Gold-Plated Oil Change Receipts

May 9, 2023
Joanna L. Johnson of Johnson Policy Associates, Inc. makes her debut as an online columnist for NOLN with this piece exploring warranties, service intervals and keeping track of receipts.

I’ve never seen an engine warranty denial based on the consumer getting too much preventative maintenance. In 2023, that almost sounds like the setup for a joke given the average person knows more about their car’s info/entertainment systems than the parts that make it a car. Besides, the dashboard will flash the message “maintenance required” as needed, right? Isn’t it enough for consumers to simply respond to those messages? And then doesn’t the onboard computer store the service info?

In short: no, no, and no.

Whether or not vehicle onboard computers could or should have the capacity to do all of that in a 100% foolproof manner, it wouldn’t matter anyway, because automakers set up special rules for vehicle owners/lessees to follow in order to maintain warranty coverage. Certain vehicle systems may have changed radically in the past 70 years, but warranty management has not. When an engine seizes under warranty, the automaker will typically require old school proof of adequate maintenance as spelled out in the owner’s manual.

There may be some limited exceptions, but generally consumers should expect to prove they did the following while under warranty:

  • Adhered to the recommended oil change interval determined via driving conditions and mileage on the odometer;
  • Kept all receipts for maintenance products and services purchased; and
  • Checked fluids at fuel stops, especially engine oil.

For anyone driving an EV or fuel cell car, similar requirements apply minus the engine oil. And, by the way, most consumers have “severe” driving conditions, which means they’re required to use the shortest maintenance intervals. Many, if not most, won’t know about that.

Automakers sell cars and trucks by highlighting their most coveted features, and it’s not unusual for those features to include ease of maintenance with far longer than traditional service intervals. However, many consumers don’t realize that such marketing campaigns may be describing only what is possible under the paradoxically named “normal” driving habits. In real life, most consumers drive under “severe” conditions, and they risk losing warranty coverage if they fail to glean that fact and obtain service accordingly.

The following description of “severe” driving conditions is not taken from an automaker’s sales campaign, but rather from a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) intended for the automaker’s authorized dealers to use with customers post-sale.

    Service techs should be asking questions to customers to learn more about their driving habits.

    Do you drive your vehicle under any of the following conditions:

    [The bracketed language is to clarify the meaning of the phrase for the customer]

  1. Low-speed driving, including idling and driving in heavy traffic and/or with frequent stop-and-go conditions [i.e., typical urban traffic]
  2. Repeated driving of less than five miles [i.e., typical suburban driving]
  3. Driving on uphill, downhill and mountain roads [more than 30 of the U.S. states are mountainous or have substantial up/downhill driving]
  4. Driving in heavy dust conditions [i.e., much of the land in the “plains states” between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains—states from Texas through North Dakota and Montana can have such dust conditions]
  5. Very cold areas [i.e., the Northern tier of the U.S. (these also require a change in oil viscosity during the cold months)]
  6. Commercial driving [for example, Uber and Lyft, Grubhub and other delivery services, taxis and limo-type services]

    (Kia TSB 219 Rev 1, 09/16/2022)

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 80% of the population resides in an “urban” area, so there goes the top two severe service driving conditions. Just about everyone else is covered by plains, mountains, very cold areas, at least some uphill/downhill roads, and/or a side gig delivering whatnot to whomever. Other automakers may use slightly different language to describe severe driving conditions, but the basic gist is the same across the board.

Check the owner’s manual. It’s there along with a bunch of other largely ignored owner maintenance responsibilities, like popping the hood and checking the dipstick at every other fuel stop.

Readers might be wondering why automakers make such a big deal out of consumers’ maintenance mistakes when their system seems set up for the average person to make them. In short, it’s because they can, although certain automakers cause more heartache than others. I recently studied consumer complaints submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from January 1, 2020, through March 21, 2023, with the search terms “(lack of) oil change receipts” and “lack of maintenance” as the reason for warranty denial or a challenge against warranty coverage. Of those automakers cited by consumers, 81% were Hyundai/Kia, 8% Nissan; 5% Honda; and 3% each Toyota and Ford.

The Hyundai/Kia warranty denial statistic is likely the highest right now due to the companies’ high number of engine-related recalls, investigations, and TSBs. If an automaker can reject a $9,500 engine warranty claim because the owner can’t prove adequate maintenance, the automaker has two big reasons to do it: (1) Saving money; and (2) Avoiding the requirement to make an Early Warning Report to NHTSA about the engine’s known or potential defect.

Don’t give any automaker the ability to void your warranty for lack of maintenance. Follow the correct service interval and keep your receipts. Their average weight for a 100,000-mile warranty is approximately 4.8 ounces or $9,604.80 if they were made of gold—the same price as a new engine.

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