Main Menu

Warning Against After-market Modifications To Vehicles Under Warranty

So, you are the proud new owner of a high performance automobile, such as a Mercedes AMG, Ford GT Mustang, Cadillac CTS-V, Corvette Z06, Audi RS, BMW M Series, Subaru Impreza WRX or some other cool car, but you have discovered that an after-market tuner, mechanic or specialty shop can increase the performance of your vehicle, make it even faster, louder, and better by adding cold air induction, reprogramming CPU or changing the computer chip, adding headers or a new exhaust system and / or maybe some other modifications at a cost of thousands of dollars. So you consider taking your new Mercedes AMG to Renntech or Brabus or somewhere else so that you will stand out in the crowd at the car show or be the fastest car on Ocean Parkway this summer. The do-it-yourselfers may buy Magniflow mufflers, Hooker headers or merely larger exhaust pipes and maybe add an electric switch to by pass the mufflers so that their hot rod is even louder and has great muscle car sound. After investing your hard earned money, DYI or at a specialty shop or tuner, your car is now faster, louder and badder then even before. Things couldn’t be better for you and your pricey hot wheels until something goes wrong with your engine, supercharger, transmission or some other part of your drive train, and you think simply you will return to the manufacturer’s authorized dealer and have the repairs performed for free under your new car warranty. But then the harsh reality sets in and you are surprised to hear from the dealer that the work will not be performed since you have done modifications to your car and even worse the manufacturer has voided your warranty and your car is now flagged on the entire system of dealers’ computers so that you cannot have any further warranty work performed. You cannot fathom that this is happening, because the mechanic or turner told you “not to worry” and that the modifications will not alter your warranty. However, you failed to understand that it is not up to them, but the manufacturer to decide whether or not to honor or deny a claim for warranty repairs and manufacturers are all too happy and quick to use any such modifications as an excuse to deny warranty repairs. You may have even goffed at my comments at last year’s car show when chatting about such upgrades and I warned you not to do it as it may void your new vehicle warranty and you disregarded this lawyer’s professional experience and advice, but rather relied instead upon the mechanic’s self-serving representation that you will have nothing to worry about. Well, it’s not funny anymore as your five or six figure sports car is no longer running and you are facing many thousands of dollars of unwarrantied repairs. This scenario comes from actual cases that I have been presented with at my office.

You are now wondering what to do? After your complaints to the manufacturer and the speciality shop have been ignored, your options are as follows:

  1. You can try to sell the car at a greatly reduced price and lose tens of thousands of dollars;
  2. You can pay for the repairs out of your own pocket and be stuck with a vehicle having greatly diminished value by reason of having no warranty and likely may be blacklisted on CarFax and elsewhere on the internet against future repairs as well and likely face future repair expenses; or
  3. Hire an attorney experienced in this field, such as myself, to litigate your claims for warranty repairs against the manufacturer and / or for damages against the firm that modified and perhaps messed up your vehicle.

In any event you must keep paying lease or finance payments and insurance costs as well as garage fees and other expenses for a car that cannot be driven.

You may or may not win or lose the case in arbitration or Court, and the outcome depends on a number of variables, including, but not limited to whether or not the Judge or Arbitrator will understand the case, the preparedness of each side and their experts’ credibility, and most importantly whether or not you are at fault for the modifications that caused the damages or defects to the vehicle OR the modifications that you made had no effect on the vehicle and it was defective without any causal relation to the modifications performed. Initially, the burden of proof will be on the manufacturer to show some abuse or neglect of the consumer or that the modifications done by the consumer caused the subject defects or problems with the car. Some of these cases will be obvious and others not. An obvious claim may be that you merely installed an after-market exhaust system, and that there are unrelated problems with your navigation system. The more difficult case may be where the after-market tuner re-programmed or replaced the CPU or computer in your vehicle and now your engine or transmission is malfunctioning. Each case is very different and requires an independent analysis to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the claims and to determine the real cause of the mechanical defects.

All of this could have easily been avoided had you not spent hard earned money in having perhaps incompetent persons or firms modify your new vehicle, which was engineered, designed and constructed by real automotive experts. Do you think a local mechanic is more qualified than the engineers at the manufacturer to modify the engine or computer? Certainly not.

I have no reservation in urging any auto enthusiast to avoid any modifications of the vehicle’s computer, or adding a super charger or turbo charger or any other obvious and material modifications to a vehicle while it is under the new car warranty. I am familiar with cases where even adding an after-market alarm system remote starter led to warranty claims being denied. Either wait until the warranty ends or modify a used car that has no warranty to be completely safe less you risk voiding your warranty. This is not to say that the manufacturer is correct in denying your warranty, but know that it gives them an excuse to do so and compels you to either incur expensive repairs at your own cost or to incur the costs of litigation to enforce your warranty rights.

This is also caveat emptor (buyer beware) to anyone seeking to by any vehicle that has been modified with after-market equipment, even those which may appear to be sanctioned by the manufacturer. For example, I handled a case some years ago where a new GT Mustang purchased at a Ford dealer with either Roush or Saleen modifications were plagued with problems and the two (2) manufacturers pointed fingers at one another, both failing to properly repair the vehicle compelling the consumer to hire counsel to enforce his rights. I have inquired of Mercedes that if a new AMG was brought to a Mercedes dealer authorized by Renntech or Brabus to perform certain performance upgrades if it would affect the warranty and I was told that it could very well result in voiding the warranty. So, you can either ignore my advice and listen to your mechanic who wants to sell you these expensive upgrades at your own risk or listen to a lawyer with experience and avoid very costly mistakes.

I invite the reader to call my office with any questions or concerns regarding a particular vehicle or modifications and wish you happy motoring.

Consumer Tips & Advice