You just want your car to work. As such, one question you may ask yourself when you have to get repairs or maintenance is, “If my car is under warranty, can I take it to any dealership?”
The answer is more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no.”
Does the Type of Warranty Matter?
Let’s explore the differences between factory warranties and aftermarket service contracts. Which type you have can affect where you can get repairs.
A factory warranty is a type of warranty that usually covers drivetrain and engine problems up until a certain mileage or years of vehicle ownership.
You may have heard you must take your car to the dealership if you have a factory warranty. Someone may have even told you that you must take it to the dealer who originally sold it to you. While neither is strictly true, your vehicle’s manufacturer does have requirements regarding the nature of the repairs. Another misconception is that a factory warranty is a lifetime warranty - this is simply not true. A lifetime warranty comes at an additional cost and is usually not included in the original warranty.
For example, if you take your car to a mechanic who uses the wrong engine oil spec, your warranty won’t cover the work. That’s not to say that using non-OEM or used parts will void the warranty, just that any parts or fluids used in a repair must conform to the manufacturer’s approved specifications.
So while you don’t have to take your car to the dealership for maintenance and repairs if you have a factory warranty, you should take your car to an approved shop with a certified mechanic.
Remember that only original manufacturers can offer extended warranties. Third parties sell what’s known as service contracts. They both act very much the same, but purchasing a service contract usually allows buyers to select different coverage levels with varying prices.
When you purchase your service contract, you may be able to select packages that take care of just the powertrain, for example. In this case, if you had a suspension part break prematurely, the service contract wouldn’t cover it, regardless of which shop took care of the repairs.
You also need to make sure your specific plan lets you take your car to the shop of your choosing. Before you decide on a plan, ask, “Does warranty work have to be done at dealerships?” The company that provides your service contract will be able to provide that information based on your specific plan. Most companies and plans will require you to take your car to a certified mechanic or dealership to ensure the work was done properly, similar to a manufacturer’s warranty.
How the Difference Between Factory Warranties and Service Contracts Affects You
Think of a factory warranty this way.
A Toyota dealer is essentially a representative of Toyota itself. When someone buys a new Toyota, they get Toyota’s specific warranty, which covers repairs, maintenance, and transportation to Toyota dealerships. The warranty is the same for every vehicle, and Toyota can ensure a consistent level of quality, thanks to their control over their dealers. So even though your factory warranty won’t require you to go to a dealer, it’s often easier and simpler to visit a Toyota dealership, so there’s little reason not to.
Service contracts work much the same; they’re just not a product offered by the original manufacturer. Instead, they’re typically made available for continued coverage after the factory warranty expires.
The good news is that service contracts can often protect your car with more options than the manufacturer offers. To ensure you get the protection you want, choose your service contract options according to your needs.
When it comes to taking your car in for work, both options allow some flexibility. You should carefully review the terms of your contract, but you should also know that there is legislation that can protect you.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act
You may still wonder, “can you take a car under warranty to any dealership according to the law?” Is there a blanket rule for everyone, regardless of the kind of coverage a car has?
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act protects your rights as a vehicle owner to get warranty repair work and maintenance done with aftermarket and recycled parts at a shop you prefer (or do the work yourself).
To be protected by the act, you must:
- Have a warranty or service contract
- Make sure the dealer or shop is licensed, registered, or certified with the state
- Keep records and receipts of maintenance/repairs with the correct dates
- Follow routine maintenance schedules
Whenever you file a warranty claim, it’s up to the manufacturer to prove that a non-OEM part caused the failure. Even then, the manufacturer would have to show that the aftermarket part was of poor quality. Some aftermarket parts can offer greater durability and reliability than OEM parts.
Of course, it’s important to note that the work must be done properly. For example, if you want to go to an unregistered shop for an oil change and they forgot to put the drain plug back in, causing your engine to seize, you could be out of luck. If that happens at a certified shop, they will reverse the damage they caused.
Beware of Service Contract and Extended Warranty Scams
This probably won’t come as a surprise, but some businesses just want your money.
Many “too good to be true” service contract providers will make it seem like your contract allows you to go to any dealership, but your coverage (if you have any legitimate coverage at all) may leave you in the cold when it’s time for a repair or maintenance. In other words, regardless of whether you want to take your car to a dealer or not, you might not have any coverage if you purchase an illegitimate or scam service contract.
Finally, watch out for spam calls and letters that claim your car’s warranty has expired. They may use phrases such as “final warranty notice” to get your attention. If you receive such messages, do thorough research before responding. Scammers are excellent at pressuring people into giving up sensitive financial information.
The Final Word
So do you have to get your car serviced at a dealer under warranty? No! If you get your warranty work done at an independent shop, you can still file a warranty claim — just be sure to keep your receipts and document what work was done.
With that said, if you do the work yourself or go to an unregistered, uncertified mechanic and something breaks, the manufacturer may reject your warranty claim. The reason is that there’s no way to prove the work was done properly.
This means that even though you aren’t required to go to a dealership for warranty work, having repairs and maintenance done at a dealership or certified mechanic is the smart thing to do.
When in doubt, the best course is to call your service provider and ask straightforward questions about your coverage. Make sure you’ll be taken care of when your car receives service. And as always, hold on to your receipts.