Warranties are great… at least in theory. I bought a brand new shiny Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra from Samsung’s store, and when you buy something, you can be reasonably sure that it’ll work as intended. If it doesn’t, or something stops working, the manufacturer will fix or replace it for free. That’s great!
But, especially in the US, companies like to try everything possible to avoid honoring warranty claims. There’s plenty of legislation to protect consumers, but it’s not always enforced. Since a warranty claim is usually a single person against a multi-million-dollar corporation, it can be pretty hard to make yourself heard. This isn’t a problem unique to the US either, and many companies will try to avoid fulfilling warranties wherever they can. It’s an overhead, and that’s why, despite this being my experience in the US, it’s also relevant to readers across the world.
Today, it’s time to talk about one such company skirting warranty laws: Samsung. We’ve praised Samsung many times before, but they have their own flaws for sure.
The issue with my Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
So what’s the actual issue here? Why am I even writing this? Well, we’ll get into the “why” later. For now, let me describe my problem.
I bought my Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra on August 18th. It came three days later, on the 21st. After a couple of weeks, I started noticing a weird issue with the display. In certain situations, an image persistence effect was visible. Think temporary screen-burn. It was slight, and would always fade after a few seconds, but it was still noticeable.
I made a Twitter thread showing the issue if you want to see pictures:
Windows doesn’t let me mute a video, so here are two stills showing off the persistence on my Note20 Ultra. pic.twitter.com/ti1ruwJ30c
— Zachary Wander (@Wander1236) September 19, 2020
Since my display was obviously defective, I scheduled a warranty repair through Samsung’s website at the nearest uBreakiFix location, the “nearest” being a 45-minute drive away from me. uBreakiFix is an electronic repair store with stores across the US, Canada, and the Caribbean Islands.
On September 16th, I drove over and dropped the phone off. The next day, they said they couldn’t see the issue, so they hadn’t done anything. I had to come back and pick it up – unrepaired. I thought it was pretty clear in those photos that there’s a persistence issue. On September 23rd, I went to another uBreakiFix location (another 40-50-minute drive away) and showed them the images I shared on Twitter.
This location actually repaired the phone. The technician was completely finished replacing the old display with a new one. However, Samsung refused to authorize the repair; they had to undo it entirely and give me the phone back with the old display. What’s more, my warranty had been entirely voided, as the phone had been deemed “beyond economical repair.”
Why did Samsung void my Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra warranty?
Why did Samsung void my warranty? What does “beyond economical repair” mean?
Well first, I’m rooted. I wrote an article on XDA-Developers as to why I bootloader unlocked and rooted my Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. For the uninitiated, “rooting” effectively means getting administrator access on your smartphone. This is why Samsung marked the warranty as void. “Beyond economical repair” seems to be a weasel term to avoid repairing a rooted device, but I can’t be sure what exactly it means.
Now, I can already hear the 5 billion comments telling me “SAMSUNG SAYS YOUR WARRANTY IS VOID IF YOU ROOT!!!111!!” Oh, really? Show me where exactly. I’ll get into it more in a bit, but Samsung’s official warranty terms do not state that rooting will void the warranty entirely, nor can they.
The case for retaining warranty on my Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
Why do I think I’m still eligible for a warranty repair? Isn’t it common knowledge that rooting your phone voids the warranty? And doesn’t Samsung say so? Just because something is common doesn’t mean it’s true. That’s the case here, on two counts.
Samsung’s Warranty Agreement
First, let’s look at Samsung’s warranty agreement. There are a couple of main examples of Samsung discussing “unauthorized software modifications” or root.
Under the What is not covered? heading, Samsung has this to say about root:
This Standard Limited Warranty does not cover: … (g) defects or damage resulting from improper testing, operation, maintenance, installation, service, or adjustment not furnished or approved by Samsung, including but not limited to installation of unauthorized software and unauthorized root access, both of which shall void this limited warranty; …
To me, that’s pretty clear. If you root and something goes wrong because you rooted then Samsung won’t fix it. And that’s completely fair. However, rooting didn’t cause my display issue (more on that later), and this doesn’t say that simply rooting will void the entire warranty.
You may have a different interpretation of the text above, and if you do, that’s fine. But looking at the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations’ page on the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, “any ambiguity will be resolved in favor of coverage.” If we have different interpretations, it’s ambiguous, is it not?
There’s also another heading in the warranty terms that could be relevant: Modification of software:
Samsung is not liable for performance issues or incompatibilities caused by your editing of registry settings, or your modification of Operating System (OS) software. Using custom OS software may cause your Product and applications to work improperly. Your carrier may not permit users to download certain software, such as custom OS.
This says essentially the same thing as What is not covered?; any issues “caused by” modifications are not covered by the warranty. It doesn’t say that simply rooting will void the warranty.
The Electronic Code of Federal Regulations and the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act
I don’t know if you remember, but I mentioned this earlier. Well, now it’s time to talk about it specifically.
The eCFR is an online database of the different federal regulations in place. Right now, I’m using it to source some stuff from the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. This Act describes some specifics about how warranties should and can be applied or restricted.
First up, this quote:
No warrantor may condition the continued validity of a warranty on the use of only authorized repair service and/or authorized replacement parts for non-warranty service and maintenance…
I’ll admit this might not be the most related to my issue, but hear me out. This is saying that a company can’t void the warranty because something not covered by the warranty was modified or replaced. Well, Samsung pretty specifically says that third-party software on its device is not covered by warranty. Guess what root is? It’s gained through third-party software.
So if my software isn’t covered by warranty, then Samsung can’t “condition the continued validity” of my warranty on that same software.
…a warrantor cannot, as a matter of law, avoid liability under a written warranty where a defect is unrelated to the use by a consumer of “unauthorized” articles or service.
Now, this is pretty clear. If there’s a problem with the device, a company can’t refuse liability because of some unrelated unauthorized modification. In my case, the only way Samsung could void my entire warranty because I’m rooted is if they could prove that me rooting it is behind every possible issue arising now and in the future.
So is it possible that my Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra screen defect arose because I rooted? I mean, technically. But I was noticing this before I rooted. Unfortunately, I don’t have any proof of that, and I know it was kind of stupid to root when I was already considering a repair, but as far as I could tell at that point, Samsung should have had no issue repairing it since their warranty terms do not state that root will void the entire warranty.
Well, I don’t have proof that this issue was present before I rooted. Case closed, right? No!
The burden of proof is on Samsung here. They are required to prove that my rooting of the device caused the screen defect. And that’s going to be tricky. Know why? Because I’m not alone.
After about 15 seconds of Googling on my phone, I found three (3) separate discussions where multiple people were reporting similar or identical issues to mine. And this was before it was even possible to root the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
Here are the three discussions I found:
That may not be absolute proof that my issue is unrelated to me rooting, but it’s some pretty damn good evidence.
The Road to Repair? (No)
So why am I writing this article, you ask? Shouldn’t I have just called Samsung support, showed them their terms, and gotten my warranty back? Well yes, that should have happened, but it didn’t.
Official Support Lines
After the second uBreakiFix repair, I went home and called Samsung’s level-1 support. All that got me was a cyclical “discussion” of an agent telling me rooting voids the warranty, and me pointing out what I did above. It got me nowhere, and it was pretty clear they were simply reading a script.
The next day I managed to get in touch with level-2/3 support. Unfortunately, it was the same story (mostly). I was rooted, therefore my warranty was void. But that’s not what the terms say! Well, they might be able to replace my display for free, but they also had to replace the motherboard because of “policy,” which would cost me $600 out-of-pocket.
Call me crazy, but I’d say that claiming to have to replace a functional part and therefore charge the customer is a pretty blatant attempt to avoid liability for the original defect.
Better Business Bureau
In the US, consumers have a form of recourse called the “Better Business Bureau”, or BBB. The BBB will try to force companies to comply with their own warranties and terms and will attempt to fight on behalf of the consumer. Slight problem though: the BBB is generally useless. It’s just a company with no real power, and businesses can effectively just pay them for better ratings… but I figured it was worth a shot.
I sent off a very Karen-like complaint. A few days later, I got an email from Samsung’s Office of the President. And guess what? It was back to the level-1-type cyclical discussion. I had rooted, so my warranty was void.
However, they also claimed that rooting was the cause of the screen defect. That’s an interesting claim since they would have no way to know that, and I had provided evidence to the contrary. Supposedly there was nothing they could do. The warranty is void.
It may seem like I’m out of options. Samsung is being very adamant in its stance that rooting voids the warranty (even though that isn’t legal, and their own terms don’t say that). However, I do have a few more tricks up my sleeve. I’ve recently sent off complaints to the FTC, the Pennsylvania Attorney General, and my county’s Consumer Protection Office. I haven’t gotten any responses from them, so I can’t write about what happened yet, but it’s possible they’ll be of some help.
Otherwise, maybe this article will give Samsung enough of a PR annoyance to do something. I’m hoping that there can maybe be a precedent set for Samsung actually following federal regulations here. It’s unlikely, but it could happen. If that fails, I am considering suing. I don’t exactly have money, so this is a bit of a nuclear option, and a court case would probably take quite a long time. But if it could force Samsung to follow regulations and its own warranty policies, that’s definitely a win.
Of course, Samsung’s warranty agreement says that disputes have to be solved through arbitration (i.e. no suing). But they’ve broken their own agreement here by refusing to honor my warranty for reasons not defined in that document. I’m not a lawyer by any means, but that sounds like a broken contract to me.
Suing is expensive, and the rest of this is taking a lot of time. And it’s just some image persistence. Why bother?
To be fair, I do have SquareTrade. My phone is insured. I can call them, pay $150, and have uBreakiFix repair my screen. However, I shouldn’t have to do that. It should be free. This screen issue is Samsung’s fault, not mine. And I want to try to set a precedent. If I can successfully get a warranty replacement from Samsung, it’ll make it easier for others (and future me) to do the same, even with other manufacturers.
Obviously, my priority is myself here (I’m human). But I’m going to at least expend some effort to help others along the way.
So I’ve talked through this whole mess, and I’m sure half of you read the second paragraph, stopped, and then commented on how stupid I am for doing this. My Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is still facing issues that Samsung won’t fix, despite the fact that they should.
But if you’ve made it this far, if you know any good consumer protection lawyers in the US, my email is in my author profile. You could also share the article to make Samsung uncomfortable. These issues primarily affect the US, but I’m sure people in the EU and in Ireland have faced issues with companies not wanting to honor their warranties too.
And finally, please, do call me stupid in the comments. Positive or negative, it boosts engagement and helps the rankings. If you’re really against me here, you’re better off saying nothing at all.