6 Lies You've Been Told About Your Car's Warranty

Some people regard their car warranty as the automotive equivalent of Linus’ blanket, an indispensable source of financial security and everyday peace of mind. But naysayers insist it's just an excuse for the dealership's service department to lure you into its lair and gouge you in every way it possibly can. 

The truth? Warranties are complicated, but they do offer a significant amount of protection -- protection for you against any dealership that tries to screw you over, and protection for the dealership against unscrupulous drivers who try to get their own f-ups fixed for free. 

To help clear up any misconceptions, I got in touch with Richard Reina, who spends his days as the director of product training at CARiD, which sells just about everything you'd need for your car. Simply put, it's very much in his professional interest to know the ins and outs of your new car's warranty. Here are some all-too-commmonly held notions about your warranty that you need to stop believing.

1. Modifying your car will void the warranty

A lot of people are extremely hesitant to soup up their cars because they're afraid of voiding the warranty should they even sneeze on it wrong. "That simply is not true," Richard asserts, "and the federal Magnuson-Moss Act protects the consumer in that regard. It is your property, and you are allowed to modify it as you see fit."

2. You can modify your car as much as you want without voiding the warranty

Here's the catch: when something goes wrong with your car, it's possible you've done something specific that caused the issue. As Richard put it: "An obvious example would be the installation of wheels and tires which are so large they rub against the vehicle’s fenders. Such damaged fenders, if it can be shown were caused by the installation of the oversize tires, would not be a warranty obligation for the vehicle manufacturer."

Sure, this sounds basically like "you break it, you buy it," but a carbon-fiber hood won't void the engine's warranty any more than swapping suspension components will affect your A/C. The bottom line is: "If the aftermarket work, no matter how extensive, does not affect the functionality of the vehicle [or the part in question], its warranty remains in effect."

3. You'll void your warranty if you go to an independent mechanic

The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act has you covered when it comes to getting work done. If you maintain your car as the manufacturer prescribes, it doesn't matter if you take it to the dealership, an independent mechanic, or do it yourself in your driveway.

BUT. There's an issue if whoever's working on your car screws it up in the process. Consider this nightmare scenario: "The owner takes his car to an independent repair shop for an oil change at the correct prescribed mileage interval. In this case, the shop stocks only one grade/viscosity of oil, and uses that. They even note the grade of oil on the receipt. Months later, the vehicle begins to consume excessive oil. An investigation determines the incorrect oil was used, which caused internal engine damage. A warranty repair is denied by the manufacturer." That is why you should make damn sure you trust whoever is touching your car.

4. If your car starts falling apart immediately after the warranty period, you can still get it declared a lemon

Generally speaking, that's a big fat no... with a caveat: "There is no federal 'lemon law.' All lemon laws are state laws, and vary widely around the country. Because of that, we can only generalize. It is our understanding that for the majority of state lemon laws, the alleged defect, or at least its first occurrence, must occur while the vehicle is within its new car warranty period." Reina does point out, though, that a half-dozen states have so-called "used car lemon laws."

When in doubt, know your rights.

Aaron Miller/Thrillist

5. If you have to replace your engine, your car is definitely out of warranty

This one is particularly interesting, because from time to time you'll hear of someone destroying their engine out of negligence, and there's a fairly common misconception that the car is damaged goods at that point. "Only in rare cases," says Richard, "do vehicle manufacturers completely void a vehicle's warranty. This happens when insurance companies 'total' the vehicle." Naturally, your engine's warranty will be shot (although the new engine may come with its own warranty), but in and of itself, changing an engine won't void your suspension warranty, for example.

6. If your dealership says your problem is "normal wear and tear," you're SOL

We've all been there: walking into a dealership's service department with an annoying malfunctioning widget, and the technician brushes the issue off as "normal." Rather than having a complete meltdown at the counter, or turning around and going home, or venting your consternations in a cloud of anonymous rage online, Richard has what amounts to a five-step program for getting your problem taken care of:

First: Appeal your case to the dealership management. Seek out the service manager or service director, and suggest that the two of you drive the car to demonstrate the concern.

Second: If the car has had aftermarket modifications, be prepared to detail those changes, with receipts for parts and service work. Give the dealership a chance to understand the mods, and explain how, in your opinion, they have affected (or not affected) the car.

Third: If the dealer still denies your claim, ask to meet with the factory representative. All vehicle owners should have that opportunity if requested. The factory rep may travel to the dealership only once/twice a month. Be patient but firm, and insist that an appointment be made. If the dealership refuses, call the vehicle manufacturer’s customer service department. The number is in your owner’s manual.

Fourth: When meeting the rep, again request a test drive, and be prepared to explain your case. Again, have any and all receipts available. Ask that a repair order be generated to document the visit. Take notes to make your own documentation.

Finally: If the factory rep declines your request for repair, you will either need to write to the manufacturer, or pursue other legal remedies.  

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Aaron Miller is the Cars editor for Thrillist, and can be found on Twitter. Naturally, he's never had a major issue with a car unless it was out of warranty.