By Barry Kluczyk
It is one of the most contentious issues for aftermarket performance parts manufacturers and their consumers – will the new vehicle warranty be voided if non-original, non-OEM parts are installed?
The short answer is a vague, “maybe.” In general, however, the simple installation of bolt-on aftermarket parts should not affect the new vehicle warranty, as long as the aftermarket parts did not cause or affect the problem for which a warranty claim is being sought.
According to the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association (SEMA), the trade organization of the automotive aftermarket, U.S. federal law “sets forth requirements for warranties and contains a number of provisions to prevent vehicle manufacturers, dealers, and others from unjustly denying warranty coverage.” When it comes to aftermarket parts, such as the bolt-on performance components described in this and following chapters, SEMA notes “the spirit of the law is that warranty coverage cannot be denied simply because such [aftermarket] parts are present on the vehicle. The warranty coverage can be denied only if the aftermarket part caused the malfunction or damage for which warranty coverage is sought.”
In other words, the dealership can’t void a warranty because of a cold-air intake – especially if the vehicle was brought to the service department for a bad fuel pump. A supercharged engine with a blown head gasket will likely be laughed out of the dealership, however.
The law allows for interpretation of what caused the malfunction. The cold-air kit, for example, may not have had any bearing on the fuel pump going bad, but what about a cold-start issue or surging idle? If the owner takes his vehicle to the dealership for service, the service personnel may claim the cold-air kit as the culprit.
Muddying the waters further is the fact that almost every dealership reacts differently to aftermarket parts and accessories. Some avoid them altogether, and some understand the law and will work around them, while others embrace the profit potential of aftermarket parts and are happy to sell and install them.
Many dealerships, however – backed up by the manufacturer – will claim that any aftermarket part violates the terms of the warranty. That simply is not what the law says. SEMA suggests several methods of steering around such blanket opposition from a dealership:
Check the vehicle history. The issue may be related to common problems afflicting that particular vehicle model. Recalls and technical service bulletins are routinely posted on the Internet. The federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) posts recalls on its web site. Enthusiast forums on the web are a good source for tracking common problems.
Seek an independent opinion. If possible, have an independent mechanic inspect the vehicle for an opinion on the cause of the problem. It may be easier for the dealership to accept the warranty claim if a third party states that the problem isn’t related to the aftermarket component.
Get the warranty denial in writing. If the dealership denies the warranty claim, it should be willing to back up the position in writing. Ask the service personnel to explain why they believe the aftermarket part to be at fault in or the root cause of the problem. Keep the document for reference if the claim is pursued further.
Go to the “zone” manager or manufacturer directly. If you believe the warranty claim dispute has hit a standstill at the dealership, moving above the dealer to the district or “zone” office is another avenue of action, as is writing the manufacturer directly.
Owners can also ask fellow enthusiasts to suggest other dealerships for service – dealerships that have a history of being more friendly to or, at least, less hostile to vehicles with aftermarket parts.
The bottom line is this: Simply installing an aftermarket part does not automatically void your warranty. So, go ahead and install that performance exhaust system.