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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

KATE ON CARS: Car Warranty Woes by Kate Jonasse

Car Warranty Woes

I had a customer with an Audi, really nice car, come in for another 5,000 mile maintenance service.  It had only about 10,000 miles on it at the time and was still covered under the manufacturer’s warranty.  By all means, one would think this car would be spic ‘n’ span, and mechanically flawless.

We dropped the engine under-panel, the plastic cover that is screwed to the car underneath the engine area, and did our standard visual safety inspection.  On the transmission, we could see a slow fluid leak beginning to form.  This leak would be visible with the panel off and had the car lifted up (like in a shop).  There is no way my customer could have seen this or known it was there.  The leak was still small, and it wouldn’t have dripped onto the ground, even if the under-panel wasn’t there to catch the drip before it hit the ground.

I let her know that this leak was there, and that she should schedule a repair with the dealership to have it repaired under warranty.  She said she had recently been to the dealership, and they had not informed her about the leak, nor taken any action to repair it to her knowledge.

She scheduled the appointment as I recommended, and ended up having to have the transmission replaced twice in order to repair the problem.  If the car had not been under warranty, it would have cost her thousands of hard-earned dollars to repair.

The moral of the story is, just because your car is under warranty does not mean that it is not driving around with mechanical flaws.  These flaws can turn into expensive situations that may not rear their ugly heads until your car is out of warranty – and dependent upon your own pocketbook for repairs.  Well, you bring your car to the dealership for services, so they inspect it each time and would let you know if there was any problem, right?

The answer is, not necessarily.  Many auto manufacturers have a policy against repairing problems unless the owner specifically complains about them.  This policy is passed on to the dealerships who service the cars.  Even if a technician sees a small leak or a potential concern that could lead to an expensive repair later (like when the car is out of warranty), nothing will be done about it unless the owner complains about something.  I’m not saying that if there was a safety problem, the dealership would let you drive the car off the lot and risk your life.  But with small leak or a slightly worn non-safety component, your dealership’s hands may be tied unless you already know about it.  And how would you possibly know? How much time do you spend crawling around underneath your car?

This is where it really pays to have someone on your side when it comes to your automobile.    It’s never a bad idea to develop a relationship with a local shop that you trust, and who has a good reputation for quality work, even if your car is still under warranty.  Most manufacturers don’t pay for maintenance, and your auto’s warranty does not require you to go to the dealership for this maintenance.  You might consider taking your car to a certified independent shop for maintenance services, like oil changes or the 30K.  This will probably save you money short term, and could pay off big time if they catch something big, like my Audi customer’s transmission leak - before the warranty is expired.

By the way, I get asked a lot about maintenance intervals.  Many times, in owner’s manuals we see recommended intervals that are too high to be good for your car, or even non-existent.  For example, many vehicles now have “lifetime fill” transmissions.  It sounds like a very cool thing to not have to service your transmission.  But in reality, under many conditions the fluid breaks down and may eventually cause premature transmission failure if it isn’t replaced periodically.

So why would a manufacturer say the car can go longer between maintenance services than it really should?  Because lower maintenance costs make the car more attractive to buyers. By the time components like engines and transmissions are damaged to the point of failure due to lack of fluid changes, the vehicle is out of warranty.  At that point, the responsibility of paying for repairs is out of their hands and into yours.

Once again, the moral of this story is: Developing a good relationship with a local automotive repair shop could save you your hard earned money, even if your car is under warranty.

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