Automakers sometimes offer secret warranties in order to avoid issuing a full-fledged recall. The manufacturer alerts its dealers OR REGIONAL OFFICES that if customers complain about the problem, the manufacturer will pay for the repair.
As you can imagine, the people in the auto industry don’t call them “secret warranties.” They use POLITE TERMS like “goodwill adjustment,” “warranty adjustment” and “after warranty assistance.” They also refer to them as “extended warranties,” because your car does not have to be in its initial factory warranty period to be covered.
There are about 500 “secret warranties” available at any given time, according to the Center for Auto Safety. IF YOUR CAR NEEDS A BIG, EXPENSIVE REPAIR THAT SEEMS PREMATURE FOR ITS AGE, YOU SHOULD CHECK FOR SECRET WARRANTIES.
Here’s an example of ONE OF THEM. A European luxury car maker WAS EQUIPPING ITS vehicles with WHAT ARE CALLED “run-flat tires.” These are tires that can limp along for several miles, allowing you to get to a service station instead of changing your tire by the side of the road. BUT THEY WEREN’T WORKING RIGHT AND company’s customers started complaining that the run-flat tires on their swanky cars were failing after just a couple thousand miles, giving the vehicles a ride like a diesel dump truck. The manufacturer instructed dealers to replace the tires for free if customers asked OR COMPLAINED LOUDLY and, voila, a secret warranty was born. THAT SECRET WARRANTY WAS WORTH $12 HUNDRED DOLLARS!
SO, How do you find out about secret warrantIES? One way is to bluff. My buddy, Michael Finney, the brash and brilliant consumer reporter at KGO TV in San Francisco RECOMMENDS CASUALLY DRAWLING to the service manager, “I think there’S a warranty adjustment on this repair.” And often, there is! He gets the work done for free.
The more mundane way to sleuth out secret warranties is to look up “technical service bulletins” on cars. These are notices that automakers send to dealers alerting them about emerging problems and giving guidance on how to handle them. THE EDMUNDS.COM AUTO WEBSITE KEEPS THIS LIST OF technical service bulletins
IF YOU FIND A TECHNICAL SERVICE BULLETIN ABOUT YOUR CAR’S PROBLEM, LOOK FOR VEILED LANGUAGE LIKE “CHECK FOR AVAILABILITY OF GOODWILL ADJUSTMENT” WHICH HINTS AT A SECRET WARRANTY. THE BULLETINS USUALLY DO NOT COME OUT AND SAY THE MANUFACTURER IS WILLING TO PAY BECAUSE THEN IT WOULDN’T BE A SECRET, WOULD IT? TAKE THAT BULLETIN WITH YOU TO THE DEALERSHIP. FOR THIS TO WORK, YOU MAY NEED TO COMPLAIN LONG AND LOUD, BUT IF IT’S AN EXPENSIVE REPAIR, IT COULD BE WELL WORTH IT.