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'Secret warranties' can save car owners money

Posted November 24, 2014
Updated November 25, 2014

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— 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.

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  • criscoj Nov 26, 2014

    This story is a bit misleading. A TSB is just that, a technical service bulletin designed to inform dealership technicians of something they've encountered after the build of a vehicle. Some times it is where they say "hey, we've had people scratching their heads trying to figure this problem out and we have concluded that in the event (x) has ever happened it is possible for (this part) to become loose and vibrate against (this part)". Sometimes it is extending warranty coverage on a part IF in the event that the customer's vehicle exhibits that particular concern. TSB's are designed to help technicians diagnose and resolve customers concerns and inform the tech about extended coverage. As far as being secretive about extended coverage... I see customers all of the time with letters from the manufacturer explaining what's wrong, why, what the correction is, and how long the coverage has been extended in the event they experience the problem.

  • itsnotmeiswear Nov 26, 2014

    View quoted thread


    Making a scene rarely succeeds. Just ask for or find the number for the southeast regional service rep of the manufacturer. You may want to call them first to explain the issue and confirm the process.

  • Gatsby Nov 26, 2014

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    So I have another issue (steering) with it where it wanders all over the road and makes me work to keep it going straight. I have found a TSB (st005-01) that addresses this very issue. I have the appt set up for 2:30 PM today to get it checked out. I want to make sure I am clear on this before I make a scene. I should NOT have to pay for the work associated with this and can just hand them the TSB I have printed out right?
    Ill give it a shot...

  • itsnotmeiswear Nov 25, 2014

    View quoted thread


    I've never had a dealer challenge a TSB for work they were doing, but if you asked them to pony up for work done by another mechanic, good luck with that. How are they going to get paid by the manufacturer?

    Honda replaced the engine on my '06 Civic with 90k miles because of the TSB on the block casting. They had me back on the road in the same day. No complaints.

  • Gatsby Nov 25, 2014

    I have a 07 Rav 4 and I mentioned the TSB that addresses a knocking sound from the intermediate shaft to the Service Tech. I asked if Toyota would be willing to help only to see a smirk & shrug along with a resounding "No".
    I do not see these as secret warranties because they have no legal obligations to fix your problem.