Car Service & Your Warranty

Cheap car service doesn't necessarily void your warranty. You don't need to get your car serviced at the 'factory approved' dealership to preserve its warranty

This post is about how cheap car servicing affects your warranty. Cheap car servicing - from a competent mechanic - can save you hundreds, compared with getting your car serviced at a factory dealership. And it need not void your new-car warranty. New cars in Australia typically come with a three- to five-year warranty. As a new car buyer, it's easy to believe that getting the car serviced at the dealership is the only option. Nothing could be further from the truth - cheap car service is an option, and provided some simple principles are followed, cheap car servicing will preserve your new car warranty iunder Australian law.

Private mechanics and third-party servicing specialists offer cheaper car service than dealerships. Interestingly, however, the car industry plays a kind of PR (or 'spin') campaign on the issue of cheap car service alternatives in an attempt to get consumers to believe only the dealer network is allowed to service your new car. The shining example of communications to car owners on the issue of car service is the use of the word 'authorised' to describe dealer network car service. Dealers are 'authorised' by car manufacturers to perform car service, so it's easy to assume they're the only ones authorised to service any new car. They're not - that would be uncompetitive, and a breach of Australian law.

Cheap car service & warranty: background briefing

Car makers and importers don't want you to know this, but you can and should shop around for cheap car service - at other dealerships and from unrelated third parties (like Ultra Tune, Lube Mobile and independent private mechanics). It won't terminate the warranty. The ACCC is very clear on this.

Remember that cheap car service will be important to you if you purchase a used car that still has a portion of the factory warranty remaining. For example, you might buy a two-year-old Japanese car (like a Honda). These typically come with a three-year warranty, so yours will have 12 months of factory warranty protection remaining. Or you might buy a three-year-old Kia, Hyundai or Mitsubishi. These come with a five-year factory warranty, so at three years of age, two years of the factory warranty's protection remains - and this portion of the warranty is transferred to you when you purchase the car. 

Since the global financial crisis in 2008 & 2009, new car dealerships have been under a great deal of competitive pressure. Their profit margins on new cars have been pared down, and their response has been to try to drive their so-called 'ancilliary businesses' (parts and servicing) even harder. In other words, new car dealerships make a fair old profit on parts and service. They also occupy fairly grand real estate (compared with a private mechanic, for example) - so their overheads are higher. If you put these facts together, pretty soon you figure out that servicing your car at the new car dealership is an expensive option.

Here are the basic rules you need to follow to preserve your new car warranty.

Cheap car service: who can service a new car?

According to the ACCC, the car must be serviced by "qualified staff" if you want to hang onto your warranty. Qualified staff are: "a party or parties, other than an 'authorised dealer', who is capable of performing car servicing". Compared with car dealerships there are plenty of cheap car servicing specialists who conform to this requirement.

This provision means a qualified mechanic or service technician is allowed to service your car without damaging the new-car (or 'factory') warranty. You can't do it yourself (unless you're qualified).

Cheap car service: what work needs to be done?

The ACCC says the work needs to be done to the manufacturer's specifications. For every service there's a time or distance schedule specified (ie, every six months or 15,000km - whichever occurs first). You need to arrange a service inside that window. (For most drivers, the time period elapses before the distance is exceeded.) In this example, the sixth service would be due on the car's third anniversary or at 90,000km - whichever occurs first. At that time, the manufacturer specifies exactly which fluids (engine oil, transmission oil, radiator coolant) and components (filters, spark plugs, timing belts, etc) needs to be replaced, and which need to be inspected (ie brakes, handbrake adjustment, etc.). 

Provided a qualified mechanic performs the work specified by the manufacturer, and provided you organise it within the scheduled time, your new-car warranty will remain intact.

Cheap car service and genuine or aftermarket parts

Here's another way to achieve cheap car service: Another thing the car industry doesn't want you to know is that you don't have to use 'genuine' parts (ie you don't have to use 'Nissan', 'Honda', 'Toyota', etc., branded parts sold exclusively by the parts departments at new car dealerships) in order to preserve your warranty. The issue isn't who makes (or sells) the parts, nor what they cost. The issue is whether the parts are appropriate for the intended purpose. Brake pads, tyres, spark plugs, oil, belts, chains, etc., from third-party manufacturers can all be used provided they are fit for the purpose. (Remember that car manufacturers often don't make these components themselves - they buy them in bulk quanities from the same factories that sell essentially the same item in a different box at the retail level.) In fact, imposing the requirement to fit only genuine parts would not only be unreasonable - it would be a breach of Australian free trade laws.

If a non-genuine component fails, then the consumer has recourse through the consumer affairs department in each state - which is especially useful if the failed part causes other damage.

Cheap car service: look for a service guarantee

If you are thinking about engaging a third-party to service your car, look for a guarantee in writing that the conditions above (qualified staff, manufacturer's specifications and suitable parts) will be met. Cheap car service doesn't have to be dodgy car service - but it does mean you can save some money.

Cheap car service & warranty claims

If your car develops a fault that you believe is in fact a warranty claim, the place to have that dealt with is a new car dealer. (It doesn't have to be the new car dealer who sold you the car; it can be any dealer that with a franchise to sell that particular brand of car.)