When you buy a vehicle from a dealership, you are not obligated to return to that dealership for any reason in order to keep your warranty. By federal law, you have the right to get your car inspected and serviced wherever you choose. While vehicle manufacturers and dealerships can - and will - insist your vehicle is properly maintained, they cannot mandate where a consumer gets that work done in order to keep the warranty valid.
Vehicle inspections and maintenance
Vehicle inspections and maintenance are a vital part of keeping your car in good working order and to keep your warranty intact. If you check your owner's manual you will see a list of prescribed maintenance, based on your car's mileage, how long you have owned it and how you use it. However, you can get this work done wherever you wish, or even do it yourself. Furthermore, your vehicle warranty cannot specify a manufacturer for replacement parts. Whether you use parts sold by the manufacturer or third-party parts designed for your vehicle, the choice is always yours.
While state and federal laws may require inspections for your vehicle, these inspections have nothing to do with your car's warranty. Many states require regular safety inspections and, for some vehicles, the federal government requires emissions tests, which can be performed at any inspection site approved by your state government.
What can void my warranty?
A warranty is designed to protect you against defects in the vehicle's manufacturing. Obviously, if someone smashed your fender the repair wouldn't be covered by the warranty. Similarly, if an independent mechanic replaced a fan belt, installed it incorrectly and this caused the engine to seize, the dealer could refuse to do the work under warranty because the manufacturer would undoubtedly question the warranty claim.
As another example, if you failed to have your car maintained as required by a franchised dealer the manufacturer could contest the warranty coverage. Consequently, it's important that you keep all receipts and invoices for any work you have done on the vehicle by either a dealer or independent shop. The dealer may ask for these records if you need to have warranty repairs done on the vehicle.
Who can perform warranty work?
If you do need warranty-covered repairs done on your vehicle, you will have to take it to a shop approved by the manufacturer — that is, a dealer. However, it does not have to be the same dealer who sold you the vehicle. This is because the manufacturer is paying for the work being done and compensates the dealer for the parts and labor.
Warranties vs. service contracts
What many of us refer to as an extended warranty is not a warranty at all, but a service contract. If you have purchased such a service contract, like a General Motors Protection Plan, you would have to take your vehicle to a dealer in order to get the work done as detailed in your service contract.
In a nutshell, if you want warranty or extended-warranty work to be done free of charge, you always need to take it to an approved dealer. If you are willing to pay for the work yourself, you can have it done anywhere you please.