DennisBeaverJanuary 07, 2012 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

Before buying, study the warranty carefully. What does it cover? How long does it last? Is it written in easy to understand language? What is excluded? Comparison shop, not just shutters or blinds, but warranties. Also, use web resources such as Yelp to research the seller and manufacturer.

Often, the true colors of the business only become clear after the sale – when warranty service is required. There can be no justification for putting up roadblocks and forcing customers to jump through nonsensical hoops to obtain warranty service.

But that’s precisely what Mary Ann Borges of Hanford was about to discover when she phoned P&J Custom Window Coverings in late 2011, needing repairs to shutters purchased in 2005 which had a “lifetime warranty.”

“It was just crazy. I had never experienced anything so strange as dealing with them,” she told us.

The more we dug, the deeper we looked into P&J, the more we agreed with our reader’s comments. But “strange” didn’t quite cut it.

You’ll just love our lifetime warranty – which lasts seven years

“We were told the shutters had a lifetime warranty, valid for as long as we lived in our house, and that if ever repairs were needed, they would be taken care of under that warranty,” Borges explained.

In fact, a number of shutter manufacturers have similar language in their warranty documentation, with the better ones simply stating that the shutters “will be free from defects in materials and workmanship,” without other limitations or exclusions aside from misuse.

P&J ‘s printed documentation defined “lifetime warranty” as “7 years from the date of installation,” but their website has something which is far more interesting, a little vanishing act with sales records, as Borges found, making it like pulling teeth to get promised warranty service. Their online warranty statement reads:

“Due to the changing laws and regulations in California regarding identification theft and consumer privacy, P&J Custom Window Coverings does not have any specific customer information available on orders over 1 year old. Unfortunately this is solely for the protection of our customers.”

What? This is complete nonsense!

Compare P&J with recordkeeping at the Kirby Vacuum Cleaner Co., which offers a valuable lifetime rebuilding warranty. “We have customer records going back to the 1940s,” we were told.

We asked Bakersfield CPA and business consultant Greg Honegger to comment on P&J’s warranty policy.

“It is very poor business practice. You should always keep customer information for at least as long as the term of your warranty. I can’t think of a justification for having such a policy where unavailability, loss or destruction of customer records takes place while outstanding warranty obligations remain open. With current technology and the inexpensive and secure data storage that is available today, not to keep required warranty documentation makes no sense from a business or tax perspective.”

If you’ve had your shutters more than a year and need warranty service, P&J wants the original invoice sent in – the pink copy, as they told us. Even a photocopy of their own invoice marked “Paid” was not adequate, they told our reader.

What we learned

After being refused warranty service on her shutters, Borges contacted You and the Law, and we in turn – after days of trying – finally spoke with the owner, Matt Carlton of Fresno.

He wanted to know what was wrong with the shutters, and we read the letter from Borges, which stated that sections of the shutters were coming apart. His response was to blame the customer. “She is abusing them!” he yelled.

The charming Matt did, however, agree to have a repair person sent to her home “for a $35 fee.” When it was pointed out that the written warranty made no mention of that charge, he reluctantly agreed to waive it.

In late November, a repairman visited our reader’s home and her shutters are now working fine.

Visit the zoo while you’re here

It is common in most contracts to have a clause which specifies that if a lawsuit or other formal types of dispute resolution are sought, where this will occur. The city will typically be stated, usually where the company’s head office is located. This is known as venue, and courts don’t like venue choices which are remote or have no real connection to the company or parties.

The P&J warranty venue clause states:

“Venue for all court filings, proceedings or arbitration will be held in San Diego, California.”

But their head office is in Fresno. They don’t have an office in San Diego, and never have.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.