Let The Buyer Beware

By Sharon Naylor

October 3, 2014 6 min read

When you get your new car, read your warranty completely to be sure you know what you need to do, and not do, to ensure your warranty stays in full effect. According to the experts at the car value and information company Edmunds.com, "A warranty is a contract between you and the company that built your car. It promises to take care of any applicable repairs, provided that you maintain the vehicle to proper expectations. But like any contract, it can be broken if you don't hold up your end of the bargain, so it is important to know what circumstances can void your warranty."

It's important to understand and adhere to the rules of your factory warranty, because every time you visit your dealership for warranty work, the dealer files a claim with the manufacturer or warranty provider, which is how the dealership gets paid for work performed on your car. If a particular repair isn't covered under the manufacturer's warranty, the claim may be denied, and the cost of your repairs comes out of your pocket. And that can be expensive.

According to the experts at Consumer Reports, "the specifics vary from company to company, but warranties are governed by law requiring full disclosure to the consumer of coverage and duration. Typically, there is a bumper-to-bumper warranty that provides three years or more of coverage, augmented by a long-duration powertrain warranty and/or corrosion warranty."

Read through your warranty carefully, and make sure any relatives or teen drivers using your car know what they can and cannot do to your vehicle, in protection of your warranty. "My teenage son attempted to hide evidence of using my car while I was away for the weekend," says car owner Lawrence. "He disconnected the odometer to try to hide his mileage, and that little secret was revealed when I took the car in for some work. The car's computer revealed the tampering, and my warranty was voided." Educate your family about warranties and help avoid pricy problems in the future.

*What Voids Your Entire Warranty

The experts at Edmunds.com list the following as some factors that can void the entire warranty on your car:

--Altered odometer. If your car's odometer has been disconnected, tampered with or replaced, the dealer will be unable to determine your car's exact mileage, which is usually grounds for a voided warranty. If you order a vehicle history report for your pre-owned vehicle, "the dealer can check for inconsistencies in mileage reporting," say the experts at Edmunds.

--Misuse of the vehicle. While this category of warranty risk can be interpreted in many ways, think off-road driving, vehicle racing or using your vehicle to transport extra-heavy loads on a regular basis, putting strain on your car's frame and parts. Even if you have a vehicle designed for off-road driving, the dealer may still consider that a warranty-voiding situation.

--Environmental damage. If your car was damaged in a flood, fire, earthquake or other environmental disaster, the manufacturer may void your warranty.

--Salvage title. If your car was severely damaged in an accident and was declared a total loss, or given a salvage title, your entire warranty will be voided. Keep this in mind if you're shopping for a car from an independent car lot or private owner, and get a vehicle history report to see whether that vehicle has a salvage title attached to it.

*What Voids Specific Vehicle Parts

--Use of improper fluids. If you accidentally put diesel fuel into your non-diesel vehicle, any damage incurred is not covered under warranty. Always make sure you use fuels and additives outlined in your owners manual.

--Going too long without an oil change or service. If you neglect to take your car in for services on a regular schedule, the dealer will not be responsible for repairing any damage to the engine.

--Modifying parts. Any after-market modifications to your car may cause your warranty to be voided. Modifications are often a sign to dealers that you may be racing your car -- again, cause for a complete void of your warranty.

"Included in the protections for reasonable use in the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is the right for consumers to have the vehicle serviced at a business of their choice," say the experts at Consumer Reports. "And (you have) the option to use aftermarket parts, meaning potentially money-saving alternatives to those that came on the car, while retaining the original warranty. The automaker is not allowed to void a warranty just because a non-factory part is used."

However, if the dealer rules that parts used on the car are defective or not performing correctly, there may be a problem with your warranty. You have the option to seek out another car repair company, but good parts and quality work on your car are essential to the operational safety of your vehicle and its longevity.

The experts at Edmunds.com say, "If you feel that a service adviser has denied your warranty claim unfairly, you can always go higher up in the management chain, contact the automaker directly or go to another dealer altogether."

To avoid warranty issues, the Federal Trade Commission offers these tips.

--Read your warranty carefully.

--Know the warranty period. And don't wait to seek repairs.

--Keep all service records and receipts, which can serve as proof of the maintenance history of your car, help resolve disputes and potentially impress a future buyer of your car.

--Complain. If your claim is denied for a reason you feel is unfair, complain to a manager up the chain of command at the detail, and if the problem isn't resolved, complain to the state attorney general's office.

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