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Opinion

Lifetime Warranties: The Woes Of Discount Parts

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, and he would be as proud as a peacock whenever he got the chance to take advantage of it.

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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, and he would be as proud as a peacock whenever he got the chance to take advantage of it. But for me it could be rather embarrassing, especially as a 10-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 that big grin on his mug, marching up to the return counter with his ancient receipt showing the date, a long-retired store manager’s name and, of course, the warranty. Meanwhile, I’m stuck cowering behind him carrying the broken toilet seat in shame.

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Warranties have their place (toilet seats notwithstanding). However, I noticed a problem 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. Now, it seems every consumer wants every part for every car to come with a lifetime warranty. From my past experiences, the failure rate of a quality part is far less than those discount parts with lifetime warranties. But, the average DIYer doesn’t see it that way. They are still going to go with the 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.”

A perfect example of this was when someone came into my shop having changed his own alternator five times in a row, and each time it would last a week or so. Thinking that it was the part’s fault, he eventually asked the counter person for a better quality one instead of the cheaper lifetime warranty product. But, a week later it was back to not charging again. Finally, the counter person had to tell him, “This one doesn’t carry the lifetime warranty.” That’s when he came to me.

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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 the problem 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 was 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 brand-name part that was working just fine with the connector repaired.

HID headlights are another common repair item these days. The failures seem to run in groups with several at a time having 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 all the bargain hunters jump at a chance to buy them.) The car will come in with the usual complaints that one headlamp or one beam isn’t working, and the owner saying they already replaced the ballast, bulbs, etc. So, I’m supposed to find some sort of electrical gremlin that’s knocking the bulbs out when the entire time it’s faulty parts that have caused the issue?

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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, but that’s hard to do considering the failure rates I’ve seen from discount parts over the years. Mind you, today’s parts are not built like a 1960’s toilet seat that only broke after decades of use in a house full of kids. Back then, a lifetime warranty was generally only offered with the better-made parts. The manufacturers offered 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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