Right for your ride

So, you’ve bought your dream 4×4, done the initial service, followed all the rules, and now you want to fit a few choice aftermarket accessories. What are your rights, and how will this affect your shiny manufacturer warranty that promises a trouble-free experience for the first five years or 120 000km?

As an overlander, it is often necessary to upgrade the standard vehicle to meet your travel needs, not only to safely reach your destination, but also to ensure the vehicle is not damaged. It is precisely why you would fit under-body protection, a bull bar and all-terrain tyres with strong sidewalls. You might also want to raise and strengthen the suspension, so you can carry a heavier load of camping gear and passengers. These are functional – not cosmetic – requirements.

However, you should be clear that when it comes to warranties, every vehicle manufacturer is trying to protect themselves and limit their liability. Keep in mind that millions of Rands, Euros and Yen have been spent on research and development; and even more on extensively testing products to get them safely to market. Understand that if you add new body parts, mess with the electronics, add lights or make changes that directly affect the drivetrain or suspension/differentials, there could potentially be changes that void the warranty and might lead to component failure or accelerated wear.

Know your rights

However, as car buyer and owner you do have rights. Much of the approach to warranty practice is defined by the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which was made US Federal Law in 1975.

It encourages manufacturers to use simple and clear language to set out the rights and obligations of customers with regards to use of their product, and defines when cover could be made void. Importantly, Magnuson-Moss also encourages competition in the marketplace, stating that customers can use non-Original Equipment parts, can fit aftermarket parts, and have their cars serviced by outside service providers.

The Wikipedia summary explains it like this: “Warranties cannot require that only branded parts be used with the product in order to retain the warranty. This is commonly referred to as the ‘tie-in sales’ provision…” So if there is a warranty claim for an engine failure, for example, the onus is on the manufacturer’s warranty department to prove a non-OE part is responsible. This is the core proposition of South Africa’s Right to Repair campaign, which seeks to bring properly qualified service agents into the new car repair network, and allow the fitment of so-called non-genuine parts and accessories.

South Africa’s own Consumer Protection Act of 2008 goes some way to protect consumers as well. In the motor trade, this forces the supplier to be sure of their product, and carries an “implied warranty” of up to

six months after purchase that the goods will be free of defect and up to the task they were designed for. All repair work must be guaranteed by the supplier for three months, plus consumers are protected against being overcharged for parts and can insist on quality service.

Don’t be a chop

This all leaves manufacturers on the back foot, and we feel their pain. You can’t expect to simply take your new whip down the road to old Harold the Mac and expect his servicing to be up to scratch if he doesn’t use the correct fluids and has no access to the correct diagnostic equipment. Don’t expect a successful warranty claim when your engine comes to a smoking halt in the middle of the Kalahari. Nor would you want to buy a bull bar for your new R750 000 Hilux from a back-door operator with a welding machine. If the Park Distance Control  sensors no longer work, cooling flow to the radiator is impaired, and the airbags won’t deploy in a crash, you put your life in danger, quite apart from being sure to void that warranty.

As a responsible consumer, the way to go is to fully research what parts are fitted. Don’t go crazy with accessories without knowing why. If you fit wider rims with more offset, coupled to a set of bigger tyres for your adventures off-road, know there will be more strain on the wheel bearings and differential components, including the drive-shafts and gearbox.

When adding, say, an aftermarket exhaust or perhaps fitting a plug-and-play chip to improve engine performance, tread carefully. You will be on the thin edge with the manufacturer’s warranty, so don’t expect much sympathy! And yes, the aftermarket supplier should provide their own guarantees, but will they honour it when your turbo blows or the engine overheats? Invariably, these suppliers don’t have the financial clout of the large OEMs, and secondly, did you read the fine print of their warranty, which will be underwritten by another insurance broker?

What the dealers want

The manufacturers want you to fit their ‘genuine’ parts and choose from their basket of post-sale accessories. They might well have worked a deal with one of the bigger aftermarket suppliers for a range of body armour, for example, but more often the range will be limited to a sports bar, some branded carpets and a tonneau cover. That’s not quite enough to kit out your overland rig.

Dealers make extra margin from adding these parts to any sale – new cars on their own carry small profit margins, and the only way to add butter to their bread is to dial in linked insurance, finance packages, those extra bits, and later, an extended warranty.

Your rights are clear. You can fit a range of aftermarket parts, but you have to be certain what will be affected and have it signed off by the dealer. If your turbo blows after fitting fender flares, you have a claim. If it goes after fitting a fancy new grille made in China that impeded airflow, you’ll have a problem.

The manufacturer view

According to John Thomson, Vice President: Service, Tech, CS and Future Toy at Toyota South Africa, the company understands that while they sell products that should match all lifestyle requirements there are customers who will make changes.

“As a rule we don’t cancel overall warranties – for example if you fit a set of wheels that causes a diff failure and the wiper motor fails, the parts are unrelated and we will cover the wiper failure,” he says. Toyota evaluates the failure and based on that, if the fitted or related part caused the problem, it would not be covered by warranty. “In some cases however, if extensive modifications have been made to the engine and drivetrain, we do cancel the related warranties,” he continues. He added that it’s worth mentioning, too, that to maintain the warranty, irrespective of additions, servicing at a dealer is required at the specified intervals or annually. “Our key focus, at all times, remains customer safety,” he concluded.

The fitting of things like fake Raptor grilles on Rangers gives Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa’s MD Neale Hill the mutters. “An aftermarket grille could lead to increased air temperatures in the engine bay, which has an adverse effect on numerous mechanical and electrical components, dramatically increasing the risk of premature failure.”

He warns against a range of modifications, from aftermarket engine tuning, so-called ‘chipping,’ the use of suspension lift kits and larger or smaller tyres, plus electrical mods including light bars and High-Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps which can activate the vehicle’s overcurrent protection system.

His concern is that many aftermarket accessories have not been tested by Ford, and are not fitted by Ford-trained technicians. His advice is also clear: discuss with a Ford dealer before making any modifications, and take a good look at the range of Ford-approved accessories which can be ordered as a factory fitment or an after-purchase fitment by a Ford dealer.

Just how aftermarket can you go?

The hard-line attitude from manufacturers is there not only to protect their brands and limit liability but also to promote dealer margin through the fitment of approved accessories. Not to knock the tied-in aftermarket suppliers, as these will have been top of the pile in terms of meeting specific requirements, but it does exclude a range of quality alternatives.

Be aware that approved aftermarket items are not the only ones on the market. When choosing, be sure to verify they have been properly tested and certified.

Know the differences between the various options. Have a careful look at the hardware, preferably already fitted on a vehicle similar or the same as yours. The Genuine Parts debate is equally fraught. Do you go for the replacement part from another brand, or pay more for the genuine article? If it affects the warranty, then you bite the bullet. After the warranty expires, you will have more leeway, but you should still ensure the best possible parts for the price are being fitted.

*Words by: Angus Boswell

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