By Jordan W. Charness

“That will be $723.52. Please pay if you want me to release your car.” The service manager at the car dealer was very friendly but insistent that he wanted to be paid. Peter felt that he did not have to pay this invoice but he needed his car so that he could continue on his way. Peter felt railroaded but knew that he didn’t have much choice: his wife and children were tired of being stranded. He forked over the cash and was given his car keys.

How did Peter come to be in this predicament? After all, cars do break down and you would expect him to pay for his repairs just like the rest of us. However, in this case Peter did not think that the repair charge was warranted.

Peter recounted to me what happened to him during the Labour Day weekend. He had bundled the family into the family van and headed into the United States for the last fun weekend of the summer. As he was heading home from Vermont he noticed that the car seemed to be making some unnatural noises. It still drove but the “check engine” warning light illuminated. According to the car’s owner’s manual if the check engine light illuminates and stays lit you must take your car to a dealer at the next possible opportunity.

He was not sure if the car would safely transport him and his family home. He decided that the best thing to do would be to find the closest manufacturer’s dealer and have the car repaired there. Since the car was under warranty Peter thought he had nothing to worry about.

Fortunately he was not far from a major metropolitan area that boasted, not one but two new-car dealers selling cars of the same make as his. Unfortunately, being Labour Day the dealership was closed.

He checked into a nearby hotel and announced to the family that there would be necessary extension of their vacation by at least one day.

The next day Peter presented himself to the service department as soon as it opened. He explained to the sympathetic service manager that he was afraid that his car would not make it home since the check engine light was on. Although he didn’t have an appointment the service manager agreed to look at his car and try to get them on the road home as quickly as possible.

It was a good thing that Peter had not tried to continue his journey the day before. The check engine light really did mean that there was a problem with the engine. Continuing to drive it in that condition would likely have led to a breakdown at the most inconvenient time.

The service manager explained what the problem was and Peter told him to go ahead with the repair. A couple of hours later the car was ready to go and Peter was presented with the bill for $723.52 in U.S. funds.

Peter explained to the service manager that the car was still under the manufacturer’s warranty. This type of repair was something that definitely would be covered according to the terms and conditions of his warranty.

The service manager told him that if the car was an American car it would indeed be covered by the American manufacturer’s warranty but since it was a Canadian car he had no way of checking whether the warranty was really in force. Peter suggested that the service manager call his dealer in Montreal. The service manager refused. If Peter wanted his car released he would have to pay for the repair.

Manufacturer’s warranties are indeed subject to the conditions contained in the contract. Each car company’s warranty is a little bit different but the basic principle is that during the warranty most repairs should be paid for by the manufacturer.

Since Peter’s car was manufactured by one of the American auto manufacturers he felt that he should have had no problem having his warranty honoured in United States.

As it turns out, his warranty should have been honored. However the Vermont car dealer was not plugged into the same system that his Montreal dealer was connected to. Even though the service manager in Vermont could probably have figured out how to bill the Canadian warranty company it was much simpler for him to just make Peter pay for the car repair.

The good news was that upon Peter’s return to Montreal he presented the invoice to the service manager at his dealership who submitted it to the warranty department who refunded his money at the current exchange rate.

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