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How to Read a Warranty: What You Don’t Understand Will Hurt You  


Your new computer is working great. That is, until your clumsy cousin Brutus trips over his feet again, sending your brand new laptop careening out a second story window. As you stare at the electronic carcass on the sidewalk below, Brutus tells you not to worry.

“It’s still under warranty. You can just get a new one.”


One of the most common misconceptions about warranties is that they entitle you to an automatic replacement of an identical item, no questions asked. The truth is that warranties can be complex documents, and don’t always cover every breakdown — and won’t always replace your items, no matter what happens. And when you are investing in a vital piece of equipment, like a server, you want to know what is covered and what isn’t.

What Is a Warranty?

In the simplest terms, a warranty is a guarantee, from either a manufacturer or a seller, that a particular item is free of defect and will work as promised for a specified period. If the item fails during the warranty period, then the seller promises to repair or replace the item at no cost. There is no charge for a standard warranty.

What many consumers fail to recognize, though, is that a warranty doesn’t mean that you can misuse or abuse an item and expect to get a new one free. Most warranties have strict terms and conditions — hence the term “limited warranty.” This means that most warranties are only good for a specified amount of time, usually ranging from 90 days through three years (one year is the most common warranty duration) and only cover damage or malfunctions caused by a manufacturer defect. In other words, it’s unlikely that the computer that your cousin Brutus tosses out the window will be covered by a standard warranty.

Extended Warranties

Some companies allow consumers to purchase extended warranties, which are essentially insurance policies that expand the coverage offered by a standard warranty. For a flat fee, an extended warranty offers repairs and replacement for longer than the standard warranty term, and is more lenient in terms of what they cover. Depending on the policy purchased, there may still be limitations.


What You Should Know

Not everything you buy automatically comes with a warranty. One of the major drawbacks of purchasing used items from individual sellers (and even some resellers) is that they generally do not come with a warranty. Most used equipment is sold “as-is,” meaning that the purchaser is responsible for repairs.

That is why purchasing new, or from a reputable dealer of refurbished equipment, is often a better deal. Not only are you getting a better product, you are more likely to get a warranty as well. For example, if you purchase a Dell PowerEdge R610 from xByte, you’re getting a warrantied server that has been restored to factory condition. If you purchased the same item from an individual, you have no guarantee of the condition, as well as no recourse if it doesn’t work.

When you purchase an item with a warranty, you need to read the document carefully to ensure you completely understand all of the terms and conditions. Some of the points you need to highlight include:

  • Length of the warranty. When does it take effect, and when does it end?
  • What does the warranty cover? Some warranties only cover certain parts or functions.
  • Are there limitations on the warranty? If you are using a consumer product for business, for example, you may invalidate the warranty. You may also void the warranty if you use an item for an unintended purpose, or use unapproved or off-brand accessories.
  • What does the warranty promise to do if things go wrong? Will the company repair or replace the item, or refund your money?
  • What is the claim process? Who do you need to call?
  • Who will perform any repairs? Most companies require authorized technicians to perform repairs; you may need to send a product to the company to have it repaired.
  • Are there other conditions that you must meet to make a claim? Some companies require consumers to return items in the original packaging, for example. Before you recycle any packaging or inserts, read the warranty terms to ensure you won’t need them later. In addition, confirm that you have met any requirements for registration and maintenance to avoid voiding the warranty.

It’s important to read any warranty documents thoroughly before you begin using a new product. Highlight important points, and consider creating a separate document that clearly outlines all of the information you need.

Ideally, you’ll never need to take advantage of a warranty, but if you do, it’s best to know what is actually covered, and avoid unpleasant (and expensive) surprises.