'Secret warranties' can save car owners money
Posted November 24, 2014
Updated November 25, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — Peeling paint or a leaking sunroof can be really frustrating, especially on a car that’s not so old. But there might be a way to get it repaired at little or no cost even if the warranty is expired, thanks to what some call “secret warranties.”
Having to make expensive, post-warranty repairs can leave car owners feeling ripped off. Car manufacturers tell the federal government about the "secret" or "hidden" warranties, but they never tell consumers. Those consumers end up losing money because they don't know about them.
You can sometimes save hundreds, even thousands of dollars in repair bills by taking advantage of unadvertised service programs.
Car manufacturers file thousands of service bulletins with the federal government each year when a particular vehicle problem is widespread but not considered dangerous enough to prompt a recall. The bulletins are the basis for what manufacturers describe as "goodwill gestures."
(To search for Technical Service Bulletins associated with your vehicle, go to SaferCar.gov, select the model year, make and model of your car and then click the "service bulletins" tab.)
"Manufacturers often call these programs service actions or customer-satisfaction campaigns, but consumers think of them as ‘secret’ or ‘hidden’ warranties, and lots of cars have them,” said Margot Gilman with Consumer Reports.
For example, with 2006-11 Honda Civics, if the paint is cracking for specific colors, Honda extended the paint warranty to seven years with no mileage limit. In the GMC Envoy and many 2005-07 General Motors SUVs, a faulty sensor can mean the fuel gauge is not accurate.
“If you know about the hidden warranty, GM will actually replace the sensor for free or reimburse you if you've already paid for the repair,” Gilman said.
Owners of 2008-10 Chrysler minivans noticing premature wear on the front wheel bearings can get dealers to replace them for free during the first five years or 90,000 miles.
"You should get a letter from the manufacturer if it's making these offers, but if you bought your car used, that might not happen,” Gilman said.
Car owners can find out about the service programs by going to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website, which posts bulletin summaries on its website. The full reports can then be sent by mail for a fee.
Many independent mechanics also have access to the information. Customers can ask their dealer if a particular repair is covered by a warranty adjustment policy. It's another reason it can be helpful to have a good relationship with a dealership.
Consumer Reports says it's easy to understand why car makers aren't in a hurry to broadcast the existence of a free fix. Usually, only a fraction of the cars will exhibit the problem, and car makers don't want tens of thousands of customers showing up at dealerships demanding the free repair just in case.