition of ‘lifetime,’” says Giorgianni. “It may mean that product’s lifetime, the lifetime for which they carry the product or the time the parts are available. Your lifetime, from when you buy it to when you’re 99 and picking out a coffin, may not be what they have in mind.”
So if your recliner breaks a few years after you buy it and the company no longer makes the broken part, suddenly your “lifetime” warranty may be over. Read the fine print and see exactly what lifetime they’re talking about.
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