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If you have a car, you know how important it is to perform routine maintenance and make repairs to the vehicle. But can a dealer refuse to honor your new car’s warranty if you take the vehicle elsewhere for routine maintenance and repairs?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the national consumer protection agency, says no. In fact, it’s illegal for a dealership to deny you warranty coverage simply because you took your car for repair or routine maintenance elsewhere.

Routine maintenance usually includes oil changes, tire rotation, belt replacement, fluid level and fluid drainage checks, new brake pads or pads, and inspections.

The frequency of maintenance programs varies by vehicle make, model, and year of manufacture; the best source of information about the routine maintenance program is your car’s owner’s manual.

What is a warranty?

A warranty is a promise, usually made by a manufacturer, to support the proper operation of your product or to repair certain defects or flaws over a period of time. The warranty pays for all covered repairs or replacements of car parts during the warranty period.

Is it mandatory that I perform repairs and maintenance services at the dealership for my warranty to remain in effect?

No, you can take your car to an independent mechanic or chain store to do routine maintenance work and repairs on your vehicle, or you can even do it yourself.

In fact, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which is enforced by the FTC, makes it illegal for manufacturers or dealers to seek to void your warranty or deny you coverage under your warranty simply because the work was done elsewhere.

That said, there may be situations where the repair is not covered by warranty. For example, if you or your mechanic replaced a belt incorrectly and your car’s engine was damaged as a result of that replacement, the vehicle manufacturer or dealer may refuse to cover the cost of the engine repair under the terms of the warranty.

However, according to the FTC, the manufacturer or dealer must be able to prove that the engine damage was caused by replacing the wrong belt – rather than by some other defect. But even so, the warranty must remain in effect for all other parts of your car.

Will my warranty be voided if I use ‘aftermarket’ parts?

No. A ‘aftermarket’ or aftermarket part is a part manufactured by a company that is not the original manufacturer of the vehicle or the equipment or system of the car. Just using a portion of the aftermarket does not void your warranty.

The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act makes it illegal for companies to void your warranty or deny you warranty coverage simply because you used a portion of the aftermarket.

However, in the event that the part or part manufactured by the aftermarket is defective in itself or if it was not properly installed and some other part covered by the warranty is damaged as a result, the manufacturer or dealer has the right to deny you coverage for that part and charge you for repairs.

The FTC says that before denying you warranty coverage, the manufacturer or dealer must show that the need for repairs was caused by the equipment or parts of the aftermarket.

Recommendations for Avoiding Warranty Disadvantages

Here’s what you can do to get the most out of your vehicle’s warranty:

Read your warranty. The warranty, which usually comes with the vehicle manual, gives you a general description and specific details about your coverage. If you lost your car’s owner’s manual, look it up on the Internet. Read the Owners section of your car manufacturer’s Web site.

Keep in mind your warranty coverage period. If problems arise that are covered by the warranty, have them checked before the warranty expires.

Service your car at regular intervals. This is always convenient. But to keep your warranty intact, follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule. The details of this schedule are in your car’s owner’s manual.

Keep all service records and receipts, regardless of who does the work for you. This includes proof of oil changes, tire rotation, belt replacements, new brake pads and inspections.

Put everything in a folder to keep a record of all repairs that will be very handy in case you need to use your warranty. If you ever have to rely on your vehicle’s warranty and can’t prove that you serviced it, your coverage claim may be denied.

Claim. If you believe that a dealer service advisor unfairly denied your warranty requirement, ask to speak to a supervisor. If, after talking to the supervisor, you do not agree, contact the manufacturer or go to another dealer. You may want to file a complaint with your state Attorney General’s office, your local consumer protection office, the nearest Better Business Bureau, or with the FTC.

Leon C. Sinha