Warranties and guarantees are promises manufacturers or sellers make to customers. When a product is "under warranty" or "guaranteed by" its maker or seller, it means the company that produces or sells the product backs the quality of it in some way, and may be willing (or obligated) to repair defects, accept returns and issue refunds, and/or make exchanges.
A warranty is usually a written, contractual promise that attests to the quality of a specific, purchased product for a certain amount of time. Should the product become defective while it is still under warranty — say, within one year of its purchase — the company is bound by the warranty to repair or replace the item. A guarantee is also a promise regarding product quality, and it may even be written into a warranty contract. However, guarantees are generally less likely to be written, and are often not as clearly defined as warranties. Many companies often verbally "guarantee" the satisfaction of their customers, with unhappy customers receiving full or partial refunds. They may make such a guarantee a part of their general business practice, separate from a warranty contract on any particular product.
Legally, there is little to no difference between warranties and guarantees, but warranties are usually more likely to be written contracts than guarantees are. Written contracts are more valuable than oral contracts.
Express vs. Implied Warranty
Warranties that are clearly and formally presented to the buyer are express warranties. The formal, express promise may be called a warranty, a guarantee, or nothing specific at all. In the eyes of the law, what matters is that the promise is explicitly made.
In many common law areas, there is also a concept of an implied warranty that guarantees the quality of a product, up to a certain degree, regardless of oral or written agreements between a seller and a buyer. In the United States, there are two types of implied warranty, one for "merchantability" and another for "fitness."
An implied warranty of merchantability guarantees a product will function as the manufacturer and/or merchant states it will. A manufacturer or merchant cannot advertise a glow-in-the-dark toy, only to sell a toy that does not glow in the dark, for example. When a product does not meet the reasonable understanding and expectation of the buyer, given the product's marketing, age, and condition, this type of implied warranty has been broken.
Meanwhile, an implied warranty of fitness regards the reason why a buyer selects a particular item from a seller. It guarantees that, if the seller assisted the buyer in selecting the product — that is, lended his or her "expertise" — the product will function for its intended purpose, no matter how unconventional. For example, if a buyer tells a seller he is looking for glue for a canvas-based art project, the seller must try his or her best to find a glue that works well with canvas. If the buyer is sold a glue under the assumption that it will adhere well to canvas, only to find out later it does not, the implied warranty of fitness has been broken, and he is eligible for a refund.
Guarantee vs. Warranty Example
In practice, guarantees are used less formally and/or apply to shorter periods of time than warranties do, as in the example below.
A lawn and garden store has a clear 14-day, money-back guarantee that it prints on all of its customers' receipts. If a customer isn't happy with his purchase because of a problem, or simply because he has changed his mind, he can return to the store with the product for a full refund, no questions asked. This guarantee is only good up to a reasonable point, however, as determined by the store's personal policy. For example, the same customer is not going to get a refund, simply because some of the tomato seeds he purchased do not sprout months later.
The same store sells lawn mowers, the most expensive of which come with a 2-year warranty from the manufacturer and the option to buy 1-2 years of additional warranty protection. As part of the store's money-back guarantee, those who buy lawn mowers can return them, unused, within 14 days of purchase.
If a woman buys a lawn mower from this store, uses the machine normally for six months, only to have the motor malfunction in the seventh month, she may contact the manufacturer and request repairs, which the company will be obliged to fulfill, by law, as part of their warranty contract, which guarantees optimum operational use of mowers for 2-4 years (depending on the warranty agreement). If the company discovers she personally caused the motor to malfunction through misuse — i.e., a defect is not the cause of the malfunction — she may have voided the warranty, at which point she must cover the cost of repairs herself. Likewise, if a similar malfunction were to occur during month 26 of ownership, and the woman has not purchased the additional warranty protection, she must cover the cost of repair or replacement herself then as well.
Length of Time
Guarantees may or may not be bound by time, and they may or may not explicitly announce when and if they are bound by time. For example, a food manufacturer may guarantee the quality of a packaged food (e.g., on the back of the product) and may give a refund to anyone who dislikes the flavor or general quality of the food — but likely only before it has passed its printed expiration date. If the food has passed its shelf-life, the manufacturer is unlikely to offer a customer a refund. This is an example of a guarantee basically functioning like warranties typically do, without any significant contract.
As warranties are usually contracts, they are often valid and binding for a specific length of time, usually 12 to 24 months, and sometimes customers can further extend a warranty. More expensive products, such as electronic goods, typically come with a one-year warranty by default (except in the UK and EU, where a 2-year warranty is the minimum required by law for electronics). Sellers will then try to sell longer-termed warranty protections as a separate product.
Credit Cards May Extend Warranty
Warranty Manager Service offers Extended Warranty Protection that doubles the time period of the original manufacturer’s written U.S. repair warranty up to one (1) additional year on eligible warranties of three (3) years or less when an item is purchased entirely with your eligible Visa card.
Some companies will back, repair, and/or replace their products for a lifetime, should they become defective. "Lifetime" here does not refer to the lifetime of the buyer, but to the length of time the item remains in production (and sometimes for a short time after that). Within the grand scheme of material goods, relatively few products come with lifetime warranties. Additionally, any damage caused by a buyer is not covered by a warranty, lifetime or otherwise.
- UCC § 2-313. Express Warranties by Affirmation, Promise, Description, Sample - Legal Information Institute
- UCC § 2-314. Implied Warranty: Merchantability; Usage of Trade - Legal Information Institute
- UCC § 2-315. Implied Warranty: Fitness for Particular Purpose - Legal Information Institute
- What is an express warranty? - Nolo.com
- What is an implied warranty? - Nolo.com
- Wikipedia: Guarantee
- Wikipedia: Warranty
- Wikipedia: Implied warranty