FTC Suddenly Remembers 'Warranty Void If Removed' Stickers Are Illegal, Sends Out Stern Letters To Manufacturers

from the shuts-enforcement-alarm-off-and-goes-back-to-sleep dept

The law has been around for more than 40 years, but the FTC only seems interested in enforcing it every so often. The tags slapped on electronic devices warning you that removing them will void your warranty? Complete horseshit. And illegal horseshit on top of that.

The 1975 Magnusson-Moss Warranty Act said manufacturers can't automatically void warranties just because owners have opened up their devices, performed their own repairs, or taken them to third parties for service. Nonetheless, the practice of sticking these little lies on electronics continues because the US government has yet to show an ongoing interest in protecting consumers from companies preying on consumer ignorance.

Matthew Gault at Motherboard notes the FTC has made its periodic appearance in defense of consumers, raising its head above the parapet to wordslap a few unnamed manufacturers for their continued violation of this classic mid-70s legislation.

The Federal Trade Commission put six companies on notice today, telling them in a warning letter that their warranty practices violate federal law. If you buy a car with a warranty, take it a repair shop to fix it, then have to return the car to the manufacturer, the car company isn’t legally allowed to deny the return because you took your car to another shop. The same is true of any consumer device that costs more than $15, though many manufacturers want you to think otherwise.

Companies such as Sony and Microsoft pepper the edges of their game consoles with warning labels telling customers that breaking the seal voids the warranty. That’s illegal.

Will this have any effect on the illegal practices deployed by these companies the FTC has decided to protect from public ridicule by withholding their names? It seems unlikely. Forty-plus years of half-hearted, occasional enforcement isn't much of a deterrent. The little illegal stickers generate a steady flow of customers to manufacturers and dealers for repairs and ample opportunity to deny warranty coverage for flawed products.

As the law stands now, it's easy to avoid even without using void-if-removed stickers. Apple's warranty policy -- like that of several other device manufacturers -- follows the letter of the law while avoiding its spirit entirely. The company tells consumers that repairing devices on their own or seeking the assistance of non-Apple techs may result in a voided warranty. No specifics are offered as to what non-Apple services won't void the warranty so most customers play it safe and go directly to the manufacturer for service.

As Gault points out, the law has only been used once in court proceedings since its inception. The FTC doesn't tend to make much noise about ongoing violations, but has at least made an effort to inform consumers that every product that retails for more than $5 is covered by the statute. Still, the law is easy enough to dodge using nothing more than the word "may," so it's done almost nothing to prevent manufacturers from locking consumers into disadvantageous relationships and denying them the opportunity to treat purchased items like they actually own them.

Filed Under: ftc, right to repair, warranties

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  1. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 11 Apr 2018 @ 6:10pm

    Until the cost of stickering > following the law it will continue.

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