Avoid a warranty 'void'
Last month's surprising surge in new-car sales up nearly 3 percent overall after an also-strong March put the industry on a pace to sell 17 million new vehicles by year's end.Skip to next paragraph
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With each of those gleaming sets of wheels comes a warranty, a manufacturer's promise to stand behind the quality of its product.
But as with any contract, warranties are subject to interpretation. One result: the possibility of loopholes that manufacturers or dealers can use to get out of paying for repairs.
For carmakers, warranties are all about keeping buyers happy while weeding out fraud, says David Cole, director of the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
With the length of manufacturer warranties growing 100,000 miles for Hyundais and Kias and 120,000 miles for most Isuzus claims can quickly run into the billions of dollars. So automakers may have more reason to fend off consumer claims that multiplied by scores of thousands of vehicles can quickly run into the billions of dollars.
What can consumers do to make sure their warranties hold up?
Rule No. 1: Read and follow your owner's manual.
Most manuals now specify that oil should be changed every 7,000 miles for "ordinary use." But they insist that under "severe" or "extreme" driving conditions, the oil be changed more often every 3,000 to 5,000 miles.
"If you read the fine print in the owner's manual, most normal driving is defined as severe," says Mike Allen, auto-repair expert with Popular Mechanics.
For example, here's what a recent Chrysler owner's manual defines as "extreme" use: "... if you drive mostly short distances, operate the vehicle in dusty areas or under predominately stop-and-go traffic conditions, or [live] where temperatures remain below freezing for extended periods."
A similar clause recently gave Toyota room to say owners didn't change their oil frequently enough. Earlier this year, Toyota faced hundreds of claims that its most popular engines seized after the oil turned to sludge. The company initially balked at the claims, blaming owners for failing to change their oil often enough. But after some owners threatened legal action, Toyota agreed to cover the repairs, and instituted design changes to eliminate the problem in new engines.
Rule No. 2: Keep receipts for all routine maintenance.
Jobs not normally covered by warranties, such as oil changes and brake jobs, need not be done by dealers. A series of lawsuits in the 1980s established that consumers who use independent garages retain the right to coverage.
Still, having a dealer perform maintenance scheduled in the owner's manual until the warranty expires can make sense. "Basically, the more you don't take it to dealer, the more trouble you're going to have defending a warranty claim," says David Champion, head of auto testing at Consumer Reports. Only four major service intervals (every 7,500 miles) occur before most warranties expire, he notes. So the expense is minimal to make sure all the recommended work is done.
Rule No. 3: Use factory parts at least until the warranty expires.