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What is "Wear and Tear"?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Wear and tear is a general term that can be used to describe what happens to any item or asset when it is used appropriately. If a piece of property, like a MP3 player is purchased, it will probably undergo some depreciation as it gets used for its intended purpose; headphones won’t look as perfect or the buttons may have faded slightly. Companies can spend a lot of time finding out what things should look like after they’re used, and what they may look like when they’re abused, to help determine when to honor warranties on items.

Thus, wear and tear may be essentially defined as the gradual depreciation of something when it is used under normal circumstances. It would be great if such definitions were always easy to understand, because there can be differences in how people use items. The term is often preceded by the modifier, “normal.” Normal wear and tear may be different than actual legitimate use of a product.

For instance, a family might share a telephone, and if someone is always on the phone, it could have depreciated or worn out more in a shorter period of time. This could look like abuse of the product, even when no one has abused the telephone. It’s simply gotten more use than expected in a shorter time period.

In addition to this term being used to describe products, and to determine when to honor warranties, it has a common use in landlord/tenant situations. When renters move into apartments, houses or the like, there may be state, country or county rules that strictly define what constitutes wear and tear. Unfortunately, neither landlords nor tenants may always be completely informed of the rules, and this can result in tenants forking over their deposits when they leave a place to fix things that fall under normal depreciation rules.

There are a few things that may fall under normal wear and tear in apartments. Carpets may get old or faded from things like exposure to light, which isn’t the tenant’s fault. A huge stain on the carpet generally is, however. Paint can also get old quickly, within a few years. Provided the tenant cleans the walls, they may not responsible for repainting charges, especially if they’ve occupied a property for several years.

It’s important to note that each government (local or country) may determine what constitutes acceptable depreciation under normal circumstances. Many governments have tenant rights booklets that can help people understand the things for which they may be responsible and the things for which they aren’t. These are variable, but obtaining such a booklet is an excellent idea.

Tenants note any pre-existing damage before they move into rental units, so they are not held responsible for it later. An already ancient carpet with stains on it isn’t going to fall under the same rules as a brand new one. Noting all damage or potential for damage due to normal use helps tenants save their deposits when they leave.

Other types of renters may need to understand what constitutes normal wear and tear too. People who lease cars may need to know what is defined as normal depreciation. Depreciation is also a consideration when people sell cars. If a car looks older than it should because of too much use, exceeding normal use, it may devalue the car.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By Denha — On Dec 17, 2010

@DentalFloss, I noticed the same thing working on Residence Life in college. People just don't see things as theirs if they are only living in them or otherwise using them for a limited amount of time. In a way it makes sense, it just seems that some people take that disregard to an extreme.

By DentalFloss — On Dec 14, 2010

Considering that nearly all tenants in rental situations now have to pay security deposits, wear and tear seems like it would become less of a problem. However, valuing things and keeping them nice just seems not to relate to people the same way when they don't own the space.

By widget2010 — On Dec 12, 2010

One of the risks of general wear and tear rules for many products is that companies and their clients often disagree on what is general and what constitutes an inferior product. Often, the line is simply drawn at an arbitrary time constraint. For example, if a phone falls apart in the first month you own it, that might count as under warranty; six weeks, and your warranty may expire, causing the phone company to refuse to send a replacement or even offer a discount.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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