Those ‘warranty void if removed’ stickers are illegal says US consumer watchdog

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Warranties can be somewhat fickle things. Whether you have a games console, a mobile phone or even a car, you’ve probably noticed in the small print that the manufacturer will refuse to honor the warranty on that product if you use what it deems to be unauthorized repair services or unauthorized third-party accessories – or, heaven forbid, if you break the seal of that 'Warranty Void if Removed' sticker.

According to US consumer protection watchdog the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), however, such policies are illegal. On April 10, the FTC announced that it had sent letters to six companies warning them that their conditional warranty practices violate the 1975 Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which states that no manufacturer is allowed to put restrictions on the repair of a device it offers a warranty on.

Although the FTC doesn’t state precisely which companies it’s contacted, it does give examples of real policies it’s deemed unacceptable:

  • "The use of [company name] parts is required to keep your … manufacturer’s warranties and any extended warranties intact."
  • "This warranty shall not apply if this product … is used with products not sold or licensed by [company name]."
  • "This warranty does not apply if this product …  has had the warranty seal on the [product] altered, defaced, or removed."

And, as Ars Technica notes, a bit of Googling makes it easy to find that those policies are from Hyundai, Nintendo and Sony respectively.

Like a messenger with a wax-sealed letter to deliver to a particularly violent king, we’re all exceptionally careful not to split the stickers we see frequently on our Xboxes and PlayStations, lest the manufacturers think we’ve been doing some unauthorized tampering. 

Lately, Nintendo has been unsympathetic to complaints from consumers using third-party devices that are breaking their Nintendo Switches, simply stating that such devices shouldn't be used. Apple is also notorious for its strict repair policies and limited third-party authorizations, and it was only last year that the company started allowing customers to use approved third parties for screen repairs.

But apparently such restrictions are just not on. In a statement Thomas B. Pahl, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said: “Provisions that tie warranty coverage to the use of particular products or services harm both consumers who pay more for them as well as the small businesses who offer competing products and services.”

The FTC has not been delicate with its demands in its letters to the six companies involved, requesting that each company reviews its warranties to remove the offending conditions, and revises its practices to comply with the law, within 30 days.

While this admonition to manufacturers looks like a win for US consumers, it's not clear if it'll have implications for those of us outside the US who like to tinker with our gadgets or balk at the cost of manufacturer-approved repairs.