How Warranties Work: 2. Basic Types - Express & Implied Warranties

How Warranties Work:  2. Basic Types - Express & Implied Warranties

There are two basic kinds of warranties, express and implied, both of which provide remedies to a customer if their product is found to be defective. Before I go into the differences let me clarify what these usually cover.

The Manufacturer's Defect

A 25 year warranty covering manufacturing defects does not mean that the product will be perfect for 25 years (or even that it will last that long). It does apply to any manufacturing defects found in that time. For instance, we sell laminate flooring, made of a few layers of different materials combined into single boards. If the top layer, the image of the wood with its shiny, protective top, separates from the board, it’s called "delamination". We don’t want delamination, so our manufacturers make the floors such that they won’t do that, and they guarantee that to our customers.

Let’s say 15 years into the life of a product with a 25 year warranty, the boards start to delaminate.

We’ve got images peeling up off the floor all over the room. Assuming the floor wasn’t installed in the sauna (where the warranty would be void, because of all the steam) this should be covered by the warranty. The floor wasn’t manufactured to be impervious to every form of scratching, or from damage by the falling of a scratchy brick, but it was designed to stay intact for the 25 years of the warranty, and it hasn’t. It’s a defect that was already in the product at the time of purchase which made itself known within the warrantied time period. The manufacturer owns that one, and has to remedy the situation. Make sense? Onward then.

The Express Warranty

Ricky cuts our samples. Basically, these are any promises the seller volunteers to make available to her customers. They have been “expressed”, as in stated with words, rather than implied (not stated, just known, wink-wink, nudge-nudge). These stated promises can be offered explicitly in any one of many modes. They can be made on an actual warranty certificate, as claims in advertising, in descriptions of the product, even in the provision of samples, which need to accurately reflect the final product sold. I’m pleased to say that at Floors To Your Home, we cut our own samples. We just open a box of the flooring someone wants to see and slice off a packageably sized piece for the person who has asked to see one. This makes accurate representation a sure thing for us.

Now, you might think that express warranties can only be written, but that isn’t the case. This includes any promise stated at all as a promise. The caveat is that only the written ones are covered by the Magnuson-Moss law. Also, while verbally stated promises create some legal requirements for those who make them, they have to be stated as promises. Sales talk, hyperbole, what some call ‘puffing’ (and I call lying) such as “This bicycle will outlive you!” will probably not hold up in court if a claim is made by a living 80 year old man whose 65 year old bike has given out.

Now, if the warranty is given without directly stating how long it is in effect, then the general rule is that a warranty of unspecified duration is considered valid for four years. Also, even if the seller gives you an express warranty, the law still considers the product to be covered under the other major type of warranty, . . .

The Implied Warranty

Our situation with implied warranties is better than my wink and nudge remark in the previous post might have … uh, implied. An implied warranty is an unwritten, also unspoken, but automatic promise that the law assumes all sellers make to all buyers: the things sold will actually work properly. A floor, for instance, should not be ruined by being walked upon.

Where express warranties are covered by federal law, implied warranties only exist under state law. This sounds like a mess in the making, and it would be if not for the Uniform Commercial Code. The UCC* has been around since 1952. It is not a law, but rather a recommendation and a set of acts that states may use to consolidate and harmonize laws regarding sales transactions. The section on implied warranties has been adopted in the District of Columbia and 49 states (the exception being Louisianna, as of the date of this blog post). It comes from the common law principle of fair value for money spent.

Implied warranties can be divided into two kinds, one just a little more specific than the other.

The Implied Warranty of Merchantability

“Merchantability,” really? What a cumbersome word. Then again it is a law, or at least law-ish. It means sellability. It is the very basic promise that the product sold has nothing significantly wrong with it, but works, and will do what it is supposed to do. It can be described as “fit to be sold.” The product must...

These shouldn't be warrantied as Flying Machines

…serve its ordinary purposes. This means that a box cutter should cut boxes, but need not work as well with wedding cakes or glass, nor should it be used for precision surgical procedures.

…be of a typical quality. The box cutter will be good enough to cut many boxes, not just one. It will also be made out of metal, not cardboard or soap bubbles.

    …be within the normal variances of kind. This means that when you open the package, your box cutter will not be the size of fingernail clippers, nor of a Buick.

    …be adequately contained, packaged, and labeled. The box cutter will come in a container that protects you from the blade, and the blade from damage, as you take it home. Its packaging will communicate that it contains a box cutter, not that it contains a hatchet, a pen, sardines or plasma.

    …conform to any promises or affirmations of fact made on the container or label. If the packaging says that the box cutter will cut a variety of cardboard types, then it must do that. Promises of “turns lead into gold” should not be on the container, as most box cutters will not accomplish Alchemy for the average user.

    Not gold, actually a Jennie Faber's picture of her vanilla-almond syrup  

    An oven is supposed to safely heat food. A faucet is supposed to direct and dispense the water sent through it. A refrigerator is supposed to keep food cold. If the written warranty for a fridge says everything but “Will keep food cold,” it still has to keep the food cold. If it doesn’t, then the implied warranty has been breached, and the seller has to remedy the situation. That's what this one does for you.

    But these promises are pretty general. A refrigerator is expected to keep food cold. What if you need something very specific, such as a special refrigerator designed to keep your steaks at 35 degrees with a constant humidity for 28 days?

    The Implied Warranty of Fitness for a Particular Purpose

    Implied... "Sure! Glow-in-the-dark Silly Putty is a PERfect substance to meet your nuclear fission needs!"

    The Merchantability thing is one kind of Implied Warranty. This is the other kind.

    Rather than affirming the basic notion that “Box cutters will cut boxes,” this implied warranty exists when a seller says that a particular product will meet a very particular need. Let’s say you need to cut through 1/8” thick plastic sheets. Not all blades are fit to cut plastic, but some are. If a sales person suggests a particular box cutter to you, knowing that this is what you need it for, and then your box cutter blades all break on contact with the plastic sheets, the Implied Warranty of Fitness for a Particular Purpose comes to your defense. This is not attached to the product, but rather to the transaction itself, to what the merchant has said about it.

    The seller is expected to know which products are best for each particular use, and to give correct advice to the buyer. Not all flooring is waterproof, but if you need waterproof flooring, and we suggest a kind of floor to you, it had better be waterproof! The buyer doesn’t necessarily even have to state the need. The law says that this warranty is in effect if the seller or manufacturer could reasonably be expected to know the intended purposes. It is in effect when the buyer is relying on the seller’s product knowledge as she picks her products to buy.

    About Both Of Our Implied Warranties

    ...then what is it? "What is it, a giraffe?"

    No written warranty may be used to invalidate implied warranties. If a written warranty for a refrigerator directly states, “Not guaranteed to refrigerate,” it still has to refrigerate under the implied warranty of merchantability. Even if you do see these written into the language of a warranty, they may not hold up in court.

    The seller may only limit the duration of the implied warranty to match that of a written warranty. If she only guarantees the box cutter for 1 year on her written warranty, she may also limit the implied warranties to that time, despite the assumption of four years used when there is no written piece. While a certain amount of durability is expected of any product, implied warranties do not ensure that a product will last for any specific duration. Like express warranties, they are guarantees about the condition the product will be in at the time when it is sold. They also do not cover abuse or misuse of a product, failure to use the product according to its directions or to maintain it properly, or ordinary wear.


    * The best version I could find of the Uniform Commercial Code (and it’s a pretty good one) is here, if you want to study it further:            

    The full series:

    pt.1: What is a Warranty

    pt.2: Basic Types - Express & Implied Warranties

    pt.3: Basic Types – Full, Extended and Limited Warranties

    pt.4: Warranty Caveats (the “bewares”)

    pt.5: Who is Responsible?

    – – – –
    David has written and made videos about flooring products and installation since 2011 at Floors To Your Home (.com), where he is also the PPC Manager, a Researcher, a Website & Marketing Strategy Team member, Videographer, Social Strategist, Photographer and all around Resource Jito. In my spare time I shoot and edit video, put together a podcast, explore film history, and mix music (as in ‘play with Beatles multi-tracks’). Connect with  W. David Lichty


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