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Using Auto Warranty to Get Free Repairs You Are Entitled to Receive


Although referred to in the singular, technically there are two emissions systems warranties that come with every new vehicle. One is called "design and defect," the other "performance." Both are mandated by federal law and are intended to ensure that vehicles will not cause excessive air pollution. Their purpose is not to resolve a driveability problem for a car owner, but often these warranties have that result.

Consider this scenario:
Suppose your car has been driven less than 50,000 miles and is less than five years old when it begins to buck severely as you attempt to accelerate. The condition is not just annoying—it is also dangerous (you may have to merge onto a busy interstate highway in the morning on your way to work). Therefore, you might take the car to a mechanic and pay to have the problem repaired. Instead of scurrying to a repair shop, you take the car to a dealership that sells your make of vehicle. You describe the symptoms to the service manager and ask him or her to test the car for emissions. As a result, you find out that the percentage of carbon monoxide coming from the tailpipe is in excess of the level allowed by law.

Perhaps the trouble is traced to a malfunctioning electronic engine control module or oxygen sensor, which are emissions control system parts. If so, the repair falls under the provisions of the emissions control systems warranty. You won't have to pay a penny for the repair, which incidentally would have cost you over $500. The repair also stops the bucking.
In this case, the key to the free repair was associating a driveability problem with an excessive emissions problem. Remember, the key to improving your chances of having your car fixed free is to bring the car to the service department of a dealership, to a state or municipal inspection station (if your state or municipality requires periodic emissions testing), or to a mechanic who has the proper equipment to test cars for excessive emissions.
The advantage of bringing the car to a dealer is that you won't be charged for the emissions test if the cause of the problem is a part or system that comes under the provisions of the emissions control systems warranty.

According to the Clean Air Act, warranty work must be done by a "representative of the manufacturer" (that's a dealer) free of charge. Under the emissions control systems warranty, the full cost of troubleshooting and making a repair is to be assumed by the manufacturer. The car owner doesn't have to pay a penny unless the emissions test shows that the car is not emitting pollutants in excess of federal or state law.

Another advantage of having a dealer check the problem is that a service department can usually re-create the conditions that existed when the driveability problem occured, such as at a particular speed or engine temperature. Although state and municipal vehicle inspection stations usually don't charge for testing, it is difficult for them to re-create conditions. Independent mechanics may be able to do so, but they will probably charge to do the test, whether or not the cause of the problem turns out to be an emissions systems defect.

If testing is done by a state or municipal inspection station or an independent mechanic and your car fails the emissions test, be sure to get a copy of the results plus an explanation of why it failed. You will need this in order to have the free repair made by a dealer.

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