Will You Find Your Warranty Coverage Now That It Is Online?

September 16, 2015

Today everything is going electronic, from taxes and court filings, to car shopping, and medical prescriptions. To keep up with the electronic revolution, Congress passed the E-Warranty Act of 2015 to amend the Magnuson-Moss Warranty—Federal Trade Commission Improvement Act (15 U.S.C. 2302(b)) on September 8, 2015. Congress found that manufacturers and consumers prefer online information because the Internet grants easier information access and is environmentally friendly.
Under the E-Warranty Act there is still no legal duty to provide a warranty, however, the Act changes the method by which electronics manufactures can satisfy legal notice requirements for warranties by allowing warranty terms to be available electronically instead of on paper. To ensure that consumers have access to warranty information, the manufacturer must provide, in the product packaging or the product manual, methods by which a consumer can access the warranty information on the Internet.
Technology companies and consumer advocates rejoiced with the passage of this “common sense” legislation.

Despite, the joyful cheers from consumer advocates, the E-Warranty Act may not be advantageous for consumers

because: (1)   it reduces electronic manufacturers’ duty to individual consumers such that manufacturers no longer owe a duty to inform individual consumers of warranty information and instead, now only owe a duty to provide warranty information that the universe of consumers may access at the point of sale;
(2)   warranty pamphlets that previously accompanied products are no longer available to indicate the status of any additional explicit warranties;

  1. Manufacturers no longer have a duty to inform individual consumers of warranty protection

The E-Warranty Act hurts consumers who are poor or older as it redirects manufacturers’ legal notice obligations from individual consumers to the universe of consumers. Prior to the E-Warranty Act, manufacturers’, that protected its products with explicit warranties, were required to print and pack warranty pamphlets or papers in each consumer’s product. In this regard, manufacturers took steps to equip each consumer with the same knowledge of the available product warranties no matter the consumer’s resources. Manufacturers carried the onus to inform consumers of warranty protections and owed a duty to provide individual consumers, regardless of their different circumstances, with knowledge.
However, under the E-Warranty Act, manufacturers need only create warranty information, tell consumers where they can find warranty information online, and place the information on the Internet. The Act may adequately provide warranty information to the bulk of consumers with Internet access and the know-how to use a computer, however, for poor or elderly individuals, who may lack Internet access or the know how to use a computer, the E-Warranty Act impairs their ability to access knowledge. The Act now places the onus on the individual consumer to inform himself of the warranty protections offered.
Furthermore, the E-Warranty Act amendments may result in manufacturers unintentionally misrepresenting warranty information to consumers. The E-Warranty Act requires manufacturers to use printed paper to notify consumers where to access online warranty information. As time goes the Internet changes, while the printed access information stays constant. This may result in consumers finding that the web address indicated in the product packaging or product manual may no longer work, or it may not contain the information that the manufacturer promised. Because the E-Warranty Act made no mention of updating consumers on new access points for warranty information it may leave consumers on a wild goose chase in search of warranty information. Overall, the E-Warranty Act requires manufacturers to provide warranty information and asks them to provide online access information to consumers, at the point of sale, but relieves manufacturers of duties to ensure that individual consumers with varying resources and skills can access warranty information over the life of their product.

  1. Consumers no longer have a cue to indicate the presence or absence of additional explicit product warranties

The E-Warranty Act no longer requires warranty pamphlets in product packaging and removes an important cue that indicated to consumers whether the product was covered by additional explicit warranties. Under the E-Warranty Act, warranty pamphlets are no longer required. Thus, consumers no longer have the immediate recognition that if something goes wrong with this product the manufacturer may cover it. Instead, consumers must search a 50-page product manual for a web address that indicates whether or not the product is covered by a warranty. As the Act provides no guidance for how or where manufacturers must provide access information in the product manuals or packaging, consumers may believe that the product is not covered by a warranty because they did not find the warranty web address buried in the large product manual. Without the warranty pamphlet cue, consumers no longer immediately understand what warranties a manufacturer provides, and instead must search manuals to determine if a warranty exists on the product. In this regard the E-Warranty Act, again, places additional burdens on consumers.