What Voids Your Vehicle's Warranty?

Breaking the Contract Between You and the Automaker


  • Street Racing

    Street Racing

    Racing your vehicle is a surefire way to void most warranties. | March 18, 2010

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A warranty is a contract between you and the company that built your car. It promises to take care of any applicable repairs, provided that you maintain the vehicle to proper expectations. But like any contract, it can be broken if you don't hold up your end of the bargain, so it is important to know what circumstances can void your warranty.

Warranty Partially Voided or Claim Denied?

Not every circumstance will void your entire warranty. In some situations, the repairs for a specific part will not be covered, but you still retain the warranty on the remainder of the vehicle.

Any time you take your car to the dealership for warranty work, it must file a claim with the manufacturer or warranty provider, which is how it gets paid for the work performed under warranty. If a repair isn't covered under the manufacturer's warranty, the claim will be denied and the dealer won't get paid. This could mean paying for the work out of your own pocket, and in many circumstances, a dealer will make the determination whether your car is covered before a claim is even submitted.

What Voids Your Entire Warranty?

Salvage title: If your car was in a severe accident and was given a salvage title or declared a total loss, your entire warranty is voided. Unknowingly buying a salvaged car isn't an issue with certified pre-owned vehicles, but keep this in mind if you are looking to purchase a late-model used car from a private party or independent used car lot. If you are unsure about a car's past, we suggest getting a vehicle history report.

Misuse of the vehicle: This term can be interpreted in broad ways, and often includes racing/competition of any type, overloading the vehicle or off-roading. Potentially, anything outside of normal operation of the vehicle can be considered misuse. Some automakers will void your entire warranty for these infractions, and this decision is typically left to the discretion of the warranty administrator. Even if there is no proof but just signs of abuse, your warranty claim may be denied.

If you scour Internet message boards, there are plenty of articles noting how dealers and automakers monitor racing events (and even attend events to record license plate numbers) in order to deny warranty service the next time those cars come in for service. Though these may sound like conspiracy theories, you may want to think twice before competing in your car.

Even when you have a vehicle designed to go off-road, there is still a large gray area when it comes to warranty repairs. We found this out firsthand when we took one of our long-term test cars to Death Valley, California. One of our editors was driving a 2006 Honda Ridgeline when he came across a washboard dirt road, and followed it for a number of miles at speeds of 10-15 mph. On the way home, he noticed the ride was unusually bouncy, and took the truck in for service. The inspection by the dealer revealed that all four struts were blown out and needed to be replaced, a service not covered under warranty on the grounds that the struts were excessively worn.

We explained to the service advisor that this 4WD truck was doing what it was designed to do, and that the washboard road should not have caused the struts to fail. The Ridgeline's repairs were eventually covered under warranty as a one-time goodwill gesture, but not without our being persistent and pleading our case to Honda and the service manager.

Environmental damage: If your vehicle was damaged in a fire, flood, earthquake or any other environmental disaster, the automaker will not honor your warranty.

Altered odometer: If your car's odometer has been disconnected, tampered with or replaced, the dealer cannot determine the exact mileage. This is usually grounds for a voided warranty. There's no surefire way to know if your odometer has been tampered with, but if you order a vehicle history report, the dealer can check for inconsistencies in mileage reporting.

What Voids Specific PartsNeglect: Some people are so oblivious to the needs of their vehicle, they have gone years without having an oil change. If your car is still under warranty, avoid this at all costs. If you fail to take your vehicle in for service during its scheduled maintenance, the dealer is not responsible for repairing any damage to the engine.

Use of dirty or improper fluids: If your angry ex-spouse poured sugar in the gas tank or if you spaced out and put diesel fuel in your gasoline engine, any damage incurred is not covered under warranty. Always make sure you are using the correct fluids as outlined in your owner's manual.

Aftermarket parts or modifications: This aspect of warranty coverage has a great deal of gray area. Although many dealers would have you think otherwise, simply having an aftermarket part or modifying your vehicle cannot void your warranty.

Some dealerships may say, for example, that just because you have a performance part such as a cold air intake on the car that the whole vehicle warranty is void, says Loren Wong, a car enthusiast and a former warranty administrator for BMW and Acura. "That's not true," he says.

The saving grace for consumers is the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975. The act states that a dealer must prove that aftermarket equipment caused the need for repairs before it can deny warranty coverage.

However, if the reason for a parts failure is unclear, a dealer will usually charge you to diagnose the vehicle. If the aftermarket part was not properly installed or a modification led to a component failure, it is within the dealer's right to void the warranty for that part, and you will have to pay for the repairs out of pocket. If the aftermarket parts had nothing to do with the repairs in question, you will be refunded the fee for the diagnosis.

Any aftermarket performance parts on your vehicle can cause a dealer to suspect that you either drive the car hard or possibly race it. "Although they may not void warranties," Wong added, "modifications may raise a red flag when vehicles are in for service. If consumers who mod their cars do a little research, they may find certain dealerships that are a little more 'mod-friendly.'"

How To Avoid Warranty IssuesThoroughly read your warranty: Though this article has hit on some of the major issues, we still recommend reading your warranty's fine print, often bundled with your owner's manual. Find the section that says "What is Not Covered."

Service your car at regular intervals: This is a good idea in general, but for the sake of keeping your warranty intact follow the manufacturer's recommended service schedule. If you misplaced your owner's manual, you can often find it online. Or you can always use the Edmunds maintenance calculator.

Keep all service records and receipts: This is another good habit to keep in case you want to sell your vehicle, but also to have as proof that you maintained your vehicle. If you perform maintenance on the car yourself, save the receipts for the parts and fluids you bought.

Warranties are open to interpretation: If you feel that a service advisor has denied your warranty claim unfairly, you can always go higher up in the management chain, contact the automaker directly or go to another dealer altogether.

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