You wouldn't buy a refrigerator, say, without reading product reviews and user ratings. But before making a major purchase, it's also wise to read the warranty to find out exactly what's included and what you have to do to get service. And federal law gives you a right to do just that.
Under the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and the Federal Trade Commission's pre-sale availability rule, retailers must make the written warranty available before you buy the item or, in some cases, include a statement on how you can get it. It applies to products costing more than $15. It doesn't matter if it's a walk-in store, website, catalog, or door-to-door sale.
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Unfortunately, we've heard stories and seen merchant fine print that suggest that not all retailers are aware of the rule or they're not always following it.
Amazon.com tells shoppers that if they want a copy of the warranty for a product they purchased on the site, they should contact the manufacturer, although the warranty might be available on some of Amazon's product pages.
In October 2011, Georgia consumer Melodie Eisenberg complained to the FTC that a salesperson at Best Buy refused to show her the written warranty for a computer modem she was planning to buy. When she called the retailer's headquarters, she said, she was told the employee was not allowed to open the box, which contained the warranty.
Best Buy told us that it requires its employees to provide pre-purchase copies of product warranties, and it sent us a copy of its operating procedures, which say exactly that. BestBuy.com provides an address and phone number that customers can use to obtain copies of warranties.
WHAT TO DO If you're buying a costly item, don't rely on a vague reference to warranty coverage in an ad or on a store display. Read the complete warranty terms. You may find out that if the roduct breaks within the warranty period, you may be entitled to only a refurbished item, or perhaps that you're responsible for the cost of getting the product to the manufacturer or its authorized repair facility.
If the merchant balks at your request to see the warranty, explain that its failure to show it to you violates federal law. If the retailer still won't budge, you can try asking the manufacturer for a copy or looking on its website. Also consider filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and shopping elsewhere.
For more information about your warranty rights, read our story "The word on warranty protection" .
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