Recently, I came across a story about a person with a 2004 SUV that needed a really expensive repair, all because of a leaky $4 O-Ring. The problem – the warranty on this person’s SUV is for 5 years or 60k miles, but the SUV has 95k miles on it. It was past the mileage limit (but still inside the 5 year time limit).

What can a person do in this situation? Since the part is not 5 years old yet, isn’t there something the dealer can do to warranty this repair?

The good news is there’s something called “after-warranty-assistance” for people in this situation – provided the person with the problem is the vehicle’s original owner (if you bought the car used this won’t help you). After warranty assistance won’t cover all your costs, but it might make a big dent in the total bill.

Basically, after-warranty-assistance (AWA) is an un-official program between a car manufacturer and their dealer (most large automakers offer some version of this program). Under an AWA claim, a dealer can offer a reduced labor rate and/or free parts on something that failed outside the terms of the warranty, provided there’s some “gray” area in terms of miles and/or years. For instance, when I was managing at a Ford dealership, I once got Ford to cover a broken A/C compressor on a used Explorer. The SUV was 5 years old, but it only had 20k miles. So even though it was outside the time limit on the 3/36 warranty, it was inside the miles (these were the days before Ford’s 5yr/60k mile powertrain warranty). I remember the service manager working with me on a couple of high miles vehicles that were less than 3 years old. Same goes for my time at a Toyota dealer.

Typically AWA is granted on a percentage basis – from 20% of the cost of the uncovered repair all the way up to 100%. If you’re still inside part of your manufacturer’s warranty (or even if you’re just outside it) you’ve got a shot at AWA.

If you want to improve your chances of being granted some AWA from your local dealer, I would suggest the following:

–    Pull all your maintenance and repair records for your vehicle. Hopefully you’ve had this work done at your local dealer. This will prove you take care of your car and that you’re a loyal customer.
–    If you own or have owned any other vehicles of the same make (GM, Ford, Dodge, etc.), make copies of the registration for each. This will show the manufacturer you are a long term owner of their product.
–    Be nice to the people at the dealership – these AWA requests take a lot of work on their end. If they don’t like you, you’re not going to get much help.
–    Follow up with the dealership’s GM and service manager – these are the two people with the most power to help you.
–    Explain that you understand you’re going to have some out of pocket expenses. Even if the dealer can’t get AWA from the manufacturer, they might be willing to split some labor costs with you in the interest of customer service.

If none of this works (or if you aren’t the original owner of this vehicle with the problem), you might ask the dealer about what they can do towards a trade-in. Maybe the service and sales departments can work out a way to get you full value for your vehicle, even though it needs an expensive repair.

If you want to keep your vehicle, a local independent repair shop might be able to cut your bill in half. They might be able to get you a refurbished part as well. The service advisors at your local dealership can probably recommend a couple of places that do good work for less money (with a little buttering up).

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