The Warranty Myth

Modern Mythology

There is a myth that new cars must be serviced at the dealership during the factory warranty period. It doesn’t help that the dealerships are more than happy to perpetuate the myth, and to misinform new car owners about maintenance requirements. Let me start with a straightforward reversal to the myth:

A new vehicle does not need to be serviced exclusively by the dealership during its warranty period to preserve your new car warranty.

At least once a week, we hear a customer in the office exclaim, “I’m so happy my car is finally out of warranty so I can bring it back to you guys!” This always makes us cringe a bit because these customers could have avoided the expensive dealership this whole time, while still preserving the new car warranty! At Art’s Automotive, we are authorized to do everything necessary to service your car according to the factory specifications. We also have computerized documentation that, in the event of a disputed warranty claim, will allow you to show that your car has been serviced properly. No sweat.

What’s the origin of this myth?

Like all mythology, there is a glimmer of truth or some modicum of a message behind the story. In the case of the car warranty, however, there’s no ambiguity or interpretation necessary. Your owner’s manual — the warranty document — clearly states that in order to preserve your factory warranty you must perform specific periodic maintenance. You CANNOT find any mention that this maintenance must be exclusively done by the dealership. You will also find published fluid specifications that are required for your car. If you use the RIGHT FLUIDS at the RIGHT TIMES, you are meeting the required, published terms of your warranty contract. When your car is serviced at Art’s, you get the same fluids you would be getting at the dealership, at the specified time.

So why do people still go to the dealership? I think the misconception originates with independent shops or Quick Lube joints that don’t specialize in specific manufacturers. As a result, your new car’s specialty fluids may be supplanted with whatever Jim the Mechanic or Jiffy Lube has on hand. Since these shops may not “know any better,” the risk is that you fail to meet the terms of your warranty contract by going to a shop that does not use the correct parts for maintenance. There are still many shops out there who use a Napa generic, one-size-fits-all oil filter. If you have to make a warranty claim, the dealership may have grounds to dismiss it because you failed to maintain the car according to published specifications.

Therefore, some car owners just think it’s “safer” to go to the dealership because you won’t risk using the wrong parts or putting the wrong fluids in. As I’ve pointed out above, it is just as “safe” to service your car at Art’s Automotive because we take the time to educate ourselves on the newest vehicles, we stock the multitude of necessary factory fluids, and we take great care to keep your car serviced at or beyond the factory required maintenance.

So when do I need the dealership?

Technically, you only need the dealership when you have an Owner’s Recall Notice or a legitimate warranty claim. Dealerships are the only companies paid by, for example, Toyota of North America. If something is broken and it’s covered by warranty, the Toyota dealership is the only one who can replace it for free. There is a catch, though: your warranty claim must be valid. How do you know? What if you think something is covered, so you take it to the dealership, and they investigate your complaint only to find that the broken component is not covered by warranty? You are out of luck. You will need to pay the dealership for evaluation, and you will need to pay them to fix it if you desire.

This is where Art’s Automotive can help you. We can evaluate your vehicle, find the component that’s problematic, do the research to determine whether this is covered by warranty, and refer you to the dealership. You gain peace of mind that you’re going to receive the warranty coverage, and you have the backing of a trustworthy shop in case the dealership takes a hard line against you. I hate to say it, but they don’t get as much money for doing warranty repair work as they would just selling you the job through the front door. If there is any ambiguity in the nature of the warranty repair, the dealership will try to invalidate your claim. If you start out at the dealership in the first place, you may not realize that their justification for denial of warranty work is tenuous at best.

Don’t take our word for it

You can trust me, or you can double check your owner’s manual — and I encourage you to do the latter. Let’s take a look at this 2011 Prius, on page 20:

You are responsible for performance of the required maintenance indicated in the Owner’s Manual and this booklet. Toyota will not deny a warranty claim solely because you do not have records to show that you maintained your vehicle. However, any failure or noncompliance caused by lack of maintenance is not covered by this warranty. When maintenance and repairs are paid for by you, these services may be performed by you or by any automotive service provider you choose. Toyota will not deny a warranty claim solely because you used a service provider other than a Toyota dealership for maintenance and repairs. However, any failure or noncompliance caused by improper maintenance or repairs is not covered by this warranty.

Similar language can be found in other owners’ manuals. Honda is a bit gentler stating for their 2012 CR-Z that maintenance should be performed using the “recommended Honda fluids and parts. . . They have been manufactured to the highest standards.”

Call up a dealership and ask them if you are required by the terms of your warranty agreement to have your vehicle serviced exclusively by their service department. They will probably say yes. If they lie to your face, what does this mean for your future relationship with them when they make recommendations; the trust is lost. If they say no, and you already know this is the truth, you at least have another assurance that your car is safe at Art’s.

Much of the protections for vehicles and their warranties are from the 1975 Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act. One brief relevant component of this law makes it that if a specific factory fluid is REQUIRED for operation of your vehicle, and there is no such available alternative that can be met with established standards of quality and production, the vehicle manufacturer and franchisees (i.e. the dealerships) must make that fluid available at no charge. This was a direct result of BMW or Mercedes (one of the two, if not both) having very specific fluids that were required for the machine but not available for sale. As a result, they denied warranty claims by customers who serviced their vehicles elsewhere on the grounds that the components were damaged due to negligence and misuse. The consumers’ cars were being serviced, but since they did not have the available fluid, the warranty was denied. This sparked some outrage.

As an indirect result, you will find that many factory fluids have published criteria that can be met by alternative fluid suppliers. The idea is that you are able to service vehicles using the alternative fluids without having to purchase Honda branded oil, for example. As we all know, sometimes the standard is the MINIMUM requirement. Here at Art’s Automotive, we use factory fluids at almost every juncture when required. Older cars will get fluids that meet these modern minimum standards, which are superior to the original fluids that were released 15 years ago (or more) at the time of manufacture.

Give us a call with any questions. We hope to see you and your new car in the shop soon!