Piston Slap: Regarding oil changes and warranty claims


John writes:

First off, I just want you to know that I always enjoy your articles. I was once a bit of a half-assed home mechanic working on an interesting collection of my own stuff (Volvo 1800, Porsche 911, and later 356 Roadster, etc. ), but over the years I realize I have become quarter-assed at the best. But back to oil changes.

My wife bought a 2014 Audi All Road from an independent dealer, and I decided—for the first time ever—to buy an aftermarket warranty. Long story short, the car began to burn a quart of oil every 10 minutes or so and then it burned a valve. The warranty was still in effect, but the warranty company decided that it would not cover the cost because I changed my own oil and I didn’t have receipts (paying with cash has bitten me a few times).

It should be noted that no more than 11,000 miles had been put on the car since it was purchased, which amounts to not much more than one Audi recommended oil change. After a number of phone calls to the warranty company, I did a little research on my own and discovered that there is more to the story than simple documentation of oil changes. The law seems to require actual proof that the oil changes were not performed and further, that the lack of oil changes actually contributed to the problem. The onus appears to be on the manufacture/warranty company to prove that both of those conditions have been met.

In my case, the warranty company ultimately backed down and then approved $9200 for a replacement engine, which has since been installed. I think that’s as close to a happy ending as one is going to get with a warranty company. I know that does not apply directly to your Hyundai owners issue, but I thought you might find it useful.

Sajeev answers:

Thank you for reading, John, and I sincerely appreciate you sharing your story with readers here at Piston Slap. While you admit this isn’t necessarily relevant to the Hyundai/Kia engine debacle, it adds an important element we need to make a bigger deal about: exploratory surgery to prove owner neglect. And the proof is usually in the form of sludge.

There are federal laws on the matter of such proof, but a personal experience of mine came to the same conclusion. Many moons ago, the motor in my mom’s certified pre-owned (CPO) car bit the dust, and the service department did some exploratory surgery on behalf of the CPO warranty administrator to see if the owner was at fault. They had to approve the claim, as they saw a fresh Mobil 1 oil filter and, upon removing both valve covers, an 80,000 mile engine that looked shiny and new enough to back up my claims of regular oil changes with synthetic oil.

If that engine never had an oil change, not only would my mom be on the hook for a new motor, there’s a chance she’d have to pay the dealership for the exploratory surgery. But she never did, and I was never skewered for not maintaining her ride.

I didn’t know the laws on the books have a clause about finding “actual proof,” so I thank you for not taking no for an answer and telling us about your experience after the fact. Because this is absolutely not rocket science, it’s just about regular oil changes.

Have a question you’d like answered on Piston Slap? Send your queries to pistonslap@hagerty.comgive us as much detail as possible so we can help! Keep in mind this is a weekly column, so if you need an expedited answer, please tell me in your email.


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    Well I kinda always thought that regular oil changes were all about caring that your engine ran well and lasted longer than about satisfying a warranty company. But the point I see here that needs to be driven home (IMO) is that ALL work done to a vehicle that’s under warranty should be documented by the owner, and those documents faithfully filed to be retrieved in case of a claim. An aftermarket warranty is, basically, just an insurance policy, and any insurance company is going to require documentation to consider a claim – especially a major one. I have a file drawer with folders for each of my vehicles, and every oil change, tune-up, brake work, tire purchase – whatever (even DIY stuff) gets something put in that folder…just in case.

    A “just in case” folder is unbelievably important! And whenever the vehicle needs to be sold, that folder will both add value and find more interested parties quicker. (A photo of service receipts makes you look far better than every other online ad for the same vehicle.)

    Standard procedure for all insurance companies is to deny all claims and hope you go away. Most do. Even when you try to provide proofs and enforce the policy they have approx 12 million excuses why they won’t cover it. Insurance is not about protecting you. It’s about getting your cash and keeping it.

    I can imagine that the situation would get pretty sticky if an owner had been maintaining a vehicle according to the manufacturer’s recommendation but an engine still developed sludge and further problems. Even with documentation (say, from dealer service), how does the owner prove that he didn’t engage in any activities that constitute severe service that required more frequent oil changes?

    I am fortunate that my dealer offers a loss-leader of a multi oil change, inspection and tire rotation package. This allows me to have my oil changed in our daily driver more frequently than I otherwise would do with the added benefit that the price is cheap enough that it’s not worth my time and trouble to DIY. So, I get low cost, convenience, frequent changes and documentation.

    If you are fortunate enough to have a lift, you can change the oil in less time than it takes to drive to the shop. It will cost slightly less than half and you will have the satisfaction of knowing it actually was performed , and with the products you select. Bullet-proof documentation in a car specific binder notebook with receipts for supplies, date of service, and date stamp photo documentation of mileage, product and amount used, and oil level before and after will provide the warranty provider little room to wiggle. Once the warranty ends, you’re on your own, so you can relax the documentation some.

    Another important reason to save oil-change receipts!
    The tire companies that offer pro-rated warranties on their tires typically insist that you have proof that you rotated the tires before they will honor the warranty on tires that are prematurely worn. My local tire retailer looked at my tires and did agree that they were prematurely worn, given my mileage. But he then smugly told me that I needed to prove that they’d been rotated on schedule.

    Fortunately, my local oil change guy rotates the tires gratis with each oil change and I’d stashed all his paperwork in my center console after every oil change.

    I was quite happy when the smug look changed to a set of 4 large SUV tires costing me only about $150 or so.

    Yeah, it really seems like a major PIA to keep all those records (and it kinda really IS), but it only takes one time of being able to prove something to someone – and likely save some serious cash – to make it all worth it!

    I was sold when the buyer’s wife saw the service records I handed over. She made for a pretty convincing sales assistant at that point. Nothing wrong with that, as I sold a good car to a nice family with a clear conscience.

    I recently sold a car that had all of the service records since we owned it – and nothing before (we’d bought it used). But since we’d had it for about 10 years and could show proof of regular servicing, I actually got a 20% premium over Blue Book, and this was a high mileage car that was at the lower end of the desirability spectrum (a Saturn).

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