Whether driving through muddy streams, hilly sand dunes, or dusty red rocks, off-roading enthusiasts agree that there’s nothing wrong with getting a little — or a lot — dirty.
However, the thrill of the ride can come at a high price. Vehicle damage incurred while off-roading is not usually covered by car insurance, manufacturer warranties, or extended car warranties.
Furthermore, making modifications to your vehicle in some cases completely voids extended warranty coverage. This is the case for a variety of vehicles, including the top off-roading Jeeps, Toyotas, and other SUVs and trucks.
So what’s an adventurous soul to do? You need to know the specific limits of your vehicle and the terms of your insurance, your manufacturing warranty, and your extended car warranty. Read on for basic rules regarding how off-roading and modifications impact car warranty coverage.
An extended car warranty, sometimes called a service contract, is designed to offset repair costs after a manufacturer’s warranty expires. It covers a certain number of years after you reach either a certain mileage or number of years from the manufacturer’s warranty period.
The investment payout from having a car warranty can be hefty even with a single repair, such as needing a complete transmission replacement with a Jeep warranty.
Car warranties only protect against manufacturer defects, not damages or parts that will need to be repaired periodically. So if something unexpected happens off the road, such as a huge rock chip in the windshield of your 4Runner or a blown gasket of your Wrangler, you’re out of luck with warranty coverage. In fact, even unlucky off-roading weather conditions — such as excessive water from a storm or flood — falls outside normal operating conditions where a car warranty can be applied.
According to the DMV, an original manufacturer’s warranty may even be permanently voided due to “misuse of a vehicle, including off-roading.”
Unfortunately, car insurance generally does not cover incidents that occur off-road, either. Whether you’re an off-roading veteran or a rookie, it’s a good idea to purchase specific off-road car insurance to avoid crippling costs from an unexpected accident.
While most cars or trucks are equipped to handle your average bumpy dirt road, making modifications to a vehicle’s original state can extend nature’s playing field and amplify off-roading fun. However, major modifications and even some minor ones can void original or extended warranties. At the very least, modifications limit your coverage options if you’re shopping for a car warranty.
Modifications to the following can cause a vehicle to become ineligible for a car warranty:
Increasing the tire and wheel size can cause inaccurate odometer tracking. Car warranty companies need to be able to determine the exact mileage of a car, and there’s no sure way to tell if an odometer has been tampered with.
Larger tires put a strain on the drivetrain, sometimes requiring re-gearing and/or an axle swap to handle the heavy tires. Additionally, large and bulky treads can limit road traction, adding strain when the car’s systems would work fine under normal conditions.
Instead of altering the tire and wheel size, consider a standard-size, all-terrain tire that can drive well on paved roads but also offers good traction with bad weather conditions and some off-road use.
Lift kit installations go hand in hand with increased tire and wheel size. Aside from the annoyance of requiring maintenance and causing a bumpier ride, adding a suspension lift kit to your SUV or truck will likely void a warranty simply by virtue of the fact that the suspension has been adjusted beyond factory specifications. A number of issues can arise from suspension height or torsion bar modifications that might otherwise not occur.
Intake and exhaust modifications are usually done to increase horsepower, improve miles per gallon, and increase acceleration from idling position. Since cold and dense air is better for good engine performance, replacing a restrictive factory intake system with a less restrictive one makes sense for performance.
However, less restrictive intake systems, like an open cone filter, are not water resistant and can cause hydro locking. These modifications also put increased wear and tear on the engine and drivetrain.
The bottom line is that both off-roading and its accompanying modifications increase liability. Regardless of how well-suited your vehicle is for adventurous pursuits, the wear and tear and adverse conditions increase your odds of needing repairs that may not be covered. And modifications decrease warranty providers’ confidence in the longevity of original vehicle parts.
If you’ve modified your vehicle, you don’t need to automatically assume you won’t qualify for a car warranty. Car warranty administrators have different tolerances for vehicle modifications, so it’s worth a shot to see if the modifications are considered acceptable.
However, if you’re considering a modification, it could make your vehicle ineligible for continued or future coverage, so communicate with your warranty company about what is acceptable to maintain coverage and what is not. Then you can determine whether the modification is worth missing out on the benefit of a car warranty.