There are plenty of gadgets that have shipped over the past few decades with a sticker that warns you that you’ll void your warranty if you remove or break it. The idea is to keep you from opening your laptop, game console, or other device to repair or replace parts on your own… or absolve the device maker of responsibility for fixing your mistakes if you do so.
But there’s a problem: for the most part companies aren’t allowed to do that in the United States.
This week the US Federal Trade Commission sent a friendly reminder when it “sent warning letters to six major companies” expressing concerns over “statements that consumers must us specified parts or services providers to keep their warranties intact.”
While the FTC didn’t name the 6 companies that were recipients of its letters, the agency does note that they “market and sell automobiles, cellular devices, and video gaming systems,” making it clear that that the 1975 Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act applies to a wide range of product types.
The FTC is calling out a range of practices that it says are in violation of the law, including language that says:
- Your warranty is invalidated if a warranty seal has been altered, removed or defaced.
- The warranty is void if you fail to use a company’s official parts with the product.
- A warranty does not apply if a product is used with another product that’s not sold or or licensed by the company.
In other words, if you have to break a seal to open a laptop and replace a stick of RAM, a PC maker can’t tell you that you invalidated the warranty. If you buy a replacement part from a third-party seller, that shouldn’t void your warranty either. And using third-party accessories (like a toner cartridge for a printer) shouldn’t break your warranty.
The only significant exception to these rules? Consumer products that cost $15 or less. Companies can void the heck out of your warranty all they want if you attempt to fix a cheap, crappy toy.