Is it Illegal to Condition Warranty Coverage on the Use of Specified Parts or Services?
On April 10, 2018, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it sent warning letters to six major companies that market and sell automobiles, cellular devices, and video gaming systems in the United States.
The letters warn about the FTC’s concerns about the statements of the companies that consumers must use specified parts or service providers to keep their warranties intact. Unless warrantors provide the parts or services for free or receive a waiver from the FTC, such statements, generally, are prohibited by the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, a law that governs consumer product warranties. Similarly, such statements may be deceptive under the FTC Act.
FTC staff recently took a closer look at the warranties and promotional materials of the various companies and saw language that raised concerns that some businesses were telling consumers that their warranty would be void if they used unauthorized parts or service. The following are examples of the language of the questionable warranty provisions:
The use of [the company’s parts] is required to keep your . . . manufacturer’s warranties and any extended warranties intact.
This warranty shall not apply if this product . . . is used with products not sold or licensed by [company name].
This warranty does not apply if this product . . . had had the warranty seal on the [product] altered, defaced, or removed.
FTC staff suggested that the companies review the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and, if necessary, revise their practices accordingly. The letters put the companies on notice that after 30 days, the FTC will be taking another look at their written warranties and promotional materials. FTC staff has requested that each company review its promotional and warranty materials to ensure that such materials do not state or imply that warranty coverage is conditioned on the use of specific parts of services.
Warranties Under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and Its Two Exceptions
According to the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act:
No warrantor of a consumer product may condition his written or implied warranty of such product on the consumer’s using, in connection with such product, any article or service (other than article or service provided without charge under the terms of the warranty) which is identified by brand, trade, or corporate name.
Thus, according to the FTC, a company cannot void a consumer’s warranty or deny warranty coverage solely because the consumer uses a part made by someone else or gets someone not authorized by the company to perform service on the product.
There are only two exceptions:
1) If the company provides the article or service to consumers for free; or
2) If the company gets a waiver from the FTC. Under 15 U.S.C. § 2302(c), the FTC may grant a waiver only if the company proves that “the warranted product will function properly only if the article or service so identified is used in connection with the warranted product, and the waiver is in the public interest.” Companies, according to the FTC, may, however, disclaim warranty coverage for defects or damage caused by the use of unauthorized parts or service.
Section 5 of the FTC Act’s Prohibition on Deception Applies to Misleading Warranty Claims
A violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, according to the FTC, is a violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act. But separate and apart from Magnuson-Moss, a claim that creates a false impression that a warranty would be void due to the use of unauthorized parts or service may be a stand-alone deceptive practice under the FTC Act.