Can my warranty force me to buy a specific item or service?
Generally, no. Manufacturers and sellers can’t condition a warranty by requiring that you buy something from a specific company for service or maintenance. Here is an example:
“This warranty is void if service is performed by anyone other than an authorized ‘ABC’ dealer and all replacement parts must be genuine ‘ABC’ parts.” 16 C.F.R. 700.10(c).
This type of clause, known as a tie-in clause, is prohibited.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act
The prohibition against tie-in requirements in warranties comes from the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (MMWA), a federal law enacted in 1975. Congress passed the MMWA to ensure:
- Consumers would get complete information about warranty terms and conditions
- Consumers could compare warranty coverage
- Companies honor their warranty obligations without customers having to wait long or pay extra
The MMWA requires manufacturers and sellers of goods to provide clear and detailed information about warranty coverage. The MMWA does not force manufacturers and sellers to issue a warranty; rather, if a consumer has purchased a good with a warranty attached, the warranty must comply with the MMWA.
Tie-in clauses are unlawful under the MMWA unless the company providing the warranty obtained a waiver from the government.
Critics said that the MMWA’s tie-in provisions did not go far enough because the companies who draft warranties sometimes use language that suggests a requirement to buy parts or services from a certain company without actually requiring those purchases. This type of language leads reasonable consumers to believe that warranty coverage will end unless they purchase parts or services from the stated company.
In 2015, the FTC amended the regulations about tie-in provisions to make them even more protective of consumers against this type of “deceptive” language. The regulations now explain that warrantors violate the MMWA when a warranty’s language “implies” to a reasonable consumer that she must purchase a certain item or service for her warranty coverage to continue.
What to Do if Your Warranty Has a Tie-In Provision
If you have a warranty with a tie-in provision prohibited by the MMWA, you may be able to file a lawsuit for damages, for example, the amount you spent on services or parts that you thought you had to purchase.
You may also be entitled to an order from a court clarifying that the tie-in provision is void and unenforceable. If you prevail in court, you may also be entitled to costs and expenses, including for your attorneys’ fees.
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