Will Your Warranty Be Honored If Maintenance Is Done by a Shop That's Not the Dealership?

Absolutely. As long as you have records of routine maintenance (such as oil changes) and have not altered the vehicle with non-factory parts that could be blamed for causing problems (such as an aftermarket high-performance engine computer calibration or a suspension lowering kit), your warranty should remain in effect.

Depending on what the warranty issue is, you may not have to produce any evidence of maintenance. For example, if an air-conditioning compressor conks out while under warranty, does it matter that you only changed the engine oil once in two years? The engine isn't what needs fixing.

For most new vehicles today, the only maintenance recommended by the manufacturer during the first three or four years is changing the engine oil and filter, and rotating the tires periodically. Just about any repair shop that offers these services can do this type of maintenance — and often for less than a dealership charges. They also can check your brakes, suspension, engine and cabin air filters, and other components, the same as a dealership's service department would.

There are exceptions, of course. For example, Toyota provides free scheduled maintenance for the first two years or 25,000 miles, Volkswagen for three years or 36,000 miles and BMW for four years or 50,000 miles, so it makes sense to take advantage of that. Why such generosity? The manufacturers want to get you in the habit of going to a dealer for service, and it gives dealers a chance to sell you additional services (such as brake-pad replacement, windshield wiper blades, cabin air filters).

Some vehicles may require specialized services such as periodic fuel-filter replacement that all repair shops may not perform, and if we bought a $75,000 Mercedes-Benz, the nearest Super Duper Luber may not have all the right fluids, tools and know-how, so going to a dealer may be advisable, if not necessary. Check the maintenance schedule for your vehicle (it's in the owner's manual or a separate booklet) to see what the manufacturer requires. Chances are everything you need could be done at a competent repair shop that is more convenient or less expensive than a dealership.

Don't assume, however, that a dealer will always be more expensive. They may charge $40 or less to change the oil, rotate the tires, inspect the vitals and throw in a car wash. Check the websites of dealers, often in the service department section of the dealership's site, and manufacturers for discounts on routine service.

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