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Please Don't Read the Warranty


Warranty fine printThe subject of warranty certificates is one of my life’s passions.  I have quite a collection of them here in the metal filing cabinet next to my desk.  Haven’t read many, but one did come in handy when the dishwasher melted the linoleum.  So, when I say to you… “You should really know what the warranty is before you buy.”… I mean…”Here’s some quick facts.” and “What to ask your salesperson while in the store.”


Generally Speaking
I have always made sure the customer understands two gray areas on this issue.  First - the definition of manufacturer’s defect; second - labor vs. parts.  Before I get into that, let’s look at some general guidelines.

There are two types of furniture, case goods and upholstery.  Case goods are generally constructed of wood, with other materials such as marble, glass, Formica, etc. They almost always carry a one year warranty.  Salespeople know that saying this to a hot prospect results in looks of doubt and concern.  Honestly though, one year is plenty for most wood products.

 The big concern here is what the lumberjacks call “seasonal-splits”.  After yelling “timber”, one of the next steps in making a case good is the kiln-drying of the wood.  It’s a tricky process, during which the wood shrinks as the moisture is removed.  Seasonal splits occur when not enough moisture was removed during kiln-drying, and your furnace, with its dry heat, finishes the job. One winter in Massachusetts and your oak table will let you know how it went.  So ask to make sure that there is a warranty before you buy and check for splits when the snow melts.

 Upholstery is more complicated.  What you can’t see can hurt you here, since the fabric hides everything else.  Plus, you have a different warranty on each component: fabric, cushions, springs, and frame (if you happen to buy a sleeper sofa reading the warranty will leave you face down and slobbering).  The most common combination is lifetime on the frame, 5 years on the springs, 3 years on cushions, and one year on fabric.  If you buy something with less than this, look for the telltale staples holding the frame together when it collapses next week.

Defective, not Abused
Ok, that’s the basics, now on to the tricky stuff.  Manufacturers defect’s can be a catch phrase for “We don’t cover anything” if you buy from the wrong store.  Simply put, most retailers will honor the warranty whenever the problem isn’t caused by abuse.  I once had a customer tell everyone they knew what a bad salesperson I was because we wouldn’t fix the scratches on their expensive, highly polished cherry dining table. We weren’t sure that it was customer abuse, but we were positive that the Matchbox cars sitting on the table during our service call were not the manufacturer’s!  Remember, the retailer is responsible for fixing manufacturer’s defects only.  They are reimbursed by the company that made the furniture for the repair, but only if it is proven that the damage was not from abuse.

Parts and Service
Now for the skeleton in the closet.  Almost all warranty time frames apply to parts only. The actual labor to fix or replace the part is usually only covered for the first year.  Gasp!  So that lifetime warranty on the frame of your sofa is a great value at $2.79 for the plank they replace, and will cost you around $200 for the labor to replace it.  I will not attempt to justify this for my friends here in the industry, but do feel that you should know this up front, before you buy.  With cushions, it’s easy.  They mail you a new one and you simply unzip the casing and replace them (if you were smart enough to check for removable cushions with zippered casings…).  Anything else on an upholstered piece will generally require that it be taken back to the shop, and it may be there a while.  Have heart though, while this warranty is the industry standard, a few brands do cover labor longer than one year.

It’s a good idea to find out what you’re in for “before the linoleum melts”.  In the meantime, be sure to get something in writing at the time of purchase.  Many stores provide a general warranty policy that they honor regardless of which brand you buy, and you should get a copy of it if they do.  If not, ask the salesperson to sum up what he/she told you by jotting down the basics on your copy of the sales order. Then, when the warranty end date approaches, examine your furniture for problems that are still covered.


Coming Soon...
 -How to test a sofa’s construction while in the store
 -End of Warranty Checklist

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