Free and lengthy warranties that
once gave consumers confidence about their purchases are fast becoming a vanishing
On many expensive consumer electronic
items and personal computers, warranties are shrinking. Instead
of getting a standard one-year warranty for parts and labor, consumers
are getting less and are often being pushed by manufacturers and
retailers to shell out money for extended warranties that critics
say are basically worthless.
"Manufacturers are sending a message. They believe
the unit has become disposable. They are telling buyers, 'If it
breaks, don't call us. Get a new one,'" says Eric Arnum, editor
of Warranty Week, a newsletter for warranty management professionals.
Recently Dell and Gateway shortened warranties on
many of their products from about a year to 90 days.
In the case of Gateway, warranties on eMachines and
systems sold at retail shops are still good for one year, but the
company has cut its warranties on certain desktop computers and
notebooks sold online.
Dell has reduced its standard warranty to 90 days
on all its Dimension desktop and Inspiron notebook computers. It
has done the same thing for the printers, MP3 players and hand-held
gizmos it sells.
"They are now charging buyers money for what
used to be standard operating procedure [and covered under warranty],"
says Martin Bosworth, a staff writer for Consumeraffairs.com, a
Web site devoted to consumer news and resources.
In part, shrinking warranties can be correlated to
lower product prices, at least according to the companies selling
the gear. Dell did not return repeated phone calls, but the company
has gone on record as saying that the limits on warranties are just
a response to consumer demand for cheaper products.
The company's perspective: Cutting warranties means
lowered costs that are then passed on to buyers. The manufacturer
also says that most problems and breakdowns appear within the first
90 days, so longer warranties aren't necessary.
A push for extended warranties
At the same time that manufacturers are slashing standard warranties,
which cost consumers nothing, they are pressuring people to buy
expensive -- and what many critics believe are unnecessary -- extended
warranties. "You hobble your own product warranty in order
to encourage purchasers to buy the extended warranty," Arnum
Bosworth says that manufacturers are using stronger
tactics to get consumers to buy extended warranties. He says he
noticed that the extended warranty offer box is automatically checked
when you buy a computer online from Dell -- an unobtrusive (some
might say sneaky) way to get consumers locked into buying an extended
Arnum says that when you buy an expensive appliance
from one of the major home-improvement chains, you can count on
getting a call from a company representative urging you to buy the
extended warranty, even after your online purchase. "They know
it does take a sale to get the consumer to buy the extended warranty,
but it's a sale that is really worth their time."