“Just fix this darn thing. I’m sweating like a hog!”
A warranty is one of those things we don’t think about until we need it. Then comes the scramble to find out just what it says. That’s fine for a $35 mpeg player, but not so good when it comes to the hundreds or thousands of dollars tied up in an air conditioner system.
The time to read and understand a warranty is before you buy, not after.
There are two types of warranties you receive with the purchase of an air conditioner. The first is invisible, but it comes with everything you buy: an implied warranty. Any business selling to the public has an obligation to make their product safe and to have it perform as advertised. This warranty of merchantability means your air conditioner shouldn’t immediately catch on fire when you plug it in and it should actually produce cold air.
An implied warranty isn’t written down. It’s meant to boost consumer confidence and prevent outright fraud. Implied warranties automatically attach to anything sold commercially in the U.S. under our consumer protection laws.1
An express warranty is what the manufacturer offers in a written agreement to repair or replace some or all of a product for a specified time period.2 Under federal law, sellers must provide a written express warranty for products sold for more than $15. The written warranty doesn’t have to come as a separate printed sheet, it can be on the product label or even a sign where the item is sold. When it is printed out, it’s called a warranty certificate.
A third type of warranty may be offered, but isn’t automatic. Extended warranties are sold as additional protection, either by the manufacturer or the retailer. These have a reputation for abuse and consumers may assume they are buying insurance that covers repairs beyond the limits of the manufacturers normal warranty, when they are really buying a service contract.3
What Does a Warranty Certificate Contain?
- Who is covered by the warranty and for how long – the original purchaser will be covered, but many warranties are not transferable if you sell an item. All warranties have time limits, even when they say “lifetime,” you have to look to see how long “lifetime” really is.
- A description, in plain language of what parts are covered.
- Limitations and a listing of states where limitations may not apply.
- What a consumer must do to obtain relief under the warranty terms.
- The legal rights available to consumers.
Limitations are an important consideration. For example, some manufacturers will void all or part of a warranty under certain conditions. Two of the most significant for air conditioning systems are requiring an “authorized service technician” for installation, and a different warranty for direct consumer purchase (usually online) instead of buying at an authorized dealer.
After limitations, a key element is understanding what steps have to be taken to “activate” your warranty: Will the item have to be shipped back to the manufacturer? Who pays? Is labor covered or just parts?
Dissecting a Typical Warranty
The Goodman DSXC18 is a residential heat pump style air conditioning system that retails from three to four thousand dollars, depending on size.5 The actual warranty certificate appears here. Goodman has a very good warranty, and they promote it as part of their marketing.
What to note
The warranty on the compressor is for the lifetime of the original owner or spouse, so long as the unit is professionally installed (and properly registered) in the original home and on other parts, for ten years. Outside of these stipulations, the unit has a five year warranty.
Registration is required within 60 days of installation (not purchase) either through a warranty registration card or online at their website. 6 Failure to register will limit the warranty to the default 5 years.
Moving the unit from the original ac system install voids all warranties. Purchasing by telephone or over the internet also voids the warranty – unless the same dealer that sells the unit also installs it. The warranty is also a “parts” type. This means you are expected to ship them a defective part and get a repaired or new part in return. They are not obligated to install anything.
They also list a series of ten conditions where they will not accept responsibility, including improper installation, frozen water pipes, or a lack of proper maintenance, including lubrication and filter changes.
When purchasing a residential air conditioner, consumers are often confronted with competing brands that do not differ materially in capacity or price. As a practical matter, when you’ve narrowed your search down to a few different, but largely equal choices, it’s time to compare warranties.
Part of the comparison is on a point by point basis, paying attention to the length of the warranty and what’s covered. But after this, you’d like to know who in your area is both qualified and authorized to work on your system. Calling local HVAC service companies will tell you which brands they are registered with and whether they do warranty work.
A good warranty should absolutely sway you toward one product over another. It represents how confident a manufacturer is in their product.