FTC: Warranty-voiding language like Nintendo’s and Sony’s is illegal

It’s common for manufacturers of cars, video game consoles, and other products to insist that consumers will void their warranty if they use unauthorized repair services or unauthorized third-party parts. Some even insist that you’ll void the warranty if you break the “warranty seal.”

These policies are illegal, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

On Tuesday, the agency announced it had sent warning letters to six companies for violating a 1975 law governing manufacturer warranties.

Who does the FTC have in mind? The agency doesn’t name the six companies that were targeted in this enforcement action, so we don’t know for sure. But the FTC does provide examples of warranty terms that violate the rules, and with a little Googling it’s easy to figure out likely suspects:

These exact phrases, with names of companies redacted, are provided as examples in the FTC’s release.

“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,” said Thomas B. Pahl, Acting Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a Tuesday statement.

The FTC is demanding that the companies stop voiding warranties and remove statements from their websites and other materials threatening to do so within 30 days.

As Motherboard’s Jason Koebler explained a couple of years ago, warranty-voiding policies are rampant in the consumer electronics industry:

The Xbox One has a sticker that, if broken or removed, implies to Microsoft that a third party has opened the device. The Playstation 4 has various stickers that must be broken to open the device that explicitly state that tampering with them invalidates the warranty. iPhones and MacBooks don’t have a warranty-voiding sticker, but Apple Geniuses are trained to look for clues that would tip the company off to the fact that the device has been opened. Apple has also been known to refuse service on devices that have been opened. Each of those company’s warranty agreements advise against or forbid opening the device.

Now the FTC says these kinds of policies are illegal. The FTC has initiated enforcement actions against other industries that void warranties in the past, but this appears to be the first time the FTC has specifically called out makers of cell phones and gaming consoles for the practice.

In recent years, a number of state legislatures have considered “right to repair” legislation to further bolster rights under federal law, but these bills have generally faced opposition from manufacturers.

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