What’s in a Lifetime?

By Susan MacKay, Gary Law Group
November 14, 2017
THE TALK... | Codes & Standards

The duration of a manufacturer warranty is generally defined either as lifetime or a period of time (e.g. a 10-year warranty). Have you ever stopped to consider what “Lifetime Warranty” means? Lifetime of what? Is lifetime measured by the life of the product, of the person owning the product, or the life of the manufacturer? The answer is that it can be any—but a well-written warranty will define how lifetime is measured.

The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act details requirements for written warranties provided with consumer goods. Regardless of whether windows are or are not consumer goods (sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t), the Act and corresponding regulations are useful to consider.

With respect to lifetime, the regulations advise: “If an advertisement uses ‘lifetime,’ ‘life,’ or similar representations to describe the duration of a warranty or guarantee, then the advertisement should disclose, with such clarity and prominence as will be noticed and understood by prospective purchasers, the life to which the representation refers.” In short, say what “lifetime” means and make sure the consumer can see and understand it.

Lifetime of the Product

When lifetime refers to the product, the following definition applies: “the product will be free from defects in material and workmanship for the life of the product.” In this context, the question becomes what is the life of the product? If the warranty defines the “lifetime” of the product, how is it different from a warranty for a stated duration? If the expected life of the product is not stated, how does one determine when the lifetime warranty ends?

Lifetime of the Purchaser

“The product will be free from defects in material and workmanship for as long as you own your home,” is another definition.  This limits coverage to the original purchaser for either the lifetime of the purchaser or until the home is sold. Given the mobility of Americans, it is generally the sale of the home that ends coverage rather than death of the owner. This definition is most often used in lifetime warranties provided by window and door manufacturers.

Lifetime of the Manufacturer

Finally, “the product will be free from defects in material and workmanship for as long as the manufacturer remains in operation,” is also a definition. However, it may not inspire much consumer confidence in the product or company. I’ve never seen a warranty defining “lifetime” as such, but this result is not out of the question if the term is not defined.

No matter how you define “lifetime,” it is important to clearly define what it applies to in your warranty to ensure that the warranty is applied and interpreted as you intended.

Susan MacKay is an attorney with The Gary Law Group, a law firm based in Portland focusing on legal issues facing manufacturers of windows and doors. Contact her at 503/620-6615 or susan@prgarylaw.com.

Comments

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Great article. Touches upon key warranty language interpretation.

Dear Susan,

This is a very important point that you make. I always explain to my customers that "lifetime" isn't what you may think it is and to read the warranty in detail. As a consumer I want a sales person to be upfront with me and educate me rather than "sell" me so why wouldn't I do that as a business owner?! Every time I discuss what "lifetime" means to a homeowner they are never surprised to hear that the word has little meaning but they are very happy that I bring it to their attention as it proves to them I'm being honest and they can trust doing business with me. It's also important to note that the warranties never cover labor which most homeowners think it does.

Good article.
Best~
Jeannie Frankowski, owner
J.C. Lilly Windows & Doors
Chicago, IL