Hidden warranties can help with costly repairs

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects

ORLANDO, Fla. - Car repairs can be pricey. Even the smallest fixes can add up. But there might be a way to get those repairs made at little or no cost. The good news is some car problems may not be as expensive as you think, thanks to what some call "secret warranties." The bad news is that many vehicle owners don't know the "secret warranties" even exist.

Mechanic Dennis Raghunandan owns World Auto in Orlando and just recently came across a "hidden" warranty for a customer.

"We had a nice young lady who had a Hyundai and her car was experiencing a lot of vibration and shaking," Raghunandan said.

So World Auto looked up the repair and saw the car manufacturer covered it.

"It was a known issue at the dealership for a sensor that had to be replaced and a computer update and it was at free of charge," Raghunandan explained.

He said if she had to pay out of pocket, the repair would have been $1000.

Here is how it works:

Car manufacturers file thousands of service bulletins with the federal government each year when a particular vehicle problem is widespread but not considered dangerous enough to prompt a recall. Problem is many owners don't know about service bulletins and pay for repairs out of their pocket.

For example, in 2006 - 2011 Honda Civics, if the paint is cracking for specific colors, Honda extended the paint warranty to seven years with no mileage limit. In the GMC Envoy and many 2005 - 2007 General Motors' SUVs, a faulty sensor can mean the fuel gauge is not accurate.

Vehicle owners should get a letter from the manufacturer about the repair, but if you bought your car used, that probably won't happen.

Jody owns a Toyota and said, "I think they need better promotion of it."

Toyota had  sent letters to owners about the dashboard melting. 

"It's the plastic or surface of it deteriorates in the hot sun. I was very pleased to get my letter," she explained.

However uninformed consumers end up losing money in repair bills because they don't know about these unadvertised service programs. Raghunandan says the cost for a consumer to fix the "melting dashboard" problem would be in the thousands of dollars.

So why don't car manufacturers do a better job advertising service bulletins?

"I think the dealership doesn't want thousands of people showing up for an issue that may or may not be happening that people want to fix just in case," said Raghunandan.

Car owners can find out about the technical service bulletins associated with their vehicles by going to SaferCar.gov. You will need to know the make, model and year of your vehicle.

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