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Generally speaking warranties provide consumers with a guarantee that the smartphone they purchase will be repaired or replaced if a defect should crop up that is determined to be the fault of the manufacturer. A smartphone should work as advertised and it should be fit for purpose.

The vast majority of manufacturers offer a warranty for one or two years from the date you purchase your smartphone. If a hardware fault develops within that period then you have the right to demand a repair, replacement, or a refund. This is based on the assumption that the device was sold with the fault present.

What is covered?

You need to refer to the exact text of your warranty, but there are a few common things you’ll generally find to be true. The manufacturer is essentially promising to cover:

  • Manufacturing flaws or problems with workmanship.
  • Defective materials or parts.

If you have a two-year warranty and within that period your smartphone develops a fault then the manufacturer will repair it unless it determines that you are to blame or that you have invalidated your warranty in some way.

What is not covered?

If the fault occurred due to an accident, misuse, exposure to liquid or any other external factor that you could be held responsible for then they probably aren’t going to honor the warranty. If you have tampered with the phone or attempted a repair yourself and your action invalidates the warranty, then they probably aren’t going to honor it. They won’t cover you for loss or theft. You have to read individual warranties to get a full list of exclusions.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 drop test cracked screen aa 10

How do you claim?

It’s a good idea to keep your receipt and warranty document somewhere safe whenever you buy a new smartphone. You’ll have to contact your retailer or manufacturer to find out what the process is, or refer to the warranty itself. You’ll probably be asked to return the device to a service center.

It’s a good idea to keep your receipt and warranty document somewhere safe whenever you buy a new smartphone

Unfortunately the retailer will often try to pass you off to the manufacturer and vice versa. It is generally the retailer’s responsibility to sort it out. If they request it and you don’t have the receipt then you should be able to use a credit card statement as proof of purchase.

What are you liable for?

A lot of companies will handle it, but be aware that the cost of postage might fall on your shoulders. You’re also going to be without your device when you send it away. The manufacturer will run tests and if they determine that the phone defect is not their fault then they’ll usually give you a quote for the repair and you can choose whether to go ahead with it. If you don’t want to go ahead with it then they’ll charge you for the test and send it back unrepaired. Service and handling fees are common.

You should also check if they have any stipulations about what you need to do before sending the phone in. You should always back up your files and remove any memory cards. You should also make sure you don’t have security software that will block access. For your own privacy it’s advisable to wipe the phone of all your personal data.

It’s worth bearing in mind that you won’t necessarily get your phone back. Manufacturers can replace parts with new or “as new” parts and it’s very common to get a replacement handset returned to you.

Consumer rights and the burden of proof

In many cases the manufacturer warranty is superseded by consumer law in the country of sale and that can effectively extend your rights, though it won’t necessarily be easy to claim them. According to EU-wide Consumer Laws the claim period is two years, even if the manufacturer only offers a one year warranty. In some countries that period is longer, here in Scotland, for example, it’s five years.

That sounds good, but in practice the burden of proof renders it useless. In most EU states the burden of proof is on the manufacturer for the first six months. That means they have to prove that they aren’t responsible for a defect or they have to fix it, replace it, or refund you. After the first six months the burden is on you to prove that the defect was present when you bought the phone which can be difficult or even impossible.

After the first six months the burden is on you to prove that the defect was present when you bought the phone which can be difficult or even impossible.

If the manufacturer claims it is your fault and you feel it isn’t then you could try getting an independent engineer’s report, but that’s going to cost you money and there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to prove the fault was present when you bought the smartphone.

There are a lot of defects that might legitimately occur, but how do you prove they are the fault of the manufacturer? The internet is awash with reports of screens spontaneously cracking and manufacturers refusing to fix them, but how many of those breakages were actually caused by accidental damage?

International warranty

Some devices come with international warranties, but smartphones can differ significantly from region to region in terms of hardware, so it’s a very dangerous thing to presume. If you buy an import or pick up a smartphone while on holiday abroad then don’t expect the warranty to be honored in your own country. You may be expected to ship it back to the country where you bought it to make a claim and that can be prohibitively expensive. Your mileage may vary on this, but be aware of the risks.

fine-print Zeusandhera (via Flickr)

Always read the fine print

Ideally you would read a warranty before buying, but few of us are going to do that. It is worth noting that some manufacturers offer special deals as an extra incentive to choose them. If you’re concerned then do your homework.

Your best chance of making a successful claim is to read the fine print and make sure you tick as many boxes as possible. Don’t give them any excuse to reject you. If you are going to return your smartphone then it’s also better to do it sooner rather than later. No quibble return policies for the first few days after purchase are very common. If you find a defect within that period then take it back immediately and you could save yourself a lot of hassle.

If you’re in the U.S. you can also find useful tips at the FTC Consumer Information website, for the U.K. check out the Government website on consumer rights. You should be able to find similar resources for other countries with a quick search. What are your warranty experiences? Have you had claims denied or had a hassle-free return? Let us know in the comments.

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