Consumer Law

What’s the Difference Between a “Full” Warranty and a “Limited” Warranty?

By Amy Loftsgordon, Attorney
Warranty titles give consumers insight into the important terms and conditions of the warranty.

A manufacturer or seller that offers written warranties must give its warranties a title. The title must designate the warranty as “full” or “limited.” For example, the title might be “Full Six Year Warranty” or “Limited Warranty on Parts for the Second through Fourth Years.” The title gives the consumer insight into the protections that the warranty offers.

A full warranty promises the consumer that the manufacturer or seller will repair the item for free during the warranty period. If the company can't fix the problem in a reasonable number of attempts and in a reasonable amount of time, it has to give the consumer a refund or replace the item.

In addition, full warranties have the following characteristics.

  • The warranty is good for anyone who owns the product during the warranty period—not just the original person who bought the product.
  • A full warranty won’t limit the length of implied warranties. Implied warranties are unspoken and unwritten promises from a merchant to a buyer. They are created by state law. The two types of implied warranties in consumer transactions are the implied warranty of merchantability and the implied warranty of fitness. The implied warranty of merchantability guarantees that the product will do what it is advertised and marketed to do. For example, if a merchant sells you an oven, the implied warranty of merchantability is that the oven will cook food at a specific temperature. The implied warranty of fitness guarantees that the product will work for a specific purpose. For example, if customer tells a merchant that she needs a fishing rod for fly fishing and the merchant sells her a rod that is suitable for deep sea fishing—but not fly fishing—the merchant has breached the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose.
  • To claim your rights under the warranty, you don’t have to do anything other than let the warrantor know that the item is defective. For example, with a full warranty you don’t have to ship a defective refrigerator back to the factory.

Depending on how the state law is written, a full warranty might cover a limited period after the consumer buys the item, perhaps two years, or it might cover the product "for life."

A limited warranty restricts the warranty to specific parts, certain types of defects, or has other limitations. Limited warranties, unlike full warranties, can include a provision that restricts implied warranties to the length of the limited warranty. For example, a three-year limited warranty can limit the implied warranties to three years. Limited warranties, like full warranties, might cover only a specific period, like 90 days.

If you are planning on buying a product with a warranty, understanding these terms can help you make an informed decision.

Go to the main warranty FAQ page.

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