Boat Warranties: Mistakes, Tips and Traps
Many people get caught up in the excitement
of buying a new boat and do not pay much attention to the
new boat warranty. That can be a big mistake.
Boat warranties can be complicated and confusing. They are
often worded to protect the boat builder and not the boat
buyer. You compare boats when you shop so why not compare
the warranties before you buy?
You need to look at the fine print and figure out what it
really means before you spend thousands of dollars on that
new boat. Here are some common mistakes to look out for.
Mistake: Don’t Believe the
Warranty Covers Everything
Your boat has lots of different parts and frequently the
warranty coverage on one part is not the same as it might
be on another part, even when both are made by the same manufacturer.
The most important parts of warranty coverage are for the
hull and the engines. However, you will probably also get
other warranties from the manufacturers of different electronic
parts, the steering, “living quarters” components,
Like RV manufacturers, boat manufacturers buy different
components from different manufacturers, and they each usually
come with a warranty from that specific manufacturer. You
need to look at each individual warranty to see exactly what
is covered and for how long.
Tip: Make Them Write it down
Most important, however, is to look at the boat manufacturer’s
own new boat warranty. Be sure you understand exactly what
is covered and what is not. It is always a good idea to ask
the sales person, but if what you read in the warranty booklet
is not the same as what they told you, then make them right
it down on a piece of paper so you know for sure what you
really are getting. Remember: an oral warranty is worth the
paper it isn’t written on.
Mistake: Not Reading the Warranty
You would think that when a person is going to spend thousands
of dollars on a brand new boat, they would at least take
the time to read the warranty booklet and see what they are
getting for their money. Believe it or not, that often does
not happen. In fact, you might not even get the warranty
booklet with the boat at all. Make sure you do. If not, look
on the manufacturer’s website for warranty coverage
but don’t be surprised if the warranty isn’t
what you expected it to be.
If the dealer tries to avoid giving you a copy of the warranty
booklet before you buy the boat, then you have good reason
to worry and you should probably go somewhere else with your
business. After all, if they won’t even let you see
what the warranty rights are, do you really trust what they
are doing to you on the numbers in buying the boat in the
Once you have the warranty booklet in your hands, read through
it carefully and make sure it says exactly what the sales
person said it would say. Make sure you understand what it
covers and what it does not cover. Make sure you find out
if you have to “register” the warranty and, if
so, when do you have to do that or will the dealer do it
Remember: your legal rights are in that warranty. You do
not want to find out later that those legal rights are a
lot less than what you paid for.
Trap: A Prorated Warranty Can Cost You
Watch out for the word “prorated” which means
that you may not get full coverage for some part of the time
or some components of the boat. For example, you might get
a five-year warranty on the hull, but the fine print might
say it is prorated over five years. This means you get a “sliding
scale” of warranty coverage that amounts to pretty
much nothing at the end of the five years and something in
the middle around year two or three.
If the manufacturer’s warranty is too limited for
your liking, ask the dealer to stand behind the boat with
their own warranty. Getting the dealer’s commitment
before you pay your money ought to be pretty easy. After
all, if the new boat was built right, then why should the
dealer worry about having to stand behind it with their own
guarantee? If the dealer wants your money bad enough (and,
trust me, they do) then they should be willing to guarantee
that you are getting your money’s worth.
Tip: Get the Dealer’s Own Guarantee
Ask the dealer to write on the sales contract these words “Dealer
guarantees this boat’s parts will be defect free and
operate right for 3 years” or, if you want, make it
longer. If the dealer won’t do it, then ask them why
you should buy their boat in the first place if they won’t
stand behind it.
Read the fine print carefully. Otherwise, you could get
stuck for paying for part of your own warranty repair work.
If that is what the warranty says, then maybe you should
buy a different boat or go to a different dealer.
Trap: Make Sure the Warranty Is Transferrable
Many manufacturers now make their boat warranties transferable,
so that when you sell the boat the remaining part of the
warranty goes to the new owner. That can make your used boat
worth a whole lot more money, then it otherwise might be.
However, even here you have to be careful because the warranty
transfer may have to be done carefully or the buyer might
end up with no warranty at all.
If you are buying a used boat, check the manufacturer’s
website to see what you have to do to transfer the remaining
balance of the warranty. If you are selling a used boat,
you should tell the buyer to do that. Either way, watch out
for the “transfer fee” (usually $50 to $100)
that the boat manufacturer may charge to transfer the warranty.
Watch out because many boat manufacturers require the warranty
transfer to take place within 30 days of the sale itself.
Mistake: Not Complaining Properly
One of the biggest problems with warranty coverage is that
many boat owners simply call the dealer and figure that will
take care of the problem. That is only the beginning of taking
care of the problem.
When you have a warranty issue you should not only call
the dealer, but you should send them an email or a letter
and keep a copy of it. You should also send a copy of it
to the boat manufacturer. You might even want to think about
sending a copy of your complaint letter to the bank or finance
company, if you financed the boat purchase.
Tip: The Squeaky Wheel (or Rudder)
Gets the Grease
The idea is to make sure that everyone is aware of the problem
that you have, so that if you end up in a dispute later then
no one can say that they did not see it coming. Keep a log
of your warranty problems and your repair trips, and keep
all of your repair documents in one file. Make notes on when
you take the boat into the shop, when you get it back, how
much you had to pay for any kind of repair cost, and why
you were required to pay. Remember, the more detailed, the
As sure as you keep a very thorough and detailed set of
repair records, you will never need it. As sure as you don’t,
you will wish you had.
Mistake: Doing Your Own Repair Work
Many boat owners have enough mechanical knowledge to be
able to take care of some of the problems on their boat,
even when those problems are covered by warranty. That’s
fine, as long as you realize that when you do it, you may
be voiding your warranty completely.
If you do your own repair work wrong or not do it as thoroughly
as required by the manufacturer, you might as well tear up
your warranty booklet. If you bought a row boat, that probably
does not matter anyway. However, if you paid $100,000 + for
a Sea Ray, you better be careful about doing your own warranty
work, even if you have a shop full of tools and you know
how to use them.
Take your boat to an authorized dealer or an authorized
repaired shop, so that all warranty repairs are done by someone
who is authorized to do it. Not only does it get be done
for free that way (after all it is under warranty), but then
no one can say the work was done wrong or that you hired
an “unauthorized” mechanic. Also, keep all of
your paperwork so you can prove what work was done and when
it was done.
Tip: Only Do the Simple Stuff
When it comes to servicing your boat, you can certainly
do simple things yourself as long as you keep good, thorough
records to prove that they were done. Just be careful. Be
sure you do all of the service work on time or even early.
Trap: Not Doing Boat Maintenance on Time
If you delay that oil change for a few extra days or a week
beyond when it is suppose to be done, do not be surprised
if the manufacturer turns down the warranty claim when the
engine blows up on you. After all, they are in the business
of making money by selling boats. Honoring their warranty
costs them money and if you give them an easy way to avoid
having to put new engines in your boat, don’t be surprised
if they take it.
Tip: Schedule Warranty Work When it Is Needed — Don’t
If you have something that is covered by warranty and it
needs to be fixed, then get it done right then. Do not wait
until the end of the seasons. Not only are dealers often
busier, at the end of the season, but that delay may result
in your warranty being voided because you did not bring the
problem in for repairs right away.
Mistake: Not Complaining Until End
of Boating Season
Most warranties require you to report a problem to an authorized
dealer immediately when the problem occurs. Of course, some
reasonable amount of time might be necessary for you to get
around to doing that, if you happen to be out in the ocean
at the time. But don’t wait until the end of boating
season to report a problem or you could find yourself having
to pay for the repair all by yourself.
If you do not have a good excuse for failing to report the
problem to an authorized dealer right away, don’t be
surprised if the manufacturer decides not to honor the warranty.
They might decide to pay only part of the coverage, or they
might decide not to do anything.
The only time you want to try and fix something yourself,
even though you know it is covered by warranty, is when you
are trying to minimize further damage so that you can get
the boat into a dealer or if a safety problem occurs while
you are out on the water. An emergency is, after all, an
Trap: Painting the Bottom Yourself
Osmosis blisters can cause expensive repairs and lately
boat manufacturers have become very sensitive about their
bottoms, so to speak. You can void your warranty if you sand
the gel coat so that the paint adheres to the bottom better,
because this might allow water to cause blisters.
“No sanding” primers are available, but you
need to have a very good understanding of exactly what your
warranty says you should and should not do before you take
sandpaper to the hull for bottom paint. Otherwise, you could
find yourself with no warranty left at all.
And the Biggest Problem: Thinking
You Will Not Have a Problem
Okay, so you spent thousands of dollars to buy a new boat.
And you took really good care of it, too. Then a problem
arises and you expect that the manufacturer is going to stand
behind it, right? Well, surprise, surprise, that is not the
way it always works.
Tip: Complain the Right Way
With every complaint you ever make, there are two steps.
First contact your dealer. Second, contact the manufacturer’s
customer service department. You want the manufacturer to
know about it each time you have a problem because your boat
dealer may just do the repair and not turn in a warranty
claim. Then, if the problem gets more serious you have no
record of the first repair attempt at all.
Each time you complain, say exactly what your problem is
and why you think they should cover it under warranty. And
keep a diary of your problems and the repair attempts and
your complaints, in as much detail as you can, at the time
things are happening. Document everything carefully and be
prepared to argue if you have to.
Be patience, and be professional. Try to get it worked out
on your own if possible. However, sometimes it just isn’t.
When that happens, talk to an attorney right away. With every
legal right you have, there is only a limited amount of time
to do something about it before your legal rights expire.
When that happens, you are stuck.
If you want, you can have a competent marine surveyor do
an inspection and prepare an independent report. That might
help the manufacturer to decide to cover the problem. Your
insurance company probably knows a surveyor in your area.
Just remember: you paid good money for what should be a
good boat. When it isn’t, the boat lemon law lawyers
at Burdge Law Office can help get
warranty coverage, a new boat, or your money back. That’s
why we’re here.
If you’ve got a problem, we can help. Call us toll
free at 1.888.331.6422 or email
us for your free lemon boat case review.