Warranties and guarantees

Myth or fact?

A warranty has to be in writing to be legally valid.
  • Myth
  • Fact

When you buy something, you expect it to work. In an ideal world, everything you buy would be of high quality, durable, and meet your expectations. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. In these situations, it helps to understand how warranties and guarantees work.

What you should know

What is a warranty and is it different from a guarantee?

A warranty or a guarantee is a promise about the quality of goods sold and what will be done if there are problems. 

Under the law, a certain level of quality, performance, and durability is implied in every sale of goods. This legal warranty applies regardless of whether the seller or manufacturer mentions it.

In addition, many sellers and manufacturers offer a warranty or guarantee for their product. 

These promises vary widely. They can be written or verbal. They can arise from a sales pitch, an advertisement, or a formal declaration (for example, through a “warranty card” that a manufacturer includes with their product). 

They can come in formal settings — for example, if on buying a new car, you purchase an “extended warranty” from the manufacturer. Or they can arise in informal settings. If your neighbour sells you his used lawnmower and says “This lawnmower is as good as new,” that is a warranty. 

The legal warranty is a level of quality, performance and durability that’s implied by law in every sale of goods. 

What this means is that when you buy something from a business, it has to be: 

  • fit for the purpose you bought it for 

  • of merchantable quality 

  • durable for a reasonable period of time

  • as described — that is, it matches the seller’s advertising and any statements or representations made by the seller at the time of the sale 

These conditions, explained in more detail below, are established by this law. This legal warranty applies whether the seller mentions it or not. It’s on top of any warranty the seller or manufacturer provide. 

If any of these conditions aren’t met, the legal warranty gives you the right to get the item repaired or replaced, or to cancel the contract and get a full refund (see our guidance on if there is a problem with a purchase for more details on your options). 

When you buy a used item, you can agree to give up (waive) these conditions. But any attempt by the seller to have you waive these conditions must be done in clear and unambiguous language. 

The legal warranty doesn’t help you if the item was damaged by wear and tear, an accident, or misuse. It also doesn’t apply if you examined the goods before buying them and ought to have seen any defect.

Tip

If you buy privately from an individual, the legal warranty is more limited than if you buy from a business. If you buy something from an individual, it only has to be durable for a reasonable period of time and match the description of the goods. Two other conditions — that an item be fit for the purpose you bought it for and of “merchantable” quality — apply only when you buy from someone who is in the business of selling goods. 

Fit for the purpose, merchantable quality, reasonably durable: what do these conditions mean?

Fit for the purpose

An item you buy is fit for the purpose if it works the way it’s supposed to. For example, a bicycle is fit for the purpose if you can safely ride it.

Fit for the purpose can also matter if you buy something based on the seller’s advice that it’s suitable for a particular purpose. For example, a bike shop that suggests you buy a particular type of bike for pulling an infant trailer is promising that the bike will be suitable for that purpose. 

Of merchantable quality

An item you buy is of merchantable quality if it can be reasonably used and isn’t damaged or broken. In other words, it has to work. This is protection against a product that’s substantially defective, or a lemon.

For example, a lawnmower that doesn't start is not of merchantable quality.

Reasonably durable

“I bought a couch from a popular furniture store. My 175lb Great Dane took an immediate liking to it. After nine months, the couch was ruined. I contacted the furniture store, saying that a couch should last longer than that. The store said that a large dog regularly using the couch wasn’t ‘normal use’ for a couch, so the legal warranty no longer applied.”

– Cynthia, Burnaby, BC

An item you buy must last a reasonable length of time. What’s considered reasonable will vary depending on factors such as the type of product, the price paid, the use the product would normally be put to, and the circumstances of the sale. 

For example, an expensive high-end product will be protected under the legal warranty longer than a cheaper, low-quality product.

Here are a few instances where courts found a breach of the condition that the product last a reasonable period of time. In each case the seller had to compensate the consumer:

  • a high-definition TV bought for $3,000 failed after two and a half years

  • a concrete countertop in an outdoor kitchen started crumbling and discolouring after two years 

  • a convertible costing $40,000 had persistent leaks that caused the interior to “clearly deteriorate in an accelerated fashion” by the time the car was five years old

As described

An item you buy must match any description or sample provided. The item must reflect:   

  • the seller’s advertising 

  • a description of the item in a contract, catalogue, or website

  • any statements or representations the seller made, verbally or in writing, at the time of the sale 

Let’s say you order a pair of shoes online. The shoes are described on the seller’s website as genuine leather. The shoes arrive, and they’re synthetic. Because the shoes don’t match the description, the seller has breached the legal warranty. You’re entitled to send them back.

If the seller or manufacturer offer a warranty or guarantee

Many sellers and manufacturers offer a warranty or guarantee for their product, separate from the legal warranty

This is a promise they make about the quality of goods, and what they’ll do if there are problems.

These promises vary widely.    

It’s critically important to read the terms of any warranty or guarantee when you buy something to understand what’s being promised. The term "guaranteed" when used alone means little. Guaranteed for what? To last one week?  

The warranty or guarantee could be on your receipt, in an email, or given to you as a separate leaflet.

The paperwork will typically say:

  • how long the warranty or guarantee lasts 

  • what you’re entitled to — for example, a refund, repair or replacement

  • how to make a claim

When you buy something, you may have to fill in a registration card and send it back to the manufacturer to “activate” the warranty or guarantee. Alternatively, you may be able to register online.

Tip

Manufacturer's warranties are often not valid from one country to another. If you buy electronics during a visit abroad (or buy from a foreign retailer over the internet), the manufacturer's warranty may not protect you at home in Canada, even if the same product is available for sale in Canada. 

If you are invited to purchase an “extended warranty”

When you make a purchase, you may be invited to buy an extended warranty. This is a promise by a company — in exchange for you paying a certain amount in advance — to cover repairs and maintenance for a given period if there are problems. 

But be aware that an extended warranty may not give you any more rights than you already have through the legal warranty explained above. 

If you're thinking about an extended warranty, check its terms:

  • How long is the extended warranty good for?

  • What will the company do if the item fails? Will they repair the item, replace it, or return your money?

  • Who do you contact to obtain warranty service? Does the store where you bought the item take care of any repairs or do you have to ship it somewhere at your own cost? 

  • What’s covered under the extended warranty? Is it parts and service, or just parts?

  • Do certain actions void your extended warranty? Some warranties only provide coverage if you maintain or use the item as directed. For example, a warranty may specify that you must get any servicing done by an authorized repair person. 

As well, consider the cost of the item versus the cost of the extended warranty. Would it be less expensive to replace the item rather than purchase an extended warranty?

Work out problems

If there’s a problem with an item you’ve purchased, notify the seller or manufacturer in writing as quickly as possible. Tell them what’s gone wrong and give the seller or manufacturer a chance to correct the problem.  

When you notify the seller or manufacturer, you should include:

  • a description of what was bought or agreed to (include the date) 

  • proof of purchase — usually a receipt showing where and when you bought the item

  • details of the problem, including when you first noticed it 

  • what you want them to do to resolve the problem — that is, repair the item, replace it, or give you a refund

You can use our template letter to write to the other party.  

Step 2. Claim under any other warranty or guarantee

A warranty or guarantee provided by the seller or manufacturer will typically say how you make a claim under it. You may be required to submit certain documents or information. If you can’t find the warranty or guarantee, contact the seller or manufacturer and ask if they have a copy.

When you make a claim under a warranty or guarantee, you should include:

  • a description of what was bought or agreed to (include the date)      

  • proof of purchase — usually a receipt showing where and when you bought the item

  • a copy of the warranty or guarantee

  • details of what the problem is, including when you first noticed it 

  • what you want them to do to resolve the problem — that is, to repair the item, replace it, or give you a refund

To find out more about enforcing your rights as a consumer, read our guidance on if there is a problem with a purchase.

Who can help

Helpful agencies

Consumer Protection BC
Assistance relating to certain types of consumer problems and contracts in BC.
Better Business Bureau
Receives complaints about local businesses that are members.

  • Reviewed in January 2020
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Time to read: 8 minutes

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