When it comes to warranties, a lifetime really isn't a lifetime

BENICIA, Calif. (KGO) -- Merriam Webster dictionary defines "lifetime as the duration of the existence of a living being."

So if you purchase a product with a lifetime warranty, you might think you're protected against any breakage of that product your entire life. We've discovered that's not always the case.

David Horn is out in his yard in Benicia every day.

The retired firefighter made good use out of a shovel he purchased four years ago.

One day the handle on that shovel fractured.

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David didn't worry because the shovel's label included the words "lifetime warranty" scrolled across the top.

"I thought it was maybe my lifetime, the lifetime of the company, but I just figured if it broke, I would get a new one," he said.

That's not how shovel manufacturer Seymour Midwest saw it.

A rep told us, "Our products carry a limited lifetime warranty. This means they are free from manufacturing defects in materials and workmanship during normal use."

The company declined to replace David's shovel under its warranty.

Dominique Alepin of the Federal Trade Commission says the word lifetime in warranties is a misnomer.

"Most consumers think lifetime means lifetime. However, that doesn't necessarily match up with the warranty that is printed by the manufacturer," said Dominique Alepin, Western Regional Assistant Director of the Federal Trade Commission.

Seymour Midwest details its warranty in its catalog.

The warranty is described in the catalog as a limited lifetime warranty.

Seymour West told us "tools that are abused or worn out from normal use are excluded from this warranty. Mr. Horn's shovel fell into this latter category which is why his claim was denied."

That made no sense to David.

"I didn't quite understand what the lifetime of the tool meant. The tool could break in a week. Well, that was the lifetime, " he said.

David asked 7 On Your Side for help and we contacted Seymour Midwest.

The company agreed to replace the shovel to keep David happy, but maintains it did nothing wrong.

"Why shouldn't they expect that lifetime really mean the lifetime of the product," Alepin of the FTC asked rhetorically. "Because the manufacturer is permitted to provide certain limitations on its warranty. Period. And consumer should read those limitations prior to purchasing products."

You can read the FTC's publication on warranties here.
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