You Have a Right to Repair and Replace

Should the government even be involved in this?


Recently I began to search for a used GMC Yukon SUV. My goal was to bolt on an aftermarket supercharger. It wasn't necessarily a sensible plan, but it did seem like a pretty cool idea. Thanks to a whopping 6.2-liter V8 engine, a Whipple supercharger would make that vehicle churn out nearly 600 horsepower of good ol' American tire-shredding glory.

I already knew about California's draconian emissions regulations, which view the prospect of modifying an internal combustion engine with such hostility that they must have been drafted by electric car impressario Elon Musk himself. And I was prepared to dodge and weave around those requirements. But first I needed to figure out whether that much aftermarket fury would violate General Motors' factory warranty.

As the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) explains on its website, for everything from trucks to toasters, the 1975 Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act "makes it illegal for companies to void your warranty or deny coverage under the warranty simply because you used an aftermarket or recycled part." Although as Road and Track puts it, if your newly upgraded engine sends too much power to the transmission and the transmission fails, the manufacturer "could deny the coverage on that repair."

Recently the fine folks at the FTC have decreed that the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act also applies to electronics hardware—more precisely, to the warranties for electronics hardware. In April, the agency sent letters to Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Hyundai, HTC, and Asus warning the companies that they are now "on notice that violations of the Warranty and FTC Acts may result in legal action."

The FTC is complaining, among other things, about that little sticker on the back of the PlayStation 4 and similar devices threatening dire outcomes, such as "warranty void if removed." Those supposedly conflict with the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which says that no manufacturer may "condition his written or implied warranty of such product" on using any specific repair service or any specific source for parts. Translation: If you upgrade your RAM or hard drive, or if you take your computer for some surgery at the shop around the corner rather than the Apple store, it doesn't automatically end your warranty.

Manufacturers would like you to believe otherwise, however. And it's easy to understand why they might creatively interpret the law as allowing them to slap on these stickers. If you open up an electronic device and touch a memory module without grounding yourself first, static electricity from your body can discharge through the pins with unpleasant results. Grounding yourself on the chassis is a wiser approach; wearing a wrist strap and using a static control mat is better still. The presence of a warning label may deter the untrained from tinkering, thus saving manufacturers from performing expensive and unnecessary repairs under warranty.

So what's the argument for the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act? (Let's assume it amounts to a proper exercise of Congress' constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce, never mind that the republic managed to last 200 years without it. Our question is only whether it is good and necessary legislation.)

The statute dates back to the mid-1960s, when the FTC started investigating automobile warranties. In 1970, the agency coughed up a scathing report alleging that the industry's safeguards were insufficient to protect the public—mostly on warranty-incomprehensibility grounds—and self-servingly claimed its own budget and legal authority should be expanded to allow it to become the first federal warranty cop. Around the same time, a task force commissioned by President Lyndon Johnson concluded that appliance warranties were nearly as problematic as Detroit's. Two key Democrats, Sen. Warren Magnuson of Washington and Rep. John Moss of California, decided this was a chance to place their names on some legislation, and the rest is history.

An important goal of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act was, in the words of the law itself, to "promote consumer understanding" of written warranties. By that measure, it has backfired. A study published in the Kansas Law Review compared warranties in 1974—immediately before the statute took effect—to ones in 2012. It turns out that the warranties' word count ballooned more than fivefold during that time, even as the scope of what's covered has shrunk. The FTC now requires a step-by-step explanation of warranty service, plus the addition of "disclosures required under Rule Sections 701.3(a)(7), (8) and (9)." So much for simplicity. The study's authors lament that "the increased length is problematic in that consumers are much less likely to read these longer warranties."

Another argument against Magnuson-Moss is the libertarian principle that manufacturers should be able to sell goods on whatever terms a buyer will agree to, and that buyers who don't like those terms can simply shop elsewhere. In that view, the law short-circuits the natural exploration of voluntary market transactions. On the other hand, shopping for a TV or game console isn't typically a transaction that allows for a mutual negotiation. If I'm lucky, I'll be able to find a copy of the warranty on the manufacturer's website when I need it, but I certainly won't be able to tweak the language in advance.

Nor, sadly, am I likely to tweak that Yukon Denali anytime soon, despite Uncle Sam's benevolent protections. I found a nearby shop that's eager to install the supercharger upgrade, and the mechanics I talked to assured me that GMC would have to show the aftermarket supercharger was the cause of any problems that occurred in order to void my warranty. But I don't necessarily want to bring a lawyer to every service appointment.

My 2012 Honda Odyssey may not have comparable horsepower, torque, or zero-to-60 times, but as my wife reminded me, it has the undeniable virtue of being completely paid off. And by now, it's no longer under warranty.

NEXT: Gary Johnson Contemplating Libertarian Run for Senate in New Mexico

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  1. Build your Odyssey like Bisi Ezerioha? He seems somehow able to do what he does in California. I like Bisi.

    1. Bisi is cool, but like all the car modification guys (esp on TV) he does a helluva lot more work on an engine when he modifies something than just slapping a new supercharger in and gunning it. Simple advice: if you don’t really know what you are doing, don’t do it.

  2. Don’t get rid of that Odyssey. I have a 2001 with well over 250K miles and its still going strong.

  3. I rather suspect that tossing a supercharger onto a modern engine that (presumably) isn’t designed for the extra power produced is probably a bad idea.

    1. It depends on the vehicle and how the supercharger is tuned. If the drivetrain is engineered to handle far more power than stock, than it probably isn’t a big deal. If the drivetrain is not, then a number of secondary mods (for example, durability upgrades to the transmission) may be necessary to preserve reliability and durability.

    2. ummm superchargers are not just for 1970’s musclecars….many of the new cars come with superchargers.

      Now take a 2016 Harley Iron 883 upgrade to a 1250 S&S (which is still warrantied) and then blow the clutch. Harley blames you for using cheap Chinese made Clutch Plates when they fail and will not cover the warranty (which are the clutch plates that came with the bike)…yet they want to charge you $786 dollars to replace the same Chinese made clutch kit.

      Thank goodness for Amazon and a $153 dollar racing kit.

      1. Clutch plates in a Sporty?? Plates? How about clutch rings- that would be more descriptive, big twins have plates… Why upgrade an 883 when the 1200 is already available? 883 just needs different pistons… and anyone who buys a new vehicle has more dollars than sense anyway.

  4. As DaveSs notes, modern engines are pretty finely engineered pieces of hardware. Parts are selected to balance cost, weight, durability, and interoperability with other parts (among other things). Adding or taking away from equation will have consequences. For example, the piston ring is intended to hold back a certain amount of pressure that develops in the cylinder from combustion. If you increase that pressure, say by adding a supercharger, the ring will not properly seal, allowing more combustion byproducts to escape past the ring into the crankcase instead of out the exhaust pipe. That stuff is then recirculated back into the engine’s intake system, and back into the cylinder via the engine’s positive crankcase ventilation (PCV) system. If you get enough of it back into the cylinder it can lower the octane of the mixture, which can lead to preignition and detonation, which can severely shorten the service life of the engine.

    Would it be fair for a manufacturer to have to honor an engine warranty under such conditions?

    1. Absolutely not. I have no problem with people being able to modify stuff, but the manufacturer warranty should instantly and completely nullified in the process. Nobody should be expected to protect you if you do something.

      1. No, it shouldn’t. If I have an aftermarket stereo installed, it shouldn’t void the warranty on unrelated components like the transmission.

        1. It doesn’t. And it never has.

    2. I have to agree. now if you buy the addon have the dealership install the part, that is a different story. Drivetrain/transmission is a different story…some people drive like they stole it…too many people drive like the grandma from Pasadena.

    3. The thing isn’t that modern engines are weak but more that many of them are already pretty damn well tuned from the factory. Have a look at the specs of older cars like a ’68 Shelby GT 500 was between 350 and 400 hp coming from a 428 cu. in. engine. The new Mustang gets over 300 hp from a 2.3 liter turbo four or over 450 hp with the 5 liter and I’ll wager it uses a lot less gas at the same time. Hell, even the new Odyssey with a 3.5 liter puts out 280 hp which handily beats the 260 hp that GM’s L32 supercharged 3.8 liter V6 from 2004.

  5. If you can’t afford it, don’t void it. That said, if you’re having someone else do the work, and doing a comprehensive build instead of just bolting on a supercharger, then they can provide a warranty on their work, so if any problems arise then you have a recourse to a solution with them. It’s between you and your engine builder. Give them a figure and your budget and see what you can work out.

    EFI tuning is something that is a minefield of dumbasses on the internet. Fortunately it’s now easier to weed out the morons on facebook, yellowbullet, wherever, if you bypass those godawful stupid places entirely. Before you do anything read this.

    Greg Banish is a wizard and has worked with major OEMs. His writing is very easy to follow for someone who doesn’t have vast knowledge of building and tuning fuel injected engines. I say this as someone who has met some really fucking stupid/incompetent charlatans, but also some really awesomely knowledgeable folks who I can listen to for hours.

    Ironically for someone posting this is a comments section on the internet, I’d say stay away from forums and facebook unless you have a finely tuned bullshit detector, because everyone is suddenly an expert and you just get a wall of useless “you can’t do that because”, nannying garbage, and misinformed advice.

  6. You don’t seriously expect GM to warranty your powertrain, or brakes or suspension, do you?

    Did you expect GM to deny coverage on your radio?

  7. Let’s bring the government in to help facilitate our (mostly frivolous) auto modifications. For liberty!

    1. Exactly. The EPA has been openly out to destroy the aftermarket industry (“you’re all criminals” – to SEMA). Asking govt to force manufacturers to honor clearly voided warranties is ridiculous. Like I said above – if you can’t afford to void a warranty, just don’t. Not many people do on their daily driver anyway. A project car that’s long out of warranty is a much better idea. All I want from a daily is for it to work and be comfortable.

  8. Is anyone reminded of those sign in parking garages ( that you spend money to patronize ) …” We are not responsible for theft or damage or outright theft of your vehicle.”
    Am not an expert in contract law, think the courts have held this not to be the case…

    1. Like so many things in the law, the answer is “it depends”. The garage has the right to limit its scope of liability, and the basis for it is the little phrase on the ticket to the effect of “this does not constitute a bailment”, meaning the garage is not taking possession of the car so therefore is not taking possessory responsibility. That little proviso covers a wide range of sins. That said, no business can waive its own negligence so if the theft or damage is the result of the garage failing to provide basic, proper protections then they can be liable (assuming, of course, that you can prove it).

  9. Voiding a warranty included in the price of something over some unrelated modification could constitute breech of contract. I would agree with others that adding a supercharger is definitely a major mechanical modification that could impact the wear on certain components and there’s no reason the manufacturer should be expected to cover those components because some weekend mechanic wants to play. Certainly if something completely unrelated breaks then they should be expected to honor their contract.


    1. That is freakin awesome

    2. Did that void the warranty?

      1. Heck yeah! Bye bye warranty. I own my stuff.

        ps – that is not actually my car; i’m not that cool

  11. But first I needed to figure out whether that much aftermarket fury would violate General Motors’ factory warranty, writes Declan McCullagh.

    Absolutely it will. And it should.

    Look, ‘right to repair’ doesn’t need to mean ‘right to do whatever the hell I want and still have it covered under warranty’. You’re going to be adding something here that is going to have your engine performing weeeeeell out of spec – why should the manufacturer hold itself responsible for promises it didn’t make?

    IMO, you absolutely have the right to repair your own shit and modify it as you see fit.

    I don’t see a corresponding right to keep manufacturers on the hook for repairs that result in damage from said modifications or repairs. Who certifies you to ensure that you know how to repair the item IAW with the manufacturers standards? And why should they take on liability for substandard work? If you use a non-certified part why is the manufacturer still on the hook for the liability *you* assumed?

    TBH, the ‘right to repair’ in regards to using aftermarket parts has never been an issue. Its something everyone has comfortably accommodated. If you’re under warranty the repair costs you shipping fees at worst. You get it repaired by a certified shop and they use certified parts. No issues.

    Issues come from *modifications* that users do – like your supercharger.

    1. And the real ‘right to repair’ issue is not the freaking warranty – its DRM and the DCMA. Where manufacturers tell you that you are legally bound to take your shit to an authorized repair facility *even for non-warranty repairs* because you don’t own your shit, you’re only ‘licensing it’.

      Why aren’t you guys covering that anymore? You did at the beginning of the RTR kerfluffle. Now its all about Magnuson-Moss which is mostly irrelevant to anyone.

      1. Yeah, I’m actually more put out by printers that refuse to print if they suspect you’re not using the proper brand of ink cartridge, (Which costs $40 and, despite its size, contains about 10 drops of ink.) or have surreptitiously refilled it. And phones you have to use hacking techniques on just to remove apps you don’t want, even after it’s fully paid for.

        Warranties? Been a couple decades since I actually got any use out of a “warrantee”.

  12. You hot-rod something, don’t expect someone to save your butt when it turns out you forgot to move the decimal place and your calcs were off by a factor of ten.
    And sticking a blower on something which likely has a compression ratio as high as pump gas will allow is pretty much guaranteed to fold up the ring lands in a New York minute.

    1. And truth be told, the hot-rod culture expects no such thing. If a hot-rodder is making a mod like a major compression upgrade you can be pretty damn sure he is also rebuilding much of the engine. They as much as anybody know that the hipbone’s connected to the thighbone.

  13. On the other hand, shopping for a TV or game console isn’t typically a transaction that allows for a mutual negotiation

    So what? What does that have to do with libertarian arguments? It’s a free market transaction, and if you don’t like it, you don’t buy the TV or game console. Nobody owes you a negotiation.

    The FTC requirements on warranties and repairs are typical examples of government overreach that any libertarian should staunchly reject.

  14. You Have a Right to Repair and Replace

    “The results should have been predictable, since a human being has no natural rights of any nature.”

    “Sir? How about ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’?”

    “Ah, yes, the ‘unalienable rights.’ Each year someone quotes that magnificent poetry. Life? What ‘right’ to life has a man who is drowning in the Pacific? The ocean will not hearken his cries. What ‘right’ to life has a man who must die if he is to save his children? If the chooses to save his own life, does he do so as a matter of ‘right’? If two men are starving and cannibalism is the only alternative to death, which man’s right is ‘unalienable’? And is it ‘right’? As to liberty, the heroes who signed the great document pledged themselves to buy liberty with their lives. Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called natural human rights that have ever been invented, liberty is the least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost.

    “The third ‘right’ — the ‘pursuit of happiness’? It is indeed unalienable but it is not a right; it is ismply a universal condition which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore. Cast me into a dungeon, burn me at the stake, crown me king of kings, I can ‘pursue happiness’ as long as my brain lives — but neither gods nor saints, wise men nor subtle drugs, can insure that I will catch it.”

  15. great blog post.
    happy janmashtami

  16. I understand voiding the warranty if the work is not done by an authorized person. I truly do, thought I would not. The problem I have is with companies like Apple deliberately destroying devices if they used aftermarket parts. This was claimed to be a mistake, but given their historical hostility to people (you cannot even purchase Apple parts unless you are licensed by Apple for that specific product)

    Reason doesn’t like putting links in comments, but I’d refer you to the Wired 2016 article “Apple Shouldn’t get to brick your iPhone because you fixed it yourself”.

  17. Thanks!

  18. I have made it a policy for years to never buy an added warranty on anything and it has saved me a bundle of money. The few times I might have been used one has cost less by far than if I had bought all of those warranties.

    By far the worst are those packages they try and sell you at the car dealership. They use this hard sell approach and act as if you have no choice and are a fool if you opt out. Also I never sign the arbitration agreement.

    So far as the supercharger. It sounds like fun but if the possibility of voiding the warranty is enough of an issue to matter probably best to save the project for a day when you can take the financial risk.

  19. You’re not going to go for the upgrade even though you have the money and means to do it just because some bureaucratic thumbsucker might make your life difficult for a time? No guts, no glory baby

  20. I just want to swap out a chip and make the dud mobile into a zoom mobile. I see the major obstacle as after market manufacturers don’t have nearly enough lobbyists. Besides, look at what the bureaucrats did to VW! Crushed them like bugs.

    The best hot rodders can hope for is something like the FAA exemptions for experimental airplanes. You can build something in your garage sure to kill you once it gets enough altitude.

  21. “In that view, the law short-circuits the natural exploration of voluntary market transactions. ”

    I dont see this. The act protects consumers from having a manufacturer void the entire cars qarranty because some unrelated part was replaced or modified.

    in the supercharger example, obviously going back to GM and saying your bent rod should be covered under warranty, when youve put much more stress on it than the original waranteed configuration and power level, is not reasonable.

    The act protects you from having the warranty on paint, brakes or radio voided due to the supercharger.

  22. Exactly. The EPA has been openly out to destroy the aftermarket industry (“you’re all criminals” – to SEMA). Asking govt to force manufacturers to honor clearly voided warranties is ridiculous i am also a blogger and i write tech niche blogs here’s my blog A Nokia Phone Confirmed with Five Cameras in Rear

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