The Best Way To Save On Car Maintenance: Know Your Car Warranty

Ugh. I just realized something incredibly stupid that only spending hours writing a post could have made me realize.

I *think* I missed taking my car to the dealer to get my clicking noise fixed under warranty for free!

I mentioned in my post on paying for repairs by cash or credit that the clicking noise had been progressively getting worse for about six months. If true, that means my clicking noise began in April 2019.

My car was originally purchased on July 6, 2015. I bought it from a private party on December 28, 2016, so I could get a larger car in preparation for the birth of our baby in 2017.

For some reason, I had assumed my car only had a 3-year/40,000, transferrable bumper-to-bumper warranty. So I just assumed that I had missed the window to get the problem fixed by 15 months.

But as I was doing research online, oddly enough on my own tax rules for deducting an SUV for a business post, I discovered my SUV has a 4-year/ 50,000 mile warranty!

If I was simply understood my car warranty and what it covered, I could have taken my car into the shop by July 6, 2019, gotten the clicking sound taken care of for free, plus anything else the computer found wrong.

Know Your Car Warranty Basics, Dummy

A car is an ongoing expense that acts as a drag to your path to financial freedom. It’s imperative to not only know your car warranty terms, but also be really in tune with your car.

Now that I’ve calmed down, I want to share some reasons why I messed up and why you might mess up too if you’re not careful. These reasons are like car therapy for the soul.

1) Suffer from car reliability trauma. I pride myself on getting the best car deal possible through aggressive private party negotiations. But I also resign myself to having bad luck when it comes to car maintenance. Given I’ve bought and sold over 12 used cars and have only owned one new car, I’ve had to do more car repairs on my own than a new-car owner.

The car that gave me the most trauma was buying a 1989 BMW 6.35CSI. It was my dream car as a middle school kid while living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I found what I thought was a good condition one off Craigslist for $3,000 and bought it for $2,500 cash that day.

1989 BMW 635CSI was my dream car that gave me nightmares

Shortly after purchase, the car started leaking a tremendous amount of transmission fluid. The headlights and brake lights stopped working multiple times due to a faulty circuit. Then the engine began to shut off intermittently. The last straw was when the brakes completely stiffened up and stopped working one day. Luckily I was only driving 5 mph when it happened. That is when I bit the bullet and sold it to another enthusiast for $1,800.

I’ve always had this back luck car memory stuck in my head. So whenever there’s a car issue, I just automatically go through this routine of calling an independent auto-mechanic to fix it instead of going to the dealer. A car warranty never enters the equations.

2) Wary of the auto dealer service department. We all know that going to the auto dealer service department is the most expensive option. Given I had owned so many used cars in the past, I was very aware of how much cheaper it was going the independent auto service dealer route.

That said, I did go online and e-mail my auto dealer service department an inquiry. I figured why not spend a minute making an inquiry, getting a free checkup, and a price quote. This is what I do when I refinance my mortgage. At least I’d have an option. With the price quote, I could then feel great going to an independent auto service shop and pay less.

But the dealer never got back to me so I lost a week of time waiting until I decided to find an alternative solution.

I also hold contempt for auto dealers because of an incident back in 2003. I had sold the one and only new car I owned back to the dealer for a big loss because it couldn’t fit into the garage of a condo I wanted to buy. Instead of being courteous, the saleswoman I dealt with high-fived her manager once we made the deal. Ouch.

3) Afraid of getting hit with a surprise bill. I was afraid that if I brought my car in, they would surprise me with some unexpected repair that would cost a fortune. The reviews online weren’t great either.

In fact, a reader wrote in my cash or credit post, “Must be a coincidence but I just brought one of my cars for brake issue and was hit with a huge estimate this weekend ($7.4k) because the brake line had rusted. It was a shock at the price tag and essentially the cost of what I bought the car 2nd hand about 5 yrs ago.

$7,400 is an outrageous surprise! This is the kind of stuff I fear at the auto dealer service shop. Unlike a small, independent shop where I can talk to the owners/workers/manager to try and get a better deal and develop a better relationship to minimize getting ripped off, it’s hard to do the same thing at a big shop.

Granted, I’m still afraid of getting a surprise bill at an independent service shop. But at least it would be cheaper to fix, all things being equal.

4) Able to get in right away. Once I decided the clicking sound was bothersome enough to get it checked out, I wanted it fixed right away. All I started thinking about was my family’s safety. Family safety is why I bought my bigger car in the first place. What if it was a ticking time bomb? Who knows.

For the dealer service shop, it looked like it would take at least a week before I could schedule an appointment. With the independent shop, it was only a five-minute drive from a pre-school tour we were to attend that morning. When I called, they said to come at any time.

When I arrived, I was able to pull right in and had waited only five minutes when the co-owner and lead auto-mechanic diagnosed my problem. After prodding my engine for six minutes, he said with incredible confidence, “I’m sure it’s your fan that needs replacing. See my hands? They shouldn’t be all black. There’s a leak and your engine will eventually overheat if the fan is not replaced.

There was no way I’d have gotten such immediate service and a diagnosis if I had gone to the dealer. He also said the computer had found some faulty oxygen sensors, but if my dashboard computer wasn’t saying anything, to not worry about it. I loved the convenience and confidence of this independent service shop. They specialized in my vehicle and the co-owner worked at the dealer service shop for 14 years prior. They gave me the peace of mind I wanted.

5) The problem wasn’t that bad. The reason why waited six months to figure out what was going on with the clicking sound was because I couldn’t hear the sound for the first four months. It was extremely faint and sounded like part of the natural engine whirl.

I only felt there might be a problem during the fifth month when I drove into a large underground garage with my window down. The garage was like an echo chamber that made the sound more noticeable. It was only when I parked the car, left it on, and stood in front of the engine that I could clearly hear the sound. When I returned to the cabin, the sound became inaudible.

Even if I had taken the car to the auto dealer service department as soon as I felt the problem warranted checking out (5th month), I still would have missed out on the 4-year/50,000-mile warranty by two months. Frankly, I now think I’m just guessing that the clicking sound had been occurring for six months.

6) Wanted to see if I could fix the car myself. Here’s something that might surprise you. You’re supposed to walk around and check your tires every week and check your engine oil and coolant every month. But how many of us really do? I don’t because I just rely on the dashboard computer to tell me what’s wrong.

After really noticing the clicking noise in early September (5th month), I did a ton of research online. One suggestion to fix the noise was to simply add engine oil. After I figured out how to navigate the menu (there is no dipstick in my car), the engine oil gauge was below minimum. I bought a quart of synthetic oil and filled the engine right up to the appropriate amount. I patiently waited for two weeks to see if the sound would go away. It did not.

Then I realized my coolant container was empty. I filled that sucker right up too, hoping maybe that would make a difference. Nope. Trying to do the quick DIY fix for $30 was logical, but it cost me time.

7) Don’t know my own car well enough. Although I read through my car manual when I got it in December 2016, I really didn’t know much beyond driving the car, playing my music over Bluetooth, and turning on and off the lights.

For example, it was only after the third year that I discovered I could press a button under the left side of the steering wheel to close my trunk. Prior to that, I had been reminding my high school tennis players I was coaching to press the button on the trunk to close it after I dropped them off.

When I brought the car in for a free inspection, the auto-mechanic asked me when was the last time I had changed my oil. I told him it must have been back in December 2016, when I first bought the car.

Waiting almost three years to change your oil, despite only driving 12,000 miles, conceptually shouldn’t feel right. But I was so busy/aloof that it never occurred to me to do a service. Again, I was just depending on the dashboard computer to tell me what to do.

He then asked whether the service light ever went on. Initially, I said no, but then realized “Service Required” in white letters did pop up when I first started the car, then disappeared in three seconds. I thought that was just part of the starting lights, just like how the check engine light and all the other warning lights come on when you turn the ignition halfway on some vehicles.

He said, “That’s it! That’s the service notification light.”

I was fully expecting to see a red or yellow service notification light that would stay on until I took it to the shop like all my other used cards. Nope. I guess Range Rovers have a more civilized way of letting the driver know. Below is a video of what I see starting up Beast Master.

 

Know Your Car And Your Car Warranty Inside And Out

Not only should you read your car manual thoroughly, but you also need to know when your car was originally purchased so you can calculate when your warranty expires.

Once you’ve calculated when your car warranty will expire, put calendar reminders every month for six months in a row before the expiration date. Then set a couple calendar reminders the week before expiration date for good measure.

Your goal is to fully inspect your car inside and out and take it to the dealership to fix everything wrong the month before your warranty expires, even if it’s the smallest thing. That way, you should also buy the longest amount of time possible for when the next inevitable car issue will occur.

Also, be aware that many warranties will be voided if you do not perform your recommended scheduled maintenance. Keep a log of your maintenance records as proof.

Car manufacturers count on consumers like me to miss warranty expiration dates or simply not bother taking advantage of a car warranty, as part of their business model. It’s the same way with companies selling gift cards and hoping a percentage of us forget to use them before they expire. Stay on the ball.

If you have an expensive car that you want to keep for a long time, it may be financially and mentally beneficial to get an extended warranty. Given I only drive 4,000 miles a year and don’t plan to keep my car past 2026 (10 years), I’m going to skip the $3,000 – $5,000 extended warranty packages. Instead, I’m just going to be more vigilant in maintaining the car and fixing small things before they turn into big problems.

It gets my goat that I didn’t bring Beast Master into the shop right before the warranty expired to get everything inspected and fixed. But maybe I never had the opportunity since I wasn’t really aware of the problem until after the warranty expired. Maybe I can just chalk up this incident to bad luck.

From now on, I’m going to be much more in tune with my vehicle, even if my computer says there’s nothing wrong. I hope you do the same.

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