Lifetime Warranties Cut Both Ways

November 30, 2010

You may have heard of Rachel Veitch, a 92-year-old from Florida who drives a 1964 Mercury Comet Caliente with over 550,000 miles on the odometer. Her story and assorted clips have been widely viewed and during her most recent round of publicity, Jay Leno presented her with a shift indicator which is one of the few things which isn’t operating on the car she calls Chariot.

What caught my attention was what she told Leno about parts she has repeatedly had replaced under their lifetime warranties, which caused Leno to comment that Rachel Veitch was a lifetime warranty administrator’s “worst nightmare.” The litany was 18 batteries from JCPenney, 8 mufflers from Midas and 3 sets of shocks from Sears. Hey, the car is 46 years old!

Now, please, hold that thought and consider an article published on Search Auto Parts and written by the head of a consulting firm that specializes in the automotive aftermarket. In it he proposes that it is absurd to offer lifetime warranties for wear items “like brake pads, mufflers or shock absorbers”--because when reasonable limits are put on the utilization of the warranty, the net result is an assault on the manufacturer’s or retailer’s reputation as they attempt to enforce limitations.

As a matter of fact if you view one of the videos of Ms. Veitch she does talk disparagingly of both Midas and Sears.

On the other side of the argument is the motivation for the warranty and the leveraging of the statistical reality that exists when lifetime warranty marketing is employed. As the consultant points out in his article, the motivation for the parts provider is to break away from the pack and distinguish itself as better than the competition. This advantage, correctly pointed out in the S.A.P. article, is negated when others in the market sector follow suit.

But the elephant in the living room is the vast majority of warranties that the family dog eats, never get registered or the vehicle owner never returns to the glove box after frantically trying to find the registration and proof of insurance when stopped for speeding. These sales were influenced by lifetime warranty marketing but will never avail themselves of the benefit. Something tells me that like everything else the consumer pays for the warranty.

So do I feel bad for Sears and Midas, because a 92-year-old woman bad-mouthed their warranty on late night TV? Not me. I say if you live by the lifetime warranty, you die by the lifetime warranty.

[Search Auto Parts, Growing Bolder]
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