If you are in the market for any product or service — such as a car, clothes, stereo system, or educational course — there are several simple rules to keep in mind. If you follow them, your dollars will go further, and you will be more satisfied with the results.
- Shop and compare. Compare products based on features, warranty protection, and price. The best buy is not always the cheapest. Use the internet and magazines like Consumer Reports to help you.
- Do not fall for deceptive advertising. Advertisements can provide useful information. Too often, though, ads appeal to your emotions rather than your intelligence. Although there are laws against deceptive advertising, it still is best to avoid a problem by watching out for deceptive ads. Look at each word in the ad to find any exceptions.
- Ask for promises in writing. Contracts do not have to be in writing to be binding. It is easier, of course, to make someone stick to something that is in writing rather than something that is based on your recollection of what was agreed upon. If a salesperson makes important claims about a product that are not in your contract or warranty, get it in writing and added to or attached to the written contract or warranty.
- Read the terms of your contract or warranty carefully. Know what you can expect and what is expected of you. Certain contracts, especially form contracts, may contain language not easily understood and that may be unfair to you. If you do not understand something, ask questions or seek help from a friend, parent, teacher, or lawyer. Never sign a contract or agree to terms and conditions without reading the provisions first, very carefully. If you don’t understand them, then don’t sign them!
- Never sign a contract with blank spaces. Fill in blank spaces or draw a line through them.
- Keep good records. Keep copies of all contracts, receipts, warranties, and all notes or letters you have written regarding the product or service and records of payments, maintenance, repairs, and other services.
- Returning Merchandise. Remember that a merchant is free to establish a policy concerning refunds, credits, exchanges, and layaways. A merchant is not required to refund your money for returned merchandise unless it is defective. Even then, the merchant may decide to correct the problem or replace the defective product instead of giving your money back.
What is a warranty?
A “warranty” is part of a contract that specifies the quality and dependability of the product or service you are purchasing. The warranty tells you what you can expect from the product, what you must do if you have a problem, what the seller will do in return, and how long the warranty is in effect.
Are warranties important?
Yes. A good warranty can save you much money and frustration if the item you buy needs to be repaired or replaced within the warranty period. You always should check to see if the items you intend to buy are covered by warranties and find out exactly what the warranties include and exclude.
Do I have any protection after the warranty period ends?
You might, depending on the situation and what state and federal laws apply. You also may have protection under products liability law if you or someone else is injured by a defective product even after the expiration of the warranty period.
Do these warranties apply to used items?
An item may be specifically warranted by its seller whether it is new or used, but many used items are not covered by a warranty. You should be aware that if an item is sold “as is” it is not covered by a warranty, and you buy it at your own risk. Virginia law requires that used car dealers clearly indicate on the cars what warranty, if any, will apply to the vehicle.
Whom should I contact if I have consumer questions?
You should contact the Virginia Office of the Attorney General - Consumer Protection Office (804) 786-2042, your local Chamber of Commerce, the State Corporation Commission’s Division of Energy Regulation (for utility complaints) (804) 371-9611, or the Virginia Bureau of Insurance (804) 371-9741.