George Trosley
August 17, 2006
At Paramus Ford in Paramus, New Jersey, an inquisitive potential buyer looks on as sales rep Vic Piano and dealership owner Richard LoCurto explain the in's and out's of the Mustang powertrain warranty. Versed in Mustang performance, Paramus Ford builds its own creations such as this "Eleanor" replica and is an authorized Roush dealer.

Mustang enthusiasts drive their cars hard and modify them. How does that affect your new-car warranty? Imagine you're doing some top-down trolling in your red '05 Mustang GT convertible one warm summer day, soaking up sun and blasting GNR's Appetite for Destruction on your 1,000-watt Shaker audio system. Just as Slash is beginning the solo of "Rocket Queen," you suddenly discover that your air conditioning is no longer blowing cold. You start to stew under the baking rays of the sun, and for the first time since you purchased it on its release date in 1987, you aren't enjoying the best rock album ever made. What began as a day of Axl Rose sing-alongs and Camaro hunting has become a day of sweating and being ticked off.

But there's good news: Your Mustang is still within the factory warranty period, so you take it in to the local Ford dealership for an A/C system diagnosis and repair. Sitting patiently in the waiting room at the dealership, you daydream about centrifugal blowers, the hot chick on the cover of last month's Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords, and how much Velvet Revolver sucks. You are rudely interrupted, however, by a surprise visit from the service manager. He states that they have discovered an aftermarket cold-air intake on your vehicle, and therefore are refusing to perform the work on the air conditioning system under warranty

In addition, the dealership service manager says, because the intake renders your car "modified," he has voided your warranty altogether in Ford's main computer. Your vehicle no longer has any warranty coverage, and you're left staring in disbelief at the $540 repair bill in your hands.

It's a situation the likes of which one could never imagine encountering, but it's not a tall tale: One Mustang owner's warranty actually was voided because of a cold-air kit. Aside from being totally unjustified, that dealership's actions-both in refusing to work on the A/C system and voiding the vehicle warranty altogether-were completely illegal.

Though the above is perhaps the most extreme case of warranty denial that has ever occurred, this type of thing happens with disturbing frequency. All too often, Mustang owners bring their cars in for legitimate repairs under warranty and are forced to foot the bill, or-if they're really unlucky-have their warranty coverage forever cancelled. The fact that many dealership personnel simply assume that customers interested in high performance "beat on" their cars only makes matters worse, and in some cases they'll turn a Mustang owner away for that reason alone.

What we'll do in this story is, first, discuss the general concerns surrounding aftermarket vehicle modifications. Then we'll detail the actual language used in Ford's warranty and what it means. After this, we'll move on to the surprising in's and out's of the vehicle repair hierarchy set up between Ford Motor Company and its dealer-ships. After discussing the law on point, we shall give a synopsis of the business relationship between Ford, the dealerships, and you. We'll end with a discussion of what you the consumer can do when confronted with a warranty work refusal situation, both in terms of face-to-face negotiations and in regard to legal actions, as well as how to avoid these unpleasant situations altogether.

I also need to insert a disclaimer here. I'm an attorney, and since attorneys cannot give out legal advice without subjecting themselves to legal liability, the reader needs to be aware that what follows is not legal advice. This article is simply meant for informational purposes, as a starting point to enrich reader knowledge about what help is available. Legal counsel can be of immeasurable assistance to someone involved in a warranty denial situation, and the simple fact that one has retained legal assistance will help any individual to be taken more seriously by the opposing parties. The reader is therefore strongly advised to retain competent legal counsel for any problems he or she may have. Don't take the information in this article as a "last word" on the subject. Tax, title, and license fees extra. All rights reserved. Do not inhale . . . you get the picture.