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Article: Lifetime warranties - They're not like they used to be

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Lifetime Warranties

There are warranties, and then there are lifetime warranties. Some people won’t buy anything, unless it has a substantial warranty attached to it. My dad was one of those guys. It didn’t matter what it was as long as he could get a warranty with it. He would be as proud as a peacock when he got the chance to use one of those warranties. But, for me, it could be rather embarrassing. Especially for a ten year old kid carrying a broken toilet seat into the hardware store where dad had bought it with a lifetime warranty years earlier. I can still picture it today, dad with his big grin on his mug, marching up to the return counter with his ancient receipt showing the date, the store manager’s name and of course, the warranty. While I’m cowering behind him carrying the broken toilet seat in shame. I did my best to hide my face the whole time, in fear one of my classmates might spot me with the family throne in tow.

Warranties have their place, that’s for sure. However, a decade or so ago when all these large franchised discount auto parts stores started to monopolize the market by offering lifetime warranties on their parts that I’ve noticed a problem. Now, it seems every consumer wants every part for every car to come with a lifetime warranty. It’s not that I think any of the major players in the automotive parts business couldn’t offer a lifetime warranty, but why should they? From my past experiences the failure rate of a quality part is far less than those discount parts with lifetime warranties. But, the average DIY’r doesn’t see it that way. They are still going to go with the cheaper-discount part when cost is an issue, and since it comes with a lifetime warranty that’s all the better. In my opinion these lifetime warranties should come with a disclaimer, “You’ll be changing it for the rest of your life. Because the replacement for the replacement part is just as cheaply made as the first one.”

When I hear someone tell me they changed an alternator five times in a row, because the one they put in stopped working again, I have to wonder is the problem the part or is it the diagnosis? Sometimes, it’s both. Other times, it’s a lack of knowing how the systems operates. Of course, after changing it so many times they’ve got the physical side of removing the bolts or a belt down pretty good. And, I’ll bet they can probably change it out a lot faster than I can. Since their labor is free, it’s a no brainer… go ahead and change it again…and again…and again.


A perfect example of this was the guy who did just as I described; he changed his alternator five times in a row, and every time it would last a week or so. By the time he had enough with the cheap parts he finally asked for a better quality part one. But, a week later it was back to not charging again. This time the counter person had to tell him, “This one doesn’t carry the lifetime warranty.” And now… it’s my turn.

The whole problem turned out to be a melted connection at the voltage regulator plug. Every time he would reconnect it to the alternator it would last a week or so, before the connector worked loose again. When I told him what it was he was not only shocked, but made the same comment they all make when they’re paying their bill. “I should have just brought it here in the first place.” Hmm, imagine that. The real question is whether or not any of the replaced alternators were ever bad at all. I can’t answer that with any honesty, because all I had in front of me was a name brand part that was working just fine with the connector repaired.

HID headlights are another common repair these days. Sometimes they can be rather expensive and time consuming to repair. The failures seem to run in groups, you know, several at a time with the same sort of problems. They all have the same odd aftermarket bulb or ballast installed. (I think the part goes on sale on the internet and then they all jump at a chance to buy them.) They’re definitely not factory parts, but some cheaply made offshore find. The car will come in with the usual complaints that one headlamp or one beam isn’t working, and they already replaced all this stuff. (Ballast, bulbs, etc…) So, I’m supposed to find some sort of electrical gremlin that’s knocking them out. When the entire time, and every time (so far) it’s faulty parts that have caused the issue.

Well, of course it can’t be the part. Why, it has a lifetime warranty on it. Don’t ya know I’ve heard that a few times? Somehow the cost difference between factory original parts, and the aftermarket sideshow parts doesn’t ring a bell as to which ones might be a bit better. Oh, I got it. The difference between the two was that “lifetime” warranty. One has it and the other doesn’t. So, which one do you think carries the lifetime warranty? You guessed it. SOLD! Sold ya right down the river more like it. Needless to say, most of the time the customer doesn’t want to go with the factory parts; they’d rather take their chances with another lifetime warranty from parts unknown.

I’ll bet you can probably guess by now, I’m not all that impressed with a lifetime warranty as a selling point. Or, for that matter changing out one lifetime warranty part with another lifetime warranty part unless it’s properly stated on the invoice and known by the customer that I take absolutely no responsibility for their components. I only guarantee the installation and diagnostic work. How long that part lasts is up to your driving habits and your lifetime warranty.


Maybe I’m just a little one sided in all of this. Maybe I should give these lifetime warranty parts a better recommendation. That’s hard to do, considering the failure rates I’ve seen from them over the years. Mind you, they’re not built like a 60’s toilet seat that finally broke after decades of use with a house full of kids. Back then a lifetime warranty was generally only offered with the better made parts. The manufacturers did it to say, “We’re proud of our product!” It wasn’t just to make a quick sale and a fast buck.


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