If you’ve ever opened up a gadget, maybe you’ve seen the stickers that say “Warranty Void if Removed.” For anyone in the US, no need to put down your screwdriver—those stickers aren’t enforceable. But what about in the rest of the world?
Nearly five years ago, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent warning letters to six large manufacturers over their use of “warranty void if removed” stickers. Thus began the FTC’s latest foray into the battle for the right to repair—one that now stretches from motorcycles to washing machines. While this threat of legal action didn’t stop the use of unwarrantable warranty stickers, it made the FTC’s standing on the issue clear: conditioning warranty claims on the use of specific services is illegal, thanks to the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975.
Despite the FTC’s findings on how these anti-repair practices are hurting the US marketplace, companies continue to use warranty-voiding stickers. While they’re not enforceable in the US, where does this leave those living elsewhere? These stickers show up in and on products all over the world!
Short answer: The US is the only country where “warranty void” stickers are explicitly illegal. But many countries have strong legal warranty protections. At the start of those legal warranty periods, the burden of proof is generally on companies—that is, it’s their responsibility to demonstrate that whatever problem you’ve encountered was caused by your tinkering, not their faulty product. Most of the time, you shouldn’t be scared of self-repair, no matter what a sticker says.
Legal Warranties Can’t Be Voided
Outside the US, there’s no guidance with regard to warranty stickers, but many regions do offer warranty protections that are stronger than Mag-Moss in some important ways.
One of the strongest forms of warranty protection is known simply as a legal guarantee/warranty. These warranties are codified into law in the regions that offer them, meaning that they are automatically applied to nearly all purchases. While the exact laws that provide for these warranties differ in their effects, nearly all of them allow for a degree of DIY repair without risking your protections.
Legal warranties are so strong in large part because they’re, well, law. There are no circumstances under which a legal warranty can be revoked in any nation that has codified the practice. This means that a “warranty void” sticker shouldn’t be enforceable—even if you damage one part of your device while working on it, the rest of it should be protected by the legal guarantee.
However, legal guarantees aren’t perfect. Intuitively, longer claim windows should incentivize manufacturers to create more durable products—they’ll be on the hook when things break, after all. But in practice, things don’t seem to play out that way. Longer guarantees aren’t associated with more durable products, and they don’t seem to incentivize manufacturers to make things more durable. While an ideal law would see repairability and the right to repair codified directly, the legal guarantee still offers protection in many other forms.
Here’s a breakdown of legal guarantees in some of the regions considering Right to Repair legislation.
European Union: Stickers Can’t Void a Two-Year Legal Guarantee
In the EU, all member states have codified guarantees for a minimum of two years. And while two years is the minimum threshold, longer terms can be implemented; Sweden, for example, offers a three-year window. The two-year counter begins when you receive the item, rather than when it is purchased, so don’t worry about shipping, and hang onto your receipts. This guarantee applies to nearly all goods and all means of purchasing, with exceptions made for buying second-hand from a private individual.
Within that window, if a product fails to match its description or is found to be faulty, you will be entitled to repair or replacement by the seller (or a refund if those options are not feasible). If you choose repair, it must be conducted at no cost to you, including parts, labor, and shipping. If a product has delicate components that a consumer must regularly maintain, sellers cannot deny related claims without first disclosing said requirements.
When a claim is made within the first six months, the seller must prove that the defect was not present at the time of purchase in order to deny a claim. This means that folks in the EU can tinker as they see fit. As long as repairs and modifications don’t do any damage to other components, the seller should guarantee the rest of the device. Six months is the minimum period where the burden of proof is on the seller—member states can extend this to be as long as the full warranty period.
After the initial period, the burden of proof shifts to the consumer. This shift means that self-servicing becomes a bit more risky. To get the manufacturer to repair your product for free after that first six months, you’ll need to prove that your work didn’t contribute to the problem or otherwise damage the device. Beware—you’ll also need to prove that you followed all the recommended maintenance instructions where regular care is considered necessary.
Regardless, self-repair can never outright void the legal guarantee in the EU. And “warranty void” stickers probably aren’t enforceable—though to our knowledge, nobody has tested it in the courts.
United Kingdom: Stickers Can’t Void a Six-Year Legal Guarantee
The UK follows the lead of the EU, providing a legal guarantee allowing claims made up to six years after the initial time of purchase (five years for residents of Scotland). However, in this guarantee, established in the Consumer Rights Act of 2015, the burden of proof of a faulty product is only on the seller for the first six months. For self-repairs, the same logic as in the EU applies: a fix will never automatically void the legal warranty, but be prepared to show that your fix did not cause the defect prompting the claim.
Australia: Vaguer Protection, but Still Not Voided by Stickers
Australia’s legal guarantee is a source of both relief and frustration.
Their current guarantee, afforded by the Australian Consumer Law of 2011, applies to all purchases made after January 1st, 2011. This guarantee frustratingly doesn’t give a clear timeline for claims. There is no predetermined time during which a product can be claimed as faulty or defective. Instead, Australia uses an “acceptability” measure that considers the specifics of the product in question and allows for claims if reasonable expectations of safety and durability are not met. These factors—such as price, how the product was made, the ways it was used, and its age (to name a few)—are used in lieu of a hard requirement.
Additionally, the Australian guarantee differs in how it classifies covered purchases. Unlike the guarantees of the UK and EU, this guarantee provides protections for businesses as well as consumers. Most goods and individual purchases are covered, as well as certain business purchases. Business items that aren’t covered are those purchased as a resupply, for use or transformation in production/manufacturing, or for repair/treatment of another good. So your spare parts don’t come with the same guarantee as the product they’re meant to fix.
On the plus side, this guarantee requires manufacturers/importers to make spare parts available within the same “reasonable” timeframe. This is true even when the product is purchased from a different business than the entity who made/imported the product. It also allows for a consumer to recover damages for consequential losses, e.g. for laundry room flooring ruined by water leaking from a defective washing machine.
But the reasonability metric gives sellers and manufacturers a lot of leeway. The only recourse a consumer has, should their assessment of “reasonable” differ from the guarantor, is to pursue another form of resolution—i.e. a lawsuit. While this is true for every other nation listed here, the clarity of a concrete timeframe in which rights can be exercised is reassuring.
Canada: Quebec Has “Common Sense,” but Everyone Else Should Call a Lawyer
Consumer protection laws in Canada, rather than being set on the federal level, vary from province to province. A research report from Option Consommateurs issued in 2015 found that the discrepancies among provinces has led to mass confusion over all aspects of consumer protections, particularly where legal guarantees are involved. This confusion even extends to provincial Consumer Services offices! When I called the Ontario office seeking clarity on these issues, their representative assured me that the best way to untangle things was to contact a pro bono legal firm. Whether the relevant laws are buried or simply hard to summarize, Quebecois DIYers will have a much easier time than Ontarians.
While the existence of legal guarantees is an open question for many Canadians, those in Quebec enjoy a legal warranty hinging on a “common sense” durability clause.
As a result of this confusion, commercial warranties offered in Canada are commonly purchased as they remove much of the guesswork that consumers might otherwise face. These warranties can be useful, as they provide a streamlined claims process and often cover extra conditions such as accidental damage to goods. They may only be offered after a seller has informed a consumer of any legal guarantee that may exist. Often, they come with a fee—leading customers to wonder whether they’re worth the cost.
Are Extended Commercial Warranties Worth It?
Consider the specifics of the extension offered. Unless it covers accidental damage, most other conditions would be covered under a manufacturer’s warranty (where offered) even where no legal warranty exists. Extensions are less useful where legal warranties exist, as the claim window (either time- or durability-based) often outlasts any basic or extended warranty offered with a product.
Are Consumers Protected Under Other Laws?
For those of us not protected by laws like those discussed above, encountering a warranty-voiding sticker presents a dilemma. Can a manufacturer actually void my warranty if I open the product?
At a minimum, consumer protections under a “Sale of Goods” law would mean that warranties voluntarily offered must be followed as written. Without clear guidance from a relevant agency, however, the legal status of this practice remains murky. Fortunately, the FTC provided us with a handy weapon for the fight elsewhere: it is possible that the stickers constitute deceptive language. If removing the sticker doesn’t actually void your warranty—only breaking things does—then that sticker’s very text is a lie, isn’t it? Such an understanding could easily apply in other countries, too, under similar laws prohibiting unfair business practices.
For Canadians outside of Quebec, the Competition Act can be construed to prohibit the practice as “materially misleading.” The stickers could be implying that we can’t fix our own goods—which millions of iFixit users have proven wrong. Such a declaration itself may be illegal for those in (most of) India as one “disparaging the services of another person,” as independent repair providers are more than capable of successful repairs.
Some laws, like those in the EU, include appendices of practices considered unfair in every instance—and those appendices could be amended to include warranty-voiding stickers by an agency analogous to the US FTC. The UK publishes an assessment framework that companies can use to judge whether practices are unfair, and following its flowchart, “warranty void” stickers seem to meet the definition of “unfairness.” The Australian Consumer Law that grants their citizens a legal warranty right also prohibits these same unfair practices. Precedent, too, exists of penalties for misrepresentation of consumer rights. While this case did not mention warranty stickers, they’re similar to the kinds of misleading behavior described in the case. If stickers had been present, they likely would have been included as an example of misleading conduct.
Despite the multitude of laws that could protect self-repair, we should reiterate: Nowhere except the US has explicitly nullified “warranty void if removed” stickers.
What Should the Law Be?
Under laws governing competition and fairness in business, warranty stickers should be prohibited entirely. As it stands, their primary function seems to be to scare consumers away from fixing what they already own.
Generally speaking, laws consider practices to be misleading or deceptive if they cause (or are likely to cause) consumers to make a different decision than they would have otherwise. Judging by the fact that we’re still discussing this issue, there’s sufficient confusion to change minds—even more so when stickers are concerned.
Government agencies outside the US should review stickers as a warranty condition in order to determine whether they alter consumer decision-making. If, as we suspect, consumers are being deceived by these stickers, laws should be amended to add “warranty void” stickers to lists of deceptive practices.
Don’t put down your wrench just yet—but proceed with caution. If a manufacturer tried to void your legal warranty claim because you fixed something yourself, you’d probably need to make your case in court. If you do get to that point, please let us know. We’d love to help fight for your right to fix your own stuff.