Certain automakers’ dealerships seem to see their defection rates climbing every year. Defections happen when vehicle owners move to maintain and service their rides at independent shops or in their own home driveways instead of dealerships. The biggest loss of dealership service customers used to happen when factory warranties expired, but consumers don’t seem too fazed by that anymore, and the number of newly purchased vehicles that never return to their retailers is climbing.
If you’re in charge of maintaining and repairing your family fleet, there are fairly easy ways to make sure you don’t face a warranty repair denial because of routine service work or any modifications you may complete. But remember, the keepers (administrators) of a vehicle’s warranty reside in the dealership, and regardless of what their manufacturer’s statements may say, coverage may differ at the service counter.
Regular maintenance such as oil changes and tire rotations need to be documented. Yes, hand-written notes are usually fine — as long as you can back them up with parts receipts.
To avoid the inevitable hassle at a dealership service counter, use factory-specified oil filters. They may not be any better than what you can find at your favourite aftermarket parts stores, but using a non-OEM filter can be an easy way for someone to deny a major engine repair, regardless of whether or not it caused the failure. Follow the carmaker’s recommended service intervals to the letter. Missing an oil change by a few thousand kilometres is almost a guarantee of a warranty denial.
Modifications are another story altogether. If you’re thinking of a lift kit for your truck or SUV, find out first what is the maximum height of a lift you can install without voiding your warranty. No documents will list this, so either try to get a confirmed statement from the carmaker’s consumer line, stick with a factory supplied kit, or wait until the warranty expires. Most warranty documents will contain the phrase “damage caused by unauthorized equipment use or installation” under the heading “what’s not covered”. For obvious things like a failed alternator on a truck with an extreme 6” lift, you shouldn’t run into many headaches with a reasonable advisor or contract. Still, any suspension or steering complaints or axle or driveline seal and bearing problems on that type of vehicle are likely to get you a “it’s not covered” response at the service counter — or an outright cancellation.
You can try to avoid some of these headaches by having a conversation with your dealership sales rep or service manager about any modifications you’re thinking of adding, but remember that staff come and go at retailers. Unless it’s in writing, you might be left holding the bag.
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