When we hear about a ‘lifetime guarantee’ most of us assume that the product is guaranteed for as long as we live. This prospect is undoubtedly very attractive to us as we believe that by buying goods with lifetime guarantees we are making the best possible deal. However, in reality, a lifetime guarantee may not include everything we think it does.

To make an informed buying decision, as consumers, we should always request the seller to provide us with a copy of the guarantee’s terms and conditions. These conditions should include a definition of the lifetime guarantee, what it covers and also for how long. Before concluding such purchases we should make sure that we understand whether ‘lifetime’ refers to the buyer’s life or the product’s.

Usually it refers to the product, that is, the number of years the product is reasonably expected to last. If this is the case and the guarantee’s terms and conditions do not specify the amount of years the product is covered by the guarantee, we should ask the seller for how long the guarantee is expected to remain valid.

It is in the best interest of both consumer and trader to specify the guarantee’s time frame. If this is not possible, the consumer must at least be provided with tangible parameters as to how the guarantee can be applied.

Usually a lifetime guarantee refers to the number of years the product is reasonably expected to last

A lifetime guarantee may also refer to the product’s ownership, which would mean that the guarantee remains valid for as long as the original customer owns the product. In such situations if the guaranteed product is sold or passes on to a new owner, the latter cannot claim any free remedies. When this is the case, the condition that the guarantee is not transferable should also be clearly written down on the commercial guarantee’s certificate.

As consumers, we must ensure that the commercial guarantee promised to us during the sale is given to us in writing in English or Maltese. For instance, there should be the name and address of the guarantor, a description of the goods and services covered, the type of remedies the guarantee provides and also what the consumer needs to do to make a claim under the guarantee.

Does it repair the defective product or does it offer a replacement? If any parts of the product are excluded by the guarantee, this should be clearly specified in its terms and conditions. While the law gives us the right to be provided with all this information, it is our responsibility to read and understand the conditions of the guarantee before concluding a purchase.

We should also remember that while commercial guarantees are given out voluntarily, once given they must be observed. We should also be aware that if a commercial guarantee is mentioned in a statement or advertisement by a person, it is binding on that person even if the commercial guarantee is not specifically mentioned in the contract of sale. Hence, if a lifetime guarantee is mentioned in an advert, it is legally binding on the trader who advertised it. It is, however, important thatconsumers have proof of the advertised guarantee.

As lifetime guarantees may not be what we really expect, it is advisable to carefully read the terms and conditions and any fine print before we buy.

We must also make sure that we are in possession of documentation that proves the promised lifetime guarantee.

Odette Vella is director, Information, Education and Research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.