The universal “hidden warranties”

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Every car sold in the United States comes with a warranty you may not be aware of, which covers a variety of components for up to ten years or 100,000 miles. This is a set of “emissions warranties,” designed to ensure that cars do not over-pollute.

This mandated warranty was actually quite clever: it placed the burden of emission system reliability on the automaker, so they had an incentive to make the car stay “clean” for as long as they can. As a result, emissions systems tend to be very reliable over the years.

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Check your warranty booklet for details; you may find that the factory covers not just the obvious emissions-related items, but also the fuel injection, spark plugs, speed and temperature sensors, throttle body, and turbocharger. (Some are only covered to the first replacement interval – e.g. spark plugs may be covered until 30,000 miles or so).

If your dealer gives you trouble — say, claiming ignorance and refusing to believe the booklet that comes with the car — try calling the company at the phone number in your owner’s manual. If that fails, or for more information than you get with your car, write to:

Director, Field Operation and Support Division (6406J)
401 M Street Southwest
Washington, DC 20460

There are some restrictions. First, to qualify for a repair, you may have to fail inspection — so, if your state has inspection stations, use one rather than your dealer to get the car inspected! You have to be operating the vehicle within the country of purchase, and within normal parameters. For more, check the book in your glove compartment!

Some states, notably California, have additional laws for your protection. Get to know them. They are in your glove compartment! (Well, they were when the car was new). Details on lemon laws are also provided in your glove compartment (for most states) — nearly every state has lemon laws now.

Hidden warranties that we know about

Most auto companies will voluntarily fix common problems that are basically due to manufacturing or design defects. A neighbor received a new body computer on his long-out-of-warranty minivan for free. Call the company – it can’t hurt to try. (The “silent warranty” is a widespread practice of dubious legality, and car companies are unlikely to admit they exist, especially if you call them secret or silent warranties).