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Preserve Your Rights- Don’t Modify Your Vehicle

  Norman Taylor & Associates
  August 1, 2011

At Norman Taylor & Associates we see many cases where the vehicle owner’s modifications have created serious warranty problems after purchase. In some cases, modifications have disqualified consumers from seeking recourse under the California Lemon Law. There are three categories of modification that come immediately to mind.

  1. Lift kits installed on pickup trucks and 4-wheel drive vehicles
  2. Electrical/electronic modifications to entertainment/communication systems
  3. Trucks and cars with other than original tires and rims

Mechanical & Electrical Issues

Let’s talk about lifts on trucks first. Getting everything to align will take some skill and patience, and these are just the mechanical problems. Before you even consider these installations, think about how the all the suspension components fit together, even the slightest variance may cause serious damage and uneven wear. Some installations may include features that adjust the vehicle’s ride height electronically. These additions may conflict with electronic and or software components within the vehicle.

Let’s briefly discuss electronic media systems, these include sound systems, blue tooth systems, lighting systems, and much more. Inevitably the installer will need to power these components and often times this may include tying it in to the existing wiring system often referred to as “splicing.” Some of the fellows who do this work are very skilled and you’d be hard put to tell the difference. Other third party installers may do very poor work. You cannot assume that the manufacturer always makes these modifications prior to the sale, and therefore you cannot assume you have any warranty coverage at all. When the dealer installs certain items, it is highly likely that a third party to which they may sublet the vehicle to installs these items. Note: most dealerships use a variety of third party companies to perform tasks they have neither the time nor equipment to perform. Upholstery is a good example.

Finally, it is not uncommon at all for people buying a new car; especially those buying a sporty model to ask for fancy rims and wider ones perhaps. Some vehicles will come equipped with modified rims and tires. What the seller usually will not discuss is the potential risk to the basic alignment or unusual wear to the tires. Some buyers make the purchase and these modifications are undetected.

For all of these examples, the sales person at the dealership very rarely volunteers anything about warranty coverage and how it is affected by modifications. If you do ask whether your warranty will be affected or voided, especially before you have purchased the vehicle, they will usually promise that there will be no affect whatsoever so they can close the deal. Seldom do they provide this promise in writing.

What Manufacturers Say

Here are a few relevant warranty statements from the 2011 Ford New Vehicle Limited Warranty. The section called “What is not covered under the New Vehicle Limited Warranty?’ states damage caused by alteration or modifications are not covered. Examples include the following:

  • alterations or modifications of the vehicle, including the body, chassis, or components, after the vehicle leaves the control of Ford Motor Company (emphasis added)
  • tampering with the vehicle, tampering with the emissions systems or with the other parts that affect these systems (for example, but not limited to exhaust and intake systems)
  • the installation or use of a non-Ford Motor Company part (emphasis added) other than a certified emissions part) or any part (Ford or non-Ford) designed for off-road use only installed after the vehicle leaves the control of Ford Motor Company, (emphasis added) if the installed part fails or causes a Ford part to fail. Examples include, but are not limited to lift kits, oversized tires, roll bars, cellular phones, alarm systems, (emphasis added) automatic starting systems and performance-enhancing powertrain components or software and performance ‘‘chips’’

This is just an example of a typical warranty exclusion. What’s the bottom line here? If your salesperson promises you that your modifications/upgrades are covered by warranty, realize that there is serious risk to you. Remember, most manufacturers’ warranties were carefully prepared; with regard to the California Lemon Law it may not matter what the dealer TELLS you, usually it’s what’s in writing that counts.

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