What Does Your Car’s Warranty Actually “Cover”?

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Most new vehicles come with several warranties.warranty 1

The one most people think of first is the new car “bumper to bumper” (or “basic”) warranty. It covers just about everything except routine maintenance items such as oil and filter changes, brake pads, etc. Routine maintenance is on you. And more important to know, if you fail to do the specified routine maintenance, any problems that develop could also be on you. This includes using the manufacturer’s recommended fluids and filters – and keeping records as evidence that the specified maintenance was in fact done. Read the terms and conditions of your car’s warranty very carefully – and if there’s some point you don’t understand, ask about it at your dealership.

Most current-year vehicles come with at least a three year/36,000 mile bumper to bumper warranty. Remember the key phrase: whichever comes first. If you drive 20,000 miles annually, your new car’s bumper-to-bumper 3/36 warranty may run out before two years are out.

Overlapping the basis/bumper-to-bumper warranty is the “powertrain” warranty. It typically covers the engine, transmission, drive axles, transfer cases (4WD vehicles) and so on.warranty 2

The powertrain warranty almost always lasts much longer than the bumper-to-bumper warranty; for example, several new cars (Hyundai, Kia) have powertrain warranties that are good for as long as 10 year/100,000 miles (again, whichever comes first).

There are also separate warranties for the emissions control systems, hybrid components for hybrid gas-electric cars (covers the batteries and electric motors) and even a warranty for the tires.

Information about your warranty coverages – all of them – should be in the vehicle’s glovebox, with the literature that came with your car when you bought it. It’s a good idea to read through this all stuff, ideally before you have a possible warranty-related problem. Know your coverages; then put the paperwork someplace safe. If you do have a problem at some point down the road, dig up the appropriate paperwork and get ready to take the next step.

* Schedule an appointment at an authorized repair facility –

“Authorized” is very important. Excepting emergencies (and sometimes, even then), most warranty work must be performed at a shop specifically authorized by the manufacturer (the people who built your car; GM, Toyota, etc.). That doesn’t mean it has to be a dealer; independent shops are sometimes ok. It just means the shop – dealer or independent – must bean authorized shop. Don’t authorize work before you know whether the shop is in fact authorized – or you may end up with the bill.warranty 3

If you have an emergency, such as a breakdown miles from home that forces you to seek help at the first place you can find – “authorized” or not – warranty coverage may still be honored. But you must follow the protocols set forth by the manufacturer of your vehicle (again, see your paperwork), which usually involves calling or otherwise notifying the manufacturer (e.g., Toyota, GM, etc.) and documenting everything that is done to the vehicle.

* Discuss the problem/repair with the service advisor –

It’s important to be on the same page with them – and them with you – regarding any work that may (or may not) come under the provisions of your warranty. If it’s warranty work, be sure the service advisor agrees it’s warranty work – and that it is so noted on your invoice. You don’t want to argue about what was covered after the work has been done.

* Keep records (and documentation) of any and all service work related to a warranty issue –

Sometimes, problems recur because the part (or design of the vehicle) is itself flawed or defective in some way. If you’re unlucky enough to be the owner of such a car, you’ll want to have evidence of an ongoing problem so that the dealer will have a harder time trying to claim later on that “it’s just normal wear” should the same part fail once again – after the warranty has expired. In such cases, you may still be able to get them to fix it again at no cost or partial cost, even if the warranty is no longer in force. Worst case, you’ll have evidence to help you seek redress under state “lemon” laws. Generally, if a problem – the same problem – manifests three times, it is considered evidence of lemonhood.warranty 4

* In case of dispute –

If you are unhappy with any aspect of warranty-related service, the first step is to attempt to communicate with the manager (better yet, the owner) of the dealership. Be calm, polite and factual. Reason with him; present your paperwork and explain your specific grievance. Don’t be accusatory; make it clear all you’re looking for is fair treatment – and a properly working car.

Hopefully, the problem can be resolved at this level. If, however, your problem has not been addressed to your satisfaction, the next step is to call the manufacturer’s Customer Assistance Center (this number will be listed either in your new vehicle owner’s manual or the warranty paperwork). They will try to mediate between you and the dealer to arrive at some mutually satisfactory agreement. And if that doesn’t work for you, the next step is to get in touch with the Better Business Bureau’s Auto Line Program. This is a free, out-of-court mediation service run by the Better Business Bureau to settle disputes without lawyers (and the expense of hiring a lawyer). The BBB Auto Line Progrm typically takes 40 days to handle a complaint; the tool-free nationwide number is 1-800-9555-5100; you can also obtain more info at www.lemonlaw.bbb.org.

The final resort is to pursue the matter through the courts. Hopefully, it won’t go that far – and you should try to prevent it from getting it that far, because the cost to litigate a warranty claim can literally be more than it’s worth – although you may get some satisfaction “on principle.”

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  1. My car originally came with a comprehensive “Buyer Protection Plan” that was written in plain English so as not to leave much to the imagination. Of course coverage was only for 12 months/12,000 miles (typical of the day) and expired over 40 years ago. At the time though it was considered to be quite an advantage for consumers compared to the obtuse legalese found in most manufacturers’ warranty provisions.

    • I remember my Dad buying a car 1973 (an AMC Matador) with the 1 year/12k warranty. This was before the days of rebates, so the ‘deal’ was – drive it 3 mos. before the 1st payment comes due. He drove it out of warranty before he made a payment.

        • Considering that I have several AMC vehicles ranging in age from 30 to 50 years old that still run great I’d have to take issue with that! 🙂

          • Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind having one’a them ol’ 4×4 Iggle(Eagle) wagons! (Almost as much as I’d like to have a Checker Marathon!)

            [For the young’uns: I’m talking about a car- not an epic game of checkers!]

            • I have an Eagle wagon. It’s still in pretty decent shape for having gone through 30 Northeast winters, though of course there is some rust to deal with. I need to replace a rusted-out brake line to get it ready for this winter season.

              Checkers are great, I remember when the streets of just about every American city were filled with Checker cabs. I can also remember riding in the jump seats as a passenger. (Government goons would never permit that type of seating today!)

            • I’d like to have a Wagoneer(have one but the ass-end is bent bad, idiot friend backed it into a big tree). There were a few made with GM SBC 400’s and Turbo 350’s but 99% were 360’s and 927 TorqFlite tranny’s.

              They had an old style a/c compressor and lots of old parts. Replace that compressor with an AC radial or the newer style and the power steering box too with a GM, install some good SBC with a 4L60 tranny or even a newer style with more OD’s and that would not only be a road king but the 4 wheel drivingest thing you ever saw. Their 4 WD was great stuff. Throw away the leaf springs and air bag it and cruise in comfort no matter the terrain. I’ve driven one at 90 mph for hours in the snow and ice and never a bobble. And that was REAL sheet metal.

                • The Matador is a decent enough car (basically a renamed and slightly modified Rebel), ask the man who owns one! 🙂 Though the coupe that came out in 1974 was pretty bizarre-looking.

                  The Pacer design started with good intentions. The reason it wound up so bloated and heavy was fear of impending government crash and rollover regulations. The original design was lighter and fleeter, but company lawyers forced it to be reworked. Also of course the car was designed around an engine that was never produced, the GM Wankel Rotary. Add in AMC’s lack of resources to do a proper engineering job and the Pacer wound up an overweight and underpowered gas hog. They were comfortable and roomy but offered little or no improved gas mileage over a traditional-style intermediate car.

                  It can be argued that it was the Matador Coupe and Pacer that ended AMC’s future prospects. The cars didn’t even break even with tooling costs, in hindsight the money would have been much better spent updating their core products which were getting severely dated by the late 1970s.

                  • Remember the Concord? I always thought they were decent cars. Don’t think I’ve seen one since the early 80’s!

                    Hehe, yeah…those mid-70’s Matadors is what I was picturing- DAYUM they were fugly! The earlier ones were quite nice.

                    AMC was never really good with styling- it was like they had Edsel Ford posthumously working in their design department! I think that killed the company more than anything else. But then again…Chrysler is still in business…so maybe not!

                    • The Concord was basically a more luxurious version of the Hornet. Since AMC didn’t have the money to make fundamental engineering changes to the product, they turned the Hornet into a luxury compact by adding sound insulation, more luxurious seating (the base Hornet seats were awful!), playing with spring and shock rates, plus a mild restyle for the front and rear. It actually sold pretty well. But it was still a Hornet underneath.

                      Probably their cleanest styling job overall was the 1963-1964 Rambler Classic and Ambassador.

                  • The Matador was a kick-ass car to drive, especially with the 401 engine – that could burn a decent patch of rubber from a rolling 30 MPH start. Just be sure to bring a box of tools and spare parts that are going to fall off, you are going to need them. The cooling system was also a weak point if driven hard & fast for 10-20 miles.

                    I have known several hard core jeep’ers with a death wish put the 401 in the old CJ-5 & CJ-7’s.

                    From Wikipedia:
                    1972 -1974 the LAPD chose the AMC Matador because they “out handled and out performed all the other cars.”[45] The LAPD police Matadors included among other special equipment: T-2 can lights, a five-channel Motorola Motrac 70 radio, a Federal siren, and a “Hot Sheet Desk” with a Roster gooseneck lamp.[46]

              • When the Wagoneer debuted in the early 1960s the standard mill was an overhead-cam six developed by Kaiser Jeep, basically an OHC head on (I think) a reworked Continental six-cylinder engine.

                This was the first mass-produced American OHC automobile engine, unless you want to count the Crosley OHC four which was produced in far less volume.

                The early Wagoneers also offered a somewhat bizarre torsion-bar independent front suspension on 4WD models.

                Here’s a Motor Trend road test of the 1963 Wagoneer:


                • Correction, I think Jeep was still Willys-Overland when the Wagoneer came out, Kaiser merged with them later. (I could look it up but am too lazy, and memories this old can’t always be trusted!)

  2. Eric’s remarks regarding warranty work being possibly obtained at non-authorized (non-manufacturer) service outlets is misleading. All vehicle manufactures, import or domestic, require that all warranty work be performed by an authorized dealer for the relevant manufacturer. In certain rare exceptions (perhaps an owner is traveling in an area with no authorized dealer representation, highly improbable but possible) arrangements may be made to have repairs performed by a non-affiliated repair shop. Such repair costs would normally then be paid for by the customer, who then would seek reimbursement by the relevant auto-maker. I do have some expertise in this area, having been a service rep for Ford throughout Latin America and the Caribbean in the early Seventies, plus having owned seven new-car franchises in the Philadelphia area before retiring a few years back.

  3. Yes the BBB certainly has that no cost mediation service. I used it once for a Chevy truck. Upon entering the mediation room I over heard the mediator a and Chevy lawyer talking about getting together over the weekend. That gave me an indication of the outcome… and boy was it prophetic! So in summary unless you are a lawyer or take a trusted one with you to this mediation your success is questionable at best.

  4. My TDI Sportwagen came with “free” service for 3 yr. or 36k mi. – free meaning included in the price of the car. Since I drive nearly 30k/yr., this ran out less than 1-1/2 years after purchase – then @ 40k they call for your first transmission service. Sticker is quite a shock after getting the 1st 3 oil changes gratis.

    • Wow! A tranny that can still be serviced? A lot of new vehicles have sealed trannies, on which ya can’t even change or add fluid. Tranny givin’ ya trouble? Just throw it away and get a new ‘un! Seems to be becoming common on Nissans and Turdotas.

      • this is the 6-spd DSG, and yes they want you to change the fluid – + – every 40K. This involves pumping fluid through the system, to the tune of 16 qts.

  5. >”…It just means the shop – dealer or independent – must bean authorized shop.”<

    That sounds like fun! What do they do; eat a can of beans and then go and stink-up the authorized shop? (I know some mechanics who do that gratuitously!). I like to bean Walmart [Beats shopping there!]


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