Warranty and Aftermarket Parts

Recently, a listener called my radio show with this question: "If I install a supercharger and aftermarket ignition system on my Neon, will it void the warranty?"

To which I responded: "Possibly."

This question prompted me to comment on installing aftermarket parts and how such installation could void the vehicle's warranty. During my soliloquy, an e mail arrived at the studio from the CEO of an aftermarket parts company listening on XM Radio while traveling across Arizona. His comment:


He carried on in a more colorful manner, basically informing me that I didn't know my rear end from third base. What had I said that so infuriated this guy? When I checked into the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975 I understood.

Here is how the act reads as per the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) website (www.sema.org ).

Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, Title 1, __101-112, 15 U.S.C. __2301 et seq. This act, effective July 4, 1975, is designed to "improve the adequacy of information available to consumers, prevent deception, and improve competition in the marketing of consumer products . . .." The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act applies only to consumer products, which are defined as "any tangible personal property which is distributed in commerce and which is normally used for personal, family, or household purposes (including any such property intended to be attached to or installed in any real property without regard to whether it is so attached or installed)." Under Section 103 of the Act, if a warrantor sells a consumer product costing more than $15 under written warranty, the writing must state the warranty in readily understandable language as determined by standards set forth by the Federal Trade Commission. There is, however, no requirement that a warranty be given nor that any product be warranted for any length of time. Thus the Act only requires that when there is a written warranty, the warrantor clearly disclose the nature of his warranty obligation prior to the sale of the product. The consumer may then compare warranty protection, thus shopping for the "best buy." To further protect the consumer from deception, the Act requires that any written warranty must be labeled as either a "full" or a "limited" warranty. Only warranties that meet the standards of the Act may be labeled as "full." One of the most important provisions of the Act prohibits a warrantor from disclaiming or modifying any implied warranty whenever any written warranty is given or service contract entered into.

This means that, under the provisions of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975, an automotive dealership/carmaker cannot void your warranty because your vehicle has been modified with aftermarket parts. They (the manufacturers) have to prove that the failure was the direct result of the installed aftermarket part. Unfortunately, too many folks have gone to a dealer to have warranty service performed on their modified vehicle only to have the dealer refuse to cover the defective items. The dealer usually states, that because of the aftermarket parts installed, the warranty is void (without even attempting to determine whether or not the aftermarket part caused the problem). This is illegal...period.

Below are illustrations of aftermarket installations that WOULD cause the voiding of a vehicle's warranty.

Example 1:

You install an aftermarket electronic cruise control. While you're driving down the road, the cruise unit develops an internal short causing the accelerator pedal to depress to the floor and over-revving the engine. After this episode the engine develops an engine knock under acceleration or under load. The car is still under warranty so you take it into your local dealer and they determine that the short in the cruise unit over-revved the engine, causing the rod bearings to spin and causing damage to the crankshaft and connecting rods. In this case, your warranty is void because the aftermarket cruise unit caused the engine problem. Not only are you responsible for the engine replacement, the dealer is within his rights to charge you for the diagnosis. Too bad, you lose.

Example 2:

You install an aftermarket air dam system to channel more air to the cold air intake system that you installed. The air dam system causes the vehicle to overheat because it restricts airflow over the radiator. As a result of overheating, the engine blows a head gasket and a cylinder head is warped. The car is still under warranty. You take it to your dealer and they determine that the aftermarket air dam system caused the overheating and thus the cylinder head damage and gasket failure. The carmaker is not obligated to perform any repairs under the provisions of the warranty.

Example 3:

You install a 6' "Personal Snowplow" on your SUV (aftermarket companies are making these plows for smaller trucks). The warranty expressly states that the installation of a snowplow voids all warranty if the vehicle comes in with frame, suspension, steering linkage or any other damage that can be attributed to the plow installation. You go ahead and install the plow anyway. While plowing you drive hard into a snow bank and the air bag deploys. You take it into your dealer and they determine that the airbag deployed because of the hard impact of the plow into the snow bank. But you took the plow off! Yes, but the mounting brackets, winch, and hydraulics are still there, and there is indication of stress to the frame where the plow is mounted. Warranty void! You are left holding the bag (pun intended).

Example 4:

You install a high energy ignition system along with a special performance chip in your car's computer to increase performance, as well as aftermarket headers (of course you had to disconnect the O2 sensor); maybe you are a street racer. The car is due for state inspection and it fails for the emissions part of the inspection. You take it into your dealer for warranty service to the emissions system. The dealer determines that the car failed because you modified the performance system as well as the exhaust system. Sure it runs like a racecar, but it will never pass the state emissions test set up this way. And oh, by the way, you just voided your warranty because the car was set up for racing and the OEM system was cannibalized.

In any one of these scenarios, if the dealer just lifted the hood, saw the modifications, and stated that the warranty was void based on what they saw (without verifying that the failure was due to the aftermarket installation), the dealer would be in violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975. The cause of the failure must be searched out and proven in order for the carmaker to void a warranty.

If you want to 'play it safe' when modifying your vehicle, consider this. Carmakers are manufacturing performance parts and accessory systems for their cars now more than ever before. Before installing anything aftermarket on a vehicle that has a warranty in place, check with your dealer/carmaker to see if there are parts/systems available for your particular vehicle from the manufacturer that would provide for the vehicle's warranty. For instance, consider Scion. The accessory products that Scion and their parent company Toyota has come out with for this vehicle are numerous and impressive to say the least. Installation of this product line should not void your warranty or put it into question.

Hopefully this information clears things up a bit regarding aftermarket parts and your vehicle's warranty. I wish you success!

'Til next time ... Keep Rollin'

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