All vehicle makers offer much longer warranties than the once-common 12-month, limited-mileage offerings of the past. However, getting warranties honoured may not be as simple as ACCC legislation or dealer sales pitches would suggest.
We’ll go through some real-word scenarios that can affect warranty repairs, starting with the old bogey: ‘You must have it serviced by an authorised dealer’.
If you read about the level of Australian consumer protection, all looks world class. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says: “A manufacturer’s warranty is a promise to the consumer that the vehicle will be free from defects for a certain period of time”.
Importantly, while a manufacturer can have certain requirements in its warranty terms – ensuring any servicing is carried out by qualified staff, according to the manufacturer’s specification and that quality parts are used – it can’t require owners to service their vehicles at an authorised dealership to keep that warranty intact.
“Provided an owner services the vehicle in accordance with any such requirements, the warranty will remain valid,” the ACCC has said in written guidance to the automotive industry.
“If the manufacturer’s warranty states that the vehicle can be serviced only by an authorised dealer, this may raise concerns under the Competition and Consumer Act,” the ACCC has clearly said.
In many vehicle service logbooks, the scheduled maintenance pages stipulate that a dealership stamp is necessary for ongoing warranty condition compliance.
“Even if the service page boxes in the logbook are labelled in this way, an independent repairer may sign or stamp the relevant page of the customer’s service logbook without it affecting the manufacturer’s warranty,” said the ACCC. “Provided any other requirements are met, such as the service having been carried about by qualified staff.”
Getting a warranty issue addressed
All new vehicle brands have some warranty or manufacturer recall issues. In most cases, rectification is simply a matter of owners contacting their local dealerships and booking in for the necessary attention.
That’s all very well…if you can get the needed service from a dealer. What happens if you’re on the road, as many OTA website subscribers are? That’s when you find out that the brand of vehicle you bought may not be well supported by an Australia-wide dealership network.
As a general rule, most ute importers have a wide dealership network, although none gets close to Toyota’s 297 dealerships. However, most ute suppliers have city and rural bases covered. Even RAM, which is a top-shelf ute brand, has 66 dealers nation-wide.
The worst represented makers are Europeans that are perceived by most rural vehicle buyers as ‘luxury brands’. These brands don’t appeal to rural dealerships, because there’s not enough buyer enthusiasm to build a local customer base.
However, European brands are the basis of virtual every campervan and motorhome, because Japanese makers have been too stupid to see the potential of the global large-van market. Many OTA subscribers have bought Euro-brand vans and motorhome chassis, because it was the only game in town.
When these vehicles need warranty work in the bush, there’s nothing available in many cases.
Land Rover used to have dealerships in every rural region, but is now restricted to only 43 nationwide and those are mainly in capitals and large towns. The company changed focus from utilitarian vehicles to high-priced ‘aspirational’ 4WDs when the Discovery 3 replaced the live-axle Disco 2 and you couldn’t buy a Range Rover for less than $100k.
Fiat has dealerships in capital cities – but not Darwin – and a few regional towns, but nothing in rural WA or the NT.
Mercedes-Benz has dealers in all capital cities and some regional towns, but nothing in western Queensland or NSW and across the vastness of rural WA there’s one dealer, at Geraldton.
If you’re running a vehicle that has poor rural dealership support, you’re largely on your own if you have a warranty issue. Take the case of our good mates, in their new VW Crafter in western NSW, who had an orange dash light come on, warning that ABS and ESP were disabled. Fortunately, they thought, we’re at least near civilisation.
They jumped on the satphone and asked for VW support. They were directed to a dealership in Moss Vale, in the NSW Southern Highlands. That dealer told them he could look at their vehicle…in a month’s time!
They then rang a dealer in Nowra, on the NSW South Coast. He couldn’t do anything for six weeks! They finally found a dealer in Wodonga, in Victoria – a full day’s drive away and in the opposite direction they were headed – who could look at the vehicle in a few days’ time.
The fault was diagnosed in a wheel speed sensor that was replaced under warranty in minutes!
We heard of an Iveco Daily 4×4 with motorhome bodywork that had a serious engine computer warranty issue when its owners were near Darwin. The local dealer couldn’t fix the problem, so the truck had to be freighted to Melbourne, to Iveco’s head office, for repair. The owners had to fly home and then collect the vehicle weeks later.
Voiding your warranty is very easy
We’ve all winced at TV adverts for 4WDs and SUVs, tearing along bush tracks at breakneck speeds or ploughing through beachfront salt water. It’s important to know that if you drove your 4WD like that and then had a warranty issue – say, a broken shock absorber mount or water in hub or transmission components – you’d be denied warranty coverage on the basis of: Driver Abuse.
We’ve heard of SUV owners being denied warranty coverage when service people found no underbody damage, just traces of beach sand in chassis crevices.
So, 4WD importers, it’s OK for the marketing wankers who devise these ads to display warranty-voiding behaviour, is it?
It’s important know that in the world of warranty administration, ‘everything is connected to everything else’. It also needs to be understood that any vehicle accessory or modification – that’s any change to the way the vehicle left the factory – can void warranty.
After-market accessories and modification suppliers insist that their changes either won’t affect the vehicle maker’s warranty, or are covered by their own warranty. Our advice is to get affirmation that the planned changes won’t affect the original vehicle maker’s warranty – good luck with that.
As for warranties provided by accessory and modification suppliers, they cover only the supplied components, not any effects those components might have on other parts of the vehicle.
Toyota isn’t the only vehicle maker to spell out changes that will certainly void entire or sections of its new vehicle warranty:
“Suspension upgrades, also known as Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) upgrades, are changes made to the vehicle’s suspension to increase the carrying capacity of the vehicle above what is stipulated.
“This is a common issue with commercial vehicles because customers want them to carry more than what Toyota specifies.
“Performance upgrades that void warranty include catch cans, power chips, modifications to the engine ECU to gain more power and exhaust system modifications.”
In recent years, most 4WD importers have been offering factory-approved accessories, in an effort to reduce warranty-related issues and, also, to give dealers another source of revenue. Where a factory-approved accessory is suitable for your needs it makes good sense to buy it, because you need to avoid situations where you’re caught in the middle between the vehicle maker and the accessory supplier.
Let’s say you have a GVM upgrade done on your new 4WD. The 4WD maker has an immediate ‘out’ for any problems that might arise in the engine, transmission, chassis and axles. A reputable GVM suspension upgrade supplier will replace faulty suspension components, but won’t cover any powertrain issues.
Also, good luck in trying to get the vehicle maker or this supplier to repair any chassis damage.
In the case of engine modifications, the chip or catch can supplier will warrant the supplied products, but won’t replace your busted engine, unless you can prove conclusively that the supplied component caused engine failure. Even then, the supplier will not come to party willingly.
Most disputes between vehicle owner, vehicle maker and vehicle modifier end in stalemate, because the next step is litigation. Are you seriously going to spend hard-earned coin pursuing vehicle makers’ lawyers or an international accessories supplier who’s operating under a different legal system?
So, warranty is an important part of vehicle purchase, but be aware that there’s a large gap between theory and practice.