Federal law requires that every warranty be labeled as either full or limited. The minimum standards to be labeled "full"  are:

  • It cannot restrict the warranty rights of a subsequent owner during its stated duration;
  • It must promise to remedy defects within a reasonable time without charge;
  • It cannot limit the duration of any implied warranty;
  • It cannot limit consequential damages unless such exclusion or limitation conspicuously appears on the face of the warranty;
  • It must permit the consumer, after a reasonable number of attempts by the warrantor to remedy the defect, to elect a refund or replacement of the defective product or part; and
  • In most cases, it must require no duty of the consumer other than notification of the defect.

Very few warranties these days are "full,"  thus these requirements have not had much impact. 

Limited warranties, on the other hand, which are what most warranties are these days, can be restricted in any number of ways, including who may enforce the warranty, the duration of the warranty, what parts of the vehicle are covered, as well as requiring the buyer to take certain steps as a precondition's duties. 

To decide if your vehicle or the problem you are experiencing is covered, you will need to review your warranty to detemine if it has expired, or, if the defective part is covered by the warranty, what duties you must perform to obtain covereage, and if the warrranty has any exclusions or disclaimers that would give the warrantor the right to deny the claim. For example, many warranties do not cover "pre-existing problems."  This means that if the defect existed at the time of purchase, the warranty is not going to cover it.  Therefore purchasing a limited warranty with such an exclusion is of no benefit for mechanical or prior accident damage problems that exist at the time of purchase that could be claimed to be the result of those pre-existing problems.  

If your defect is excluded, all hope is not lost. State laws generally imply certain warranties, such as the warranty of merchantability, and if you are given a written warranty, the warranty of merchantability applies for the duration of the written warranty. 

It is for this reason that we strongly encourage a detailed inspection by a qualified mechanic and body shop prior to purchase to detemine if the vehicle has prior accident damage or existing mechanical problems that will provide an excuse for the warrantor to disclaim responsibility for a claim you may have. 

If the seller of your vehicle failed to provide you with this information or is failing to live up to its terms, you may have a claim for breach of warranty, and sometimes attorney fees are recoverable. We encourage you to contact us for more information about protecting your legal rights. Call us today at 804-282-7900.

John Cole Gayle, Jr.
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Consumer Law Pioneer and Co-Author of Virginia's Lemon Law