When shopping for a new vehicle, people tend to place a lot of emphasis on the warranty always looking for the best possible coverage. As such, car manufacturers compete heavily on warranty, especially foreign manufacturers.
The gold standard for new car warranties used to be 3 years bumper to bumper and after that you were on your own if something went wrong. Now it’s becoming increasingly common to see 4 and 5 year warranties, as is the case with Hyundai and Kia, and many luxury brands. Mitsubishi even goes so far to offer a 10 year powertrain warranty on some of their vehicles with a 5 year warranty on everything else. Here is a handy guide to new car warranties on Cars.com.
However, after having such a large influence over buying decisions, the warranty is often relegated to the back of the buyer’s mind as soon as the purchase is completed only to be thought of again if an obvious problem arises. As with a lot of things in life, it can really pay off to be proactive in your approach to your car warranty to maximize the value you get out of it and ensure the longest possible life out of your new vehicle.
Understand Your Warranty Fully
It’s pretty common for people not to understand their warranty fully, including the important exceptions it contains, and they are then surprised when they discover something they thought was covered isn’t. Bumper to bumper sounds promising doesn’t it?
The truth is there are still a lot of things that aren’t covered or have a shorter coverage period because they are considered to be subject to regular wear and tear. Typically things like brake pads, rotors, tires, cosmetic appearance, wipers, belts, batteries, hoses and certain electronic components have exclusions or exceptions because they are considered to be items that suffer from regular wear and tear.
You’ll want to review your warranty document carefully and jot down any notable exceptions that pop out at you.
Get Early Adjustments Made
During the first year almost anything and everything is covered under your warranty. If there is something you don’t like or are worried about with your new car, simply call the service department and get them to look at it. Have a small rattle that’s annoying you? Covered! Can’t figure out how to operate the fancy technology? They’d be happy to help!
Just be aware that some warranties will only allow you to come in for free adjustments once or a couple of times. If that is the case, make sure you make a comprehensive list of adjustments you’d like before you go in so that you don’t end up regretting it later after you’ve already used up that benefit.
Find Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) For Your Vehicle
Dealers are alerted to potential problems with vehicles from the manufacturer via service bulletins. Unfortunately, that information isn’t shared with consumers unless the flaw could be dangerous or fatal requiring a recall to be issued. With some sleuthing you can often find these service bulletins online for your model of vehicle and thus be aware of potential problems you should be on the lookout for.
Not all vehicles are created equal, even in the same model year, because they are constantly tweaking and fixing things at the factory as problems and potential problems are discovered. That said, these service bulletins allow you to test your own car to see if it might have the problem described in the service bulletin.
Once you find a valid problem, just take it in to the dealer and there is a good chance they will fix it up for you free of charge under warranty because it is already a known problem. Service bulletins can sometimes be different between the USA and Canada, but usually they are identical or very similar.
Where To Find Technical Service Bulletins
There are a few websites where you can get summaries of TSBs that usually give a half-decent description of the potential problem. I’m pretty sure all the information comes from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) anyway so all the sites should have identical data, just some are more user friendly than others.
- SaferCar.gov - use the dropdown boxes to select your vehicle and see all recalls, investigations, complaints, and TSBs. After clicking GO, click the Service Bulletins tab to see a list of TSBs.
- Auto MD - either use the dropdowns or browse clicking the links to select your vehicle. I found the search box didn’t work very well. The TSBs tab should be highlighted by default. You can also click the Recalls tab to see a list of recalls.
- Edmunds - this is a full car maintenance guide that also includes TSBs. Use the dropdowns to select your vehicle and be sure to provide fake USA postal code to complete the form. After clicking GO, click the Technical Service Bulletins link near the top.
If you want more than just the summary, then you will need to obtain the full TSB, which is more difficult. You have 3 options:
- Order the TSB through NHTSA. You can order TSBs using the SaferCar.gov website linked above. Once you see the listing of TSBs for your vehicle, you can click the small checkboxes beside Request Research at the bottom of each TSB you want to order. Then use the form at the bottom of the page to complete your order. There are fees associated with this service and they will only mail paper copies to US addresses so you will need to use a PO Box or mail forwarding service to get it. Probably more hassle than it is worth.
- Ask your dealer to see them. I don’t believe dealers have any obligation to show you TSBs but if you ask nicely or have a specific concern about a TSB you saw online, they may be kind enough to show you the full TSB.
- Vehicle maintenance subscription. There are sites that offer subscriptions to information that help mechanics and DIYers better maintain their vehicles. These sites typically charge a monthly or annual subscription fee and give full access to TSBs. One example is AllDataDIY.com that charges $26.95 for a 1 year 1 vehicle subscription or $44.95 for 5 years.
Be Mindful Of Expiry Dates
The best time to get warranty work done is just before your warranty is due to expire. You’ll want to set yourself a calendar reminder about a month before the expiry date to make sure you don’t forget!
You’ll also need to keep an eye on the KMs if you are a heavy driver because most warranties have driving distance limitations in addition to a set timeframe.
When your reminder pops up, it’s time to check all the technical service bulletins one last time, check forum posts for complaints from car enthusiasts about your specific model, and give your vehicle a really good test drive and going over to find every possible problem you have that you might not have noticed yet.
Once you have your list, set up a final appointment with the dealer to address these concerns and take advantage of any free repairs you can.
Consider A 3rd Party Inspection
If your warranty is about to expire, it might be a good idea to get a qualified mechanic that doesn’t work for the dealer to inspect the vehicle closely.
Dealers are under pressure from manufacturers to keep warranty claims as few as possible while still providing decent service. Each warranty claim comes right out of the manufacturer’s bottom line so they obviously want to avoid them wherever possible. For that reason, they may be less likely to point out minor problems that could be a valid claim.
If you have the weight of a licensed mechanic behind you, it may be easier to convince the dealer to push through your warranty claim.
Don’t Forget About The Corrosion Coverage
Most new cars come with a corrosion warranty in addition to the standard warranty that protects you from unusually fast rusting of your vehicle.
As I mentioned in my rust proofing comparison article, I was able to get a repair done that would have cost a couple thousand dollars to my Mazda 3 by catching a tiny rust spot that was indicative of a much bigger problem.
What you might not expect, is that the corrosion warranty can be for a longer (or shorter) period than your primary warranty. For instance, my Mazda 3 had a three year primary warranty but actually had a five year corrosion warranty. Good thing too because there was no evidence of rust at the 3 year mark.
Be Wary About Extended Warranties
I won’t outright say “don’t purchase a warranty extension”, but it is a well known fact that any sort of extended warranty is a huge cash cow for both salesmen and manufacturers so, in most cases, they should be avoided.
It can be really difficult to get your money back out of an extended warranty and feeling like I need to do this is an added stress I don’t really need. A good idea is to take the money you would have spent on one and put it aside in a savings account to grow for emergency repairs down the road. You may end up spending more than your saved amount but that won’t be for several years and there’s a good chance you will come out ahead as well.
That said, there are definitely exceptions to the rule. My father has an SUV with a specific very expensive part that is known to go bad just after the regular warranty expires. He was advised of this fact by his friend who worked for the dealer at the time. By purchasing the extended warranty he was able to get that part replaced free of charge which basically paid for the cost of the warranty in one shot.
Warranty Work I’ve Had Done
I’ve had a decent amount of warranty work done on the two brand new vehicles I’ve owned to date. My 96 Sunfire was just out of the coverage period when I bought it so I never had the chance to make a claim there.
2005 Mazda 3
I may not be remembering all the work I had done to this car and I can’t look it up because I gave the service records to the new owner. Here’s what I do recall:
- Rear wheel well rust. A manufacturer’s defect caused the car to rust from the inside out around the wheel well. Apparently they used an strong adhesive strip to help bond the rear quarter panel to the frame and it was actually water absorbent. Therefore, it held water and salt kicked up from the tires right next to the metal causing inevitable rust problems. The final bill paid by Mazda to cut out the rusted section, remove the adhesive, replace it with all new metal, paint and refinish was around $2,200 if I remember correctly.
- Starter replacement. A few years in the car just wouldn’t start when I turned the key. After getting a tow to the dealership, they discovered the starter was broken and they replaced it with a new one.
- Minor repairs. I’m pretty sure I had a few minor problems over the years as well likely possibly a wheel bearing and suspension parts but I can’t remember the details now.
2013 Sante Fe Sport
With this vehicle I was definitely on the lookout for any early problems so I could have adjustments or warranty fixes made as soon as possible, especially since 2013 is the first model year for this edition of the Sante Fe. It is often wise to avoid the first model year of a vehicle to give them time to work out the kinks at the factory.
- Driver seat wobble. The driver’s seat had a slight wobble that was noticeable when starting or stopping and going over bumps. They were aware of the issue at the dealer and had a special tool they used to fix it. It was caused by how the seat attaches to the running boards. The problem resurfaced a few months later so I took it in a second time and this time they completely replaced the running boards. It has been fine since.
- Entertainment system flicker. The entertainment system developed a slight flicker that occurred very rarely but I had noticed it 2 or 3 times. It almost looked like the power was cutting out to the entire system briefly. Even though it was almost impossible to reproduce, I was able to convince them to fix it without reproducing it, which meant installing a brand new replacement. The new system has upgraded software that works better and has more features than the old one, so I’m definitely happy with that!
What Is Your Experience With Car Warranties?
I’d be interested to hear stories from others on how their new (and used) cars have treated them over the years.