On the Scarcity of Full Warranties

by Jeff Sovern

The federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act obliges sellers of most warranted consumer products to label the warranty either "full" or "limited."  15 U.S.C. § 2303(a).  But that distinction serves little purpose if manufacturers never provide full warranties.  I wondered how common full warranties are, and so I asked a research assistant, Eric Levine, to see what he could come up.  Alas, Eric could find no empirical evidence bearing on the scarcity of full warranties.  A few sources have noted that full warranties are less prevalent than limited warranties, see FindLaw, What is the Difference Between a Full Warranty and a Limited Warranty? (“Limited warranties are substantially more common” than full warranties); WiseGeek, What is a Full Warranty? (“In general, limited warranties are more frequently offered by manufacturers than full warranties.), but it is not clear what these observations are based on.  Consequently, I asked Eric to visit a store selling warranted consumer products to see how many had full warranties and how many limited. Of the twenty items he checked, seventeen carried limited warranties.  If you guessed that the remaining three warranties had full warranties, you were wrong: they were not labeled either full or limited; apparently their manufacturers were violating the Magnuson-Moss Act.    Not one warranty was full.  This is obviously only a tiny study conducted at one store, but when the tally for “not in compliance with the law” exceeds the number of items with full warranties, one may fairly wonder what the requirement that warranties be labelled full or limited is accomplishing. 

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