What can you do legally when your new appliance turns out to be a lemon?
Power of Attorney: Lemon Appliances
by Deborah Michelle Sanders
Lemon Laws and Appliances
The Quiet Consumer Learns to Speak Up
If the manufacturer has given a warranty on your refrigerator, washer or dryer, dishwasher, or other major appliance, you probably have rights under both state law (the Uniform Commercial Code, or UCC) and the federal Magnuson-Moss Act. The Magnuson-Moss Act standardizes the terms of consumer warranties, should the manufacturer decide to offer any warranty at all. And, of course, I am sure that you know that you need a warranty when you purchase a major appliance, and wouldn't purchase one without it.
Under the UCC, the description of the appliance features that the manufacturer has given on the box or carton or instruction pamphlet becomes part of the guarantee unless such description is immediately followed by a statement that the manufacturer is not promising anything.
Most warranties are limited; the buyer has a certain timeframe for the guarantee, and there are certain conditions that must be met for the warranty to remain in force - for example, if the buyer smashes the television screen with a sledgehammer, the warranty won't pay. Sometimes, there is a short period of full warranty followed by a longer period of limited warranty.
If there is no written warranty, your state's law may still award you an "implied warranty of fitness" or an "implied warranty of merchantability." These are promises that the appliance will do what the sales literature affirmed (fitness) or that the appliance will perform its basic functions (merchantability - for example, that a washing machine will have a wash, rinse, and a spin cycle). It is very important to keep copies of all of the advertisements and sales literature you relied on, so you can stake a claim under these implied warranties. If you buy over the Internet, print the screens that gave you the sales information.
Please note that if a product is sold "as is," there is no warranty of any kind on the product.
It is always a good idea to make major purchases with a credit card that offers a double warranty period. Furthermore, if you purchase by credit card, you have the advantage of being able to use your card issuer as a mediator in any dispute you have with the manufacturer before you have paid the credit card bill in question.
Don't buy an extended warranty unless you are certain that you will be inflicting extreme use on your new appliance. In general, extended warranties are profit centers for retailers, and few claims are actually made by consumers.
Products manufactured outside the United States may not have warranties comparable to domestic goods, and you may have to ship a defective item abroad for service. This is a good reason to "buy USA."
Save your sales receipt to prove the date that your warranty began. You do not need to send in the registration card, and, if you decide to send it in anyway, you do not need to fill in the "interests and demographic" blanks - such information is simply used for direct marketing campaigns. (For products like car seats for children, it is a good idea to send in the registration card so that you will be notified if there is a product recall.)
The length of your warranty period is extended, under the law of many states, by the amount of time that you were without the appliance because it was in transit to the manufacturer for repair or was in the manufacturer's shop.
If you have to write a letter of complaint, enclose COPIES, not the originals, of all advertising material upon which you relied, of your receipt, and of the written guarantee(s). Include in your letter the names of all customer service representatives that you have talked to by phone and the dates on which you conversed with them, as well as noting the substance of your dialogue. Include in your letter both the model and serial numbers of your appliance. State in your letter that if you don't receive a satisfactory response within 30 days, you will bring the matter to the state department of consumer affairs and the Better Business Bureau. Keep a copy of your letter and all the supporting documents you sent. Send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested. If you don't get the help you need within the month you specified, follow up with the state department or the BBB, enclosing copies of your letter to the manufacturer and the attachments.
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As a last resort, you may have to sue in small claims court. Proceedings there are informal, and you can make your case in a short oral presentation with the same documents that you sent to the company in your letter of complaint. Phone your local court to learn more about how to file a suit in your county.
Deborah Michelle Sanders is an attorney active in California and inactive in New York and Massachusetts and writes articles on law for the consumer. (c) Deborah Michelle Sanders
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