Warranties. (computer service contracts)
by Daniel Janal
You're racing toward a deadline when your monitor blanks out, your hard disk crashes, and your fax card is on the fritz. Who's going to pay?
That depends on what your warranty says. A warranty is an obligation to repair something or replace it for free for a fixed period of time. Warranties are part of every computer and software sale. But if you read them closely, you'll find that warranties are very unique and individual. There is no universal code of law or conduct that covers computer parts, supplies, and maintenance contracts or service agreements.
Except in a few states, customers have no specific minimum rights to warranties or maintenance contracts. The Uniform Commercial Code makes some protections for the consumer, such as that the goods must be of an acceptable standard, but the manufacturer can disclaim that provision.
"You'll always find the UCC disclaimed. Instead you'll find a limited warranty, a money-back warranty, or a store warranty. You get a limited warranty and little else," said New York area attorney Lance Rose, who wrote the book SYSLAW a guide to the law for bulletin board operators.
Your rights vary from seller to seller. Here are some questions you might ask the dealer about the warranty.
* How long is the fixed period of time?
* Who will pay for the delivery and return of the product?
* Will the work be done at your place or theirs? How long will repairs take? What are you supposed to do in the meantime? According to Rose, to be a fully informed consumer, you should know the answers to these questions. If you don't know the answers, you might find out the hard way.
"Buy from someone who offers a money-back guarantee or who offers to replace something if it is defective within a reasonable period of time, such as 30-60 days," says Rose. "Also, make sure the seller pays for shipping and that there is no restocking fee."
If the company doesn't honor its claims, you can complain to the Federal Trade Commission or to local or state agencies.
The best way to protect yourself from all warranty problems, according to Rose, is to pay with plastic. "If you have a legitimate dispute, call your credit card company and refuse to pay when you get billed," he says. The credit card company has a resolution process that manufacturers will abide by. "It is the best possible remedy you have."
When you buy your equipment, the salesperson might ask you to buy a maintenance contract. A maintenance contract is an operational understanding between seller and buyer. "You don't have any implied warranties. This is a straight contract. You get what it says, and you don't get what it doesn't say. if you want your equipment back in a month after taking it in for repairs, you need to have that written into the contract," Rose advises. "You have to look closely at the terms of the deal. You cannot presume anything. You have to look at whether repairs are done on site, by mail in, or by some other method. Will they give you a loaner? Reimburse you for shipping costs? How will they ship? How long will it take to repair? You need to know."
A software maintenance contract should spell out such details as how many hours of technical support you will receive and who will provide service.
"You should check out providers of maintenance and find out if the people are experienced," Rose said. "Maintenance can be done well, or it can be done badly."
"Take into account how long you plan to use it," he says. "For a lot of equipment, a maintenance contract for a year or two might be too long because you can buy a new piece for a price that's in the same range as the contract price."
As computer prices fall, computer manufacturers are using service and warranties as selling points.
For instance, Gecco Computers offers a two-year warranty on all parts, even monitors. It also offers two-year on-site service on all its sales. Dell Computer has a one-year warranty and an optional four-year extension. IBM offers a three-year warranty for its new family of premium PS/2 computers, three years of on-site service, and a four-hour average response time. Its older PS/2 computers carry a one-year warranty.
Whatever the warranty states, follow these rules. 1. Keep your boxes so you
can safely ship the product
back to the manufacturer or
to a repair facility. 2. Check the parts immediately
upon receiving them to
see if they work properly. 3. Keep all paperwork, such
as receipts, warranties, and
contracts. 4. Make sure you have all
claims from the manufacturer
or store representative in
writing. 5. Pay by credit card because
the credit card companies
will hold payment and investigate
claims. 6. Deal with established companies
who will be around
long enough to honor their
warranties to the letter.