Knowing the truth about a car’s warranty and how it works will help to ensure a happy ownership experience
SINGAPORE — According to investing legend Warren Buffett, the secret to a happy marriage is simple: low expectations. “What quality do you look for in a spouse? One quality. Do you look for brains? Do you look for humor? Do you look for character? Do you look for beauty? No. You look for low expectations,” says the billionaire. “That is the marriage that’s going to last.”
That might be so, but when it comes to your car, the key to a lasting and fulfilling relationship is probably dependability. Even the flashiest, sexiest machine can sink in your esteem pretty quickly when it refuses to start and you’re late for work.
Of course, no mechanical device can be perfectly reliable or last forever, so the next best thing is to have a comprehensive warranty. That ensures that any flaws in assembly can be addressed or an unusually short-lived part can be replaced without cost to the owner.
But a warranty isn’t exactly a blanket guarantee that every last nut and bolt can be replaced for free for a certain amount of time.
Instead, think of one as something like an insurance policy: something you hope you won’t have to rely on but that you’ll be glad is there if you do, but only if you stick to the terms and conditions.
As for how a warranty for your car really works, here’s how to understand it by deconstructing these common myths about it:
All warranties are the same
It’s easy to assert that a car has a warranty for X years and so many kilometres, but not all warranties are the same. In Singapore conditions there is usually a comprehensive warranty from the car factory that an authorised distributor will gladly honour, and sometimes there is an extra warranty from the distributor that adds an extra period of coverage.
Every Toyota is covered by a three-year, 100,000km warranty from the factory, for example, while the Toyota Shield Extended Warranty by Borneo Motors adds a further two years’ coverage with unlimited mileage.
This extended warranty is one way for a distributor to add peace of mind to your ownership experience.
But there are fine differences in various warranties. While the three-year factory warranty covers the mechanical parts of a car, for example, the main battery (essentially a wear-and-tear item) is covered for two of those years.
On the other hand, for a Toyota with the fuel-saving Hybrid Synergy Drive system, the hybrid battery is covered for up to 10 years. The point is, not all warranties are the same.
Everything is covered by warranty
Not quite. Some items are designed to wear out or deteriorate with use, like spark plugs, various filters, or windscreen wipers.
These items are called “consumables” and are replaced as a matter of course — just because, say, an oil filter needs to be changed, it doesn’t mean it has failed. It’s merely reached the end of its service life.
Naturally, these consumables aren’t covered by warranty, the way the battery of a quartz watch wouldn’t be covered.
I can abuse my car — the warranty will take care of it, anyway
Sorry, but no. Every warranty has its terms and conditions, and it’s like a contract between you and your car’s caregiver. For your part, you merely have to ensure that your car is serviced on time and by the authorised dealer, and that you don’t modify it from standard condition.
It’s not a distributor’s way of milking customers for cash, but is designed to help ensure the best possible care for their cars.
After all, using only authorised workshops will ensure that genuine parts are fitted, that approved consumables are used, and that knowledgeable hands will be doing the work.
Think of it like this: if you get health insurance coverage and tick “non-smoker” on the application form, you might not receive coverage if it turns out that you actually have a two-pack-a-day habit. But actually staying away from the coffin nails would not only ensure you coverage, it would be good for you, too.
My warranty ensures that I will get whatever repair I want
Just as health insurers have to deliberate about a payout, a warranty claim requires approval, too. In fact, there is no such thing as an automatic approval for a warranty repair.
The cause of the failure has to be considered — did the driver fill the engine with unapproved additives before the pistons seized?
Likewise, a warranty claim is unlikely to go through if there’s a fault that cannot be traced. Something has to fail or break, and a warranty won’t cover something that doesn’t “seem” right. Likewise, you can’t have something done “just in case”. If a diagnosis can’t be made, a claim can’t be processed.
Generally, a warranty works like this: You have to stick to the terms and conditions, only operate your car in a manner consistent with “fair use”, and if there is a failure on a part that is covered, it has to be diagnosed by a certified technician. will get any repairs seen to.
A worldwide factory warranty protects my car, whomever I buy it from
This one is tricky. It’s a popular misconception that authorised dealers are obligated to undertake repairs of any car from the brand that they represent, whether the car was parallel imported or not.
The truth is, authorised dealers are under no such obligation, but may offer help if requested to by the brand in question.
It’s worth remembering too that a car is not a mobile phone or laptop, which means that parts are more specific to a given model.
This means that even if an authorised distributor were happy to try and fulfill a warranty claim, the relevant bits simply might not be there.
And unlike electronics or gadgets, regional variations tend to be greater between cars.
Even if two car models look the same and seem to be mechanically identical, there could be key differences between them: one of them would have an ECU (or Engine Control Unit) programmed to run the engine cooler for our weather, for example. Naturally, it won’t be the parallel imported one…
With these five myths out of the way, it’s easier to see a warranty for what it is: not really a guarantee of mechanical perfection, but an insurance policy against an unforeseen setback.
You’ll be happiest of all if you never need to rely on a warranty, but if something on your car does malfunction, you’ll be glad not only for the reassurance of the warranty itself, but for having someone there to administer it for you.
That is something to think about when you choose your next car: should you buy it from someone who can sell you a car without the ability to back you up if something happens? In spite of Warren Buffett’s advice, that is one relationship where having some expectations would be helpful.