These days, if you purchase a product that comes with a decent warranty, you should consider yourself pretty lucky. Every piece of furniture I have ever bought at Macy’s has come with an ironclad warranty that I have had to use and every time they were polite and helpful. When something goes wrong, you don’t want to be hassled. You want it fixed—no questions asked—and for free.
Unfortunately, as with all legal documents, the wording in warranties can be very tricky. Sometimes, the writing is so dense and vague, it seems like companies don’t want you to really understand what you are entitled to.
Such is the case with a recent consumer alert issued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in response to a complaint filed by the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA), the Automotive Oil Change Association (AOCA), and the Tire Industry Association (TIA). These companies sent a letter to the FTC charging that the language in Honda’s warranties suggested that the warranty would be voided if customers had their cars serviced by non-dealers and/or used non-Honda “aftermarket” parts.
The original language issued by Honda was this: “Only by purchasing Honda Genuine parts through an authorized U.S. Honda dealer can you be assured of the replacement part’s authenticity, reliability, and compatibility.”
First of all, while the language is not as clear as it should be, it never actually states that your warranty will be voided if you take your car to an independent shop and use aftermarket parts.
Often, repairs performed at dealers can cost more than those performed at independent shops or by the car's owner. I recently had a technician at a dealership charge me $75 to install a single floor mat, as the instructions on the mat warned against do-it-yourself installations. I thought this was rather extreme and installed it myself (it was incredibly simple and is still working fine today), even though Honda implied that I was doing so at my own peril.
We all want choices when it comes to repairing our cars, whether we want to do it ourselves or take it to our favorite shop or dealership. And that's why the alert issued by the FTC has merit. Honda's language is unclear and it's the FTC’s job to protect consumers from confusing rules. The reason the companies wrote to the FTC in the first place is so they could compete with Honda equally in the marketplace. Not only is it fair, it's the law.
The alert issued by the FTC has some good advice for consumers and explicitly states that one may use aftermarket parts and have repairs performed by non-dealers (including do-it-yourselfers) without voiding the warranty (the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act actually makes it illegal for companies to void your warranty or deny coverage under the warranty simply because you used an aftermarket part). Still, there are some stipulations. Such as, if you install a belt incorrectly and it ends up damaging the engine, the warranty won’t cover the engine damage. All warranties have limits and stipulations.
We have to be informed, concerned, and savvy consumers these days. We must read warranties and we must ask questions if we don't understand the terms. It’s not fun, but it’s our responsibility to know the warranty terms on the products we buy.
And it's nice to know the FTC is doing its job; I would always want to have a choice before paying $75 to install a single floor mat!