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Understanding Warranties and Returns on Car Audio Equipment

Like any consumer product, car audio equipment usually comes with a manufacturer's warranty. But unlike most consumer products, car audio equipment has to be installed in a vehicle for it to work. Some manufacturers protect themselves from damage caused by improper installation by extending the warranty only if their products are installed by an authorized dealer. That way they can be assured — and you can, too — that the products will perform the way they are intended.

For example, JL Audio, a well-respected manufacturer of subwoofers, speakers, amplifiers, and accessories, for years offered only a 90-day warranty for some of its products if installed by a do-it-yourselfer or by an unauthorized dealer, whereas the warranty went up to two years for amps and a year for subs if installed by an authorized dealer or if "the system design and installation integrity are evaluated and approved"by an authorized dealer.

A defective or broken car audio component has to be taken out of the vehicle before it can be replaced or sent back to a manufacturer for repair. A potential bummer is that in some cases, the customer has to pay to have the equipment taken out and put back into the car by the dealer. Although some specialty shops and big box stores will eat the labor cost and not bill the customer if the product is still under warranty, others will charge their usual rates to take out the component and put it back in again. But it's rare for high-quality car audio equipment to break or malfunction, and failure rates are in the five percent range.

Regarding returns, a few manufacturers offer over-the-counter returnsthrough an authorized dealer, meaning the retailer will swap out the component for a new one on the spot. But more commonly, the component will be sent back to the manufacturer or a service center for repair, which could take anywhere from a few days to several weeks. Depending on the retailer you choose, they may either replace a busted component with a new one from their stock or wait till the repaired component comes back from the manufacturer.

Here are some important questions to ask regarding warranties and returns:

  • What is covered under the warranty and what is not?
  • How long is the warranty?
  • Will you replace or repair the component?
  • Will it be an over-the-counter exchange, or will the component have to be sent out?
  • If it's sent out, how long will I have to wait for the repair, and will you provide me with a loaner component while I'm waiting?
  • Who will do the repairs, and where will the component be sent?
  • If the component is repaired or replaced, will the warranty be extended?
  • Who will pay to remove and re-install the component?
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