Q&A: Secret warranties

August 15, 2008

An auto enthusiast I know says that car manufacturers sometimes have "secret warranties" that cover problems like design flaws. How can I find out about these?

Q: Now that the warranty on my car has expired, I'm facing a costly engine repair. An auto enthusiast I know says I may be able to get the manufacturer to cover part or all of the cost if the problem is because of a design flaw. Car manufacturers sometimes have "secret warranties" covering such problems, he claims. How can I find out about this?

A: You'll have to check the technical service bulletins the manufacturer has issued for your car's make and model. Manufacturers send these bulletins to their dealerships but don't publicize them to customers, so you'll probably have to rely on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's searchable database at http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/problems/tsb. The database provides only cryptic summaries of the problem covered; for full details you must order copies of any bulletins that seem applicable. You'll pay a labor charge of $45 per hour, plus per-page fees, for duplicating documents.

If you find a bulletin that acknowledges the problem and details how to fix it, bring it to the dealership and ask for a goodwill adjustment. The service manager may oblige, particularly if you're a regular customer. If he doesn't, you can try contacting the manufacturer directly (check your owner's manual for contact information). And keep in mind that with secret warranties, persistence often pays.

Send your money management questions to memoney@advanstar.com (please include your regular postal address).