State of Minnesota
More about
Attorney General
Lori Swanson

Minnesota Attorney General's Office

1400 Bremer Tower
445 Minnesota Street
St. Paul, MN 55101

(651) 296-3353
(800) 657-3787

M - F 8 am - 5 pm

TTY:(651) 297-7206
TTY:(800) 366-4812

To warrant means to give proof, so when you get a warranty on a car, it’s to give proof that certain mechanical and body parts are sound or will be repaired if they’re not. Of course there are time limits on this.

But a warranty allows you to be comfortable knowing that you won’t be stuck with major repair bills soon after you buy a car. It’s a nice safety feature, especially if you’re buying a used car and don’t have a mechanical bone in your body. If that’s the case, have a good technician check the car over. Even then, get a warranty if you can.

A car typically comes with a limited warranty, which offers less than full coverage. Read it carefully to find out what the limits and deductible costs are.

New Car Warranties

Warranties are getting as competitive as car sales, which is good news for consumers. Most manufacturer’s warranties cover repairs for three years or 36,000 miles, but warranties may vary from two years to four years and up to 70,000 miles.

To outdo each other, manufacturers are offering helpful extras like road assistance and towing. Some even throw in trip routing services and reimbursement for food, lodging and alternative transportation if your car breaks down while traveling.

While most warranties don’t cover routine maintenance such as filter, oil and other fluid changes, a few do. This perk can save you hundreds of dollars over the warranty period.

Read the fine print to discover all the coverage you’re receiving. It may be more than you think. You’ll want to make sure you’re not being charged for any of the extras mentioned above, however. If you are, check competitive services before signing up for them.

Used Car Warranty Law

Minnesota has one of the strongest used-car warranty laws in the country to protect used-car buyers. Under the Minnesota Used Car Warranty Law, used-car dealers must provide basic warranty coverage for most used cars and small trucks sold to Minnesota buyers.

Because this law applies to dealers only, it’s important to know if you’re buying from a dealer. A dealer is anyone who sells more than five used cars a year, and this person must be licensed by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Driver and Vehicle Services Division.

Sometimes dealers will be unlicensed and pose as private individuals. If you buy a qualifying car from an unlicensed dealer, then your car is still covered under the Used Car Warranty Law. (Cars that qualify for the Used Car Warranty are described in “The Basic Warranty” section that follows.) You are legally entitled to all basic warranty coverage even if you don’t receive any written warranty documents.

Friends, relatives, neighbors or any other private individuals who sell you a car are not dealers, so the warranty would not apply in these cases. It also does not apply if you purchase a car from any of the following:

  • Your employer.
  • A bank or financial institution.
  • A company that previously leased the car to you or a family member.
  • The state or any county or city in Minnesota.
  • An auctioneer who sells the car in connection with the sale of other property or land.

The Basic Warranty

The Used Car Warranty Law covers used cars purchased primarily for personal, family or household use. The terms and length of the warranty will depend upon the mileage of the car at the time you buy it. For cars with fewer than 36,000 miles, the warranty applies for 60 days or 2,500 miles, whichever comes first. The parts covered under the warranty for cars in this mileage range are:

  • Engine — all lubricated parts, intake manifold, engine block, cylinder head, rotary engine housings and ring gear.
  • Transmission — automatic transmission case, internal parts and torque converter; or manual transmission case and internal parts.
  • Drive axle — axle housings and internal parts, axle shafts, drive shafts, output shafts and universal joints. (Secondary drive axles are covered on automobiles and passenger vans but are not covered on other vehicles mounted on a truck chassis, such as utility and off-road vehicles.)
  • Brakes — master cylinder, vacuum assist booster, wheel cylinders, hydraulic line and fittings, and disc brake calipers.
  • Steering — steering gear housing and all internal parts, power steering pump, valve body, piston and rack.
  • Water pump.
  • Externally mounted mechanical fuel pump.
  • Radiator.
  • Alternator, generator and starter.

Length of Warranty

For cars that have between 36,000 and 75,000 miles, the warranty applies for 30 days or 1,000 miles, whichever comes first. For cars in this mileage range, the warranty covers the parts listed above, with the exception of the following parts that are not covered:

  • Rack.
  • Radiator.
  • Alternator, generator and starter.

Parts are not covered under the Used Car Warranty Law if they are not specifically listed above.

What's Not Covered

Not all cars are covered under the Used Car Warranty Law. The following are excluded from the law and are usually sold "as is":

  • Cars with 75,000 miles or more.
  • Cars sold for less than $3,000.
  • Custom-built cars or cars modified for show or racing.
  • Cars that are 8 years of age or older.
  • Cars purchased primarily for business or agricultural use.
  • Vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of more than 9,000 pounds.
  • Vehicles manufactured in limited quantities.
  • Vehicles not manufactured in accordance with federal emission standards.
  • Diesel engine cars.
  • Salvaged vehicles.

Other Exceptions

  • Ordinary maintenance — The warranty does not cover ordinary maintenance, such as changing spark plugs, ignition, points, filters, fluids, lubricants and oil, and brake and clutch linings. These remain your responsibility.
  • Collisions, abuse and negligence — Repairs needed because of inadequate maintenance or taking poor care of the car are not covered. Nor is the dealer required to repair any parts still covered by the original factory warranty or parts that the manufacturer agrees to repair at no charge because a part was defective.

Lawsuits

If you have a warranty dispute with a dealer, you may have to take the dealer to court. Any lawsuit under the Used Car Warranty Law must be filed within one year after the warranty expires. The good news is you can usually settle the dispute in conciliation court, where procedures are relatively informal and you don’t have to hire an attorney. (For more information, call the Attorney General’s Office at 651-296-3353 or 800-657-3787 and ask for the free brochure on conciliation court.)

Research Recalls

To find out if a car model has ever been recalled due to a defect, call the U.S. Department of Transportation Auto Safety ("NHTSA") Hotline, 888-327-4236, or visit their website at: www.nhtsa.gov. The Department can send you information about any recalls or Technical Service Bulletins ("TSBs"). Information may also be available by going to the manufacturer's website and typing in your VIN number (Vehicle Identification Number).

Technical Service Bulletins, or TSBs, are bulletins issued by the manufacturer to help automotive technicians diagnose and repair problems reported by consumers and dealership service departments. The problem is not always mechanical, it may range from diagnostic and repair procedures for a known vehicle problem to warranty and service manual updates. TSBs give both the dealership and car owners information into what issues might arise with certain models. TSBs are not compulsory repair notices so the dealer and car maker are not under any obligation to make the repairs or even notify the vehicle owners.

The Buyer's Guide

The Federal Trade Commission and state law requires dealerships to display the buyer’s guide on the car window. The buyer’s guide is a double-sided form that the dealer fills out to tell you whether the vehicle comes with a warranty and, if so, what the warranty includes. If the “warranty” box is checked, the car is covered by a warranty required by the state’s Used Car Warranty Law or another warranty offered by the dealer. If the “as is” box is checked, the buyer is responsible for paying for all repairs that the car requires.

Even if the car you buy is covered under the Used Car Warranty Law, you may waive coverage for a particular covered part. If you’d rather negotiate a lower price, and take the car with a defective manifold, you must sign and circle a statement on the warranty that indicates that the manifold isn’t working properly.

What If a Part Breaks?

If the drive train falls off as you leave the lot or the manual transmission sticks within the time period of the warranty, you are entitled to have it fixed free of charge. You must report the problem to the dealer within the warranty period. Of course, to be fixed without charge, it must be a part covered by the warranty.

But don’t just pull into the first repair place you see and then think you can present the dealer with the bill. The dealer must repair or replace the part. If the dealer doesn’t have a service facility, he or she will tell you where to take the car.

If it’s inconvenient for you to go to the dealer for repairs — if you live across the state, for example — you may have the repairs done elsewhere with the dealer’s consent.

Once the defective part is fixed, you’ll receive another warranty, good for an additional warranty period for that particular part.

Refund? It's Dealer's Choice

It may be the dealer’s choice to forego repairs if they’re too expensive and refund the cost of the vehicle to you instead. In this case, the refund must include all the charges you paid, including any towing expense, minus a reasonable deduction for your use of the vehicle. The law does not give the car buyer the right to demand the full purchase price in compensation.

Extended Warranties or Service Contracts

The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office encourages Minnesota automobile owners to fully understand motor vehicle service contracts, sometimes erroneously referred to as “extended warranties,” before purchasing one. Although these contracts are intended to cover unexpected and costly vehicle repairs after the original warranty has expired, they may be marketed in a deceptive manner and contain fine print that limits the coverage available. Before buying a service contract, consumers should first fully understand the terms of the contract and who is responsible for providing the coverage, and then consider the following tips:

Motor Vehicle Manufacturers or Licensed Dealers.

Service contracts may be sold by motor vehicle manufacturers or their licensed dealers, but those entities are not required to meet all the requirements of Minnesota’s service contract law. They are required to make certain disclosures, offer the right of return, and are prohibited from certain deceptive acts, but are not required to meet or disclose the financial requirements discussed below.

Only Buy from Reputable Companies.

Determine who is selling the contract. It is not uncommon for brokers to use deceptive and misleading tactics such as impersonating your vehicle’s manufacturer or dealer, or using a name that falsely suggests an association between them. Many brokers intentionally use similar names so that you may not be able to determine who they are. Some may assert that your warranty has expired, when it may not have expired, and when they do not know if you have already purchased a service contract. The Attorney General has taken action against several of these companies to reform their practices. You should assess the way the service contract is marketed to you to determine if it is a company you want to do business with. Ask for references and check out the company with the Better Business Bureau.

Determine who is the provider of the service contract and who will administer and pay the claims when your car breaks down. Ask for references and check out the provider and administrator with the Minnesota Department of Commerce and Better Business Bureau.

Find out how the contract provider ensures that it has the money to faithfully perform its obligations under the service contract. You can do this by obtaining a copy of the contract provider’s registration with the Minnesota Department of Commerce at 651-539-1500. Minnesota law requires that providers back up service contracts by meeting one of the following requirements:

  • Insure all service contracts under a reimbursement insurance policy in the amount of $15,000,000 (or $10,000,000 with the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s authorization);
  • Maintain the required reserve and provide a security deposit to the Minnesota Department of Commerce; or
  • Maintain a net worth or stockholders’ equity of $100,000,000.

The contract should state whether the provider’s obligations are insured (and tell you the name of the insurer) or whether only the provider is backing the obligations.

Carefully Review the Contract Before Purchase.

A reputable company should allow you to review the contract before you buy it. Remember that sales brochures are not contracts. Review the contract before you buy it or make a deposit on it.

The “'As Is'” Disclaimer

If the “as is” box is checked on the buyer’s guide, you have to pay for any and all car repairs once you buy the car. “As is” appears on about half of all used cars sold by dealers in the United States. In Minnesota, however, this disclaimer isn’t allowed unless the car fits one of the exceptions to the Used Car Warranty Law.

Regardless of what you may be told, few service contracts cover all repairs. When reviewing the contract, pay particular attention to the “exclusions,” or those things the contract will not cover. The exclusions are usually listed near the back of the contract. Be wary of exclusions that may deny coverage for any reason. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), examples of these exclusions may include the following:

  • “If a covered part is damaged by a non-covered component, the claim may be denied,” or
  • Contracts which specify that only “mechanical breakdowns”’ will be covered, may exclude problems caused by “normal wear and tear.”

Look for any requirements or conditions you must meet in order to obtain coverage under the contract. Service contracts typically state that in order to be eligible for coverage under the contract, you must perform a certain type of maintenance on your vehicle. For example, the contract may require you to change the oil every three months and provide proof that this has been done. If something later goes wrong with your engine and you cannot prove that the oil was changed every three months, the company might deny your claim (even if the oil change had nothing to do with the needed repair).

Determine whether the contract has any deductibles and carefully review how those deductibles apply. For example, a contract may have a $100 deductible for each repair or for each component repaired.

Find out if you need prior authorization from the contract provider in order to have repair work done on your vehicle. People have been denied reimbursement for repairs because they did not get prior authorization before having repairs performed.

You may be able to negotiate the price of a service contract, just as you would negotiate the price of a car or trade-in vehicle.

Your bank, car manufacturer, dealer and others cannot require you to purchase a service contract as a condition of a loan or of the sale of the motor vehicle.

Disclosure Requirements.

  • Identity of the parties including the provider, third-party administrator, seller, and the buyer;
  • Purchase price and sale terms;
  • Amounts and terms of any deductibles;
  • Coverage, limitations and exclusions,
  • Restrictions on transferability of the service contract;
  • Cancellation terms;
  • Duties and obligations of the buyer;
  • Exclusions for consequential damages and preexisting conditions; and
  • Whether the contract is insured and by whom (unless the provider is a manufacturer or licensed dealer).

If this information is not stated in the contract, do not buy the contract. If this information is stated, you may still wish to contact the Minnesota Department of Commerce at 651-539-1500 to obtain further information about the company you are contracting with.

Right of Return.

Minnesota law permits a buyer of a service contract to return such contract for a full refund if no claim has been made and the buyer returns the contract to the provider within twenty days of the date the contract was mailed to the buyer, or within ten days of the delivery of the contract if the contract was delivered at the time of sale. If the provider fails to refund the buyer within forty-five days after the return of the contract, the provider is liable for a penalty of ten percent of the amount that remains unpaid for every month until the full amount is paid.

Chapter 9: Wheels to Rent

The Car Handbook

If you need to leave your car in the shop for repair, if you’re traveling or if you seldom need to drive at all, you may want to rent a set of wheels. You can rent anything from rental heaps to luxury sedans. In most states, all that’s required is:

  • A valid driver’s license and a good driving record.
  • A minimum age of 25 years (21 in some states, 18 in a few others).
  • A valid credit card in your own name. (Some places may allow you to pay cash, but you’ll need to show a return airline ticket, post a deposit and offer a long list of identifying information so you can be tracked down if you don’t return the vehicle.)

Making Reservations

Car rental is easy. To help you reserve a car almost anywhere, rental companies have 800 numbers. You can also reserve a car through a travel agent. Agents can shop for the best car and rate for you. When you’re ready to rent, have the following information available:

  • Dates you’ll need the car. If you’re renting at an airport, be prepared to give your airline flight number and the time of arrival and departure.
  • The model and size of car you want. You can rent one of several classes of cars. While rental companies don’t share a common system for classification, you can usually rent them in categories such as economy (also known as subcompact), compact, midsize, luxury, premium and specialty (convertibles, vans and four-wheel-drive vehicles).

Rental companies may not be able to guarantee the model you want, but you can make a request or shop around for a rental company that offers the model you want.

When requesting a car, keep in mind how many people will be riding in the vehicle and how much luggage you’ll have. You should also ask about the following:

  • Safety features. Air bags, child safety seats and other safety features.
  • Options that will make travel more comfortable, such as air conditioning, cruise control, four doors vs. two doors, car phones, ski racks and luggage racks. Naturally, these may cost extra. Letting the company know in advance what you need will speed the rental process when you pick up the car.

The Cost

When you rent a car you’ll pay a basic fee plus several standard additional charges for the car. These commonly include fuel and mileage, but you can also get slapped with surcharges. Ask about them before you rent.

Fuel

Fuel is charged three ways, all starting with a full tank of gas:

  • You can return the car with a full tank of fuel and pay only what it costs you to refill the tank at a local gas station.
  • You can let the car rental company refuel your car when you drop it off. You’ll be charged a rate that’s higher than market value, but it may be more convenient.
  • You can pay for a full tank of gas up front based on the local self-service price, but you’ll get no rebate for unused gas when you turn in the car.

Mileage

Some car rental companies offer unlimited, unrestricted free mileage, while others apply extra charges for mileage, as follows:

  • With unlimited mileage you may have other restrictions such as the geographic area you travel in or limited dates for rental.
  • The most common way to charge for mileage is the per-mile charge. An odometer reading is taken before and after rental, and the per-mile charge is added to the final bill.
  • Some companies offer a certain number of free miles and then add a per-mile charge for extra miles or charge a flat fee when you exceed the allotted free mileage cap.

Surcharges

Ask about the following when you make your reservation:

  • Drop-off charge. Some rental agencies charge extra for dropping off a car at a location different from the one you rented it at.
  • State and city surcharges. Rental companies may add their own city surcharge if you’re renting in a large city such as New York, Chicago or Washington, D.C.
  • Airport fees imposed as a tax on deplaning passengers for airport car rental if you use a non-airport shuttle bus to get to the rental car company. This is called an “airport tax.”
  • Late charges. Your rate may be calculated based on the day and time that you return the car. If you’re late, you may incur a charge.
  • Refundable deposit. This can be several hundred dollars and is held against your credit card. It won’t be charged to your account unless the car comes back damaged or not to the specifications of your contract. You may be able to leave this deposit in cash, if you ask, so you don’t have to limit the spending on your credit card.
  • Additional driver fees. Some companies charge for additional authorized drivers and others do not.
  • You may pay a surcharge if you’re under age 25 because rental companies consider your age an added risk.

Look Before You Rent

Before you rent, very carefully look over the car and make sure any existing damage has been recorded by the rental company. Otherwise, you could be responsible for the repairs of damage that you didn’t cause.

Don't Let Unauthorized Drivers Take the Wheel!

If you allow an unauthorized driver to operate your rental vehicle, you may inadvertently cancel any liability protection you were entitled to under the rental agreement. This can be costly if you have an accident. Tell the rental company up front if you want others to be authorized to drive.

Insurance and Waivers

Treat a rental car as you would your own. All car rental companies hold the renter responsible for the safe return of the rented vehicle. It should be in the same condition as it was when rented, aside from normal wear and tear.

If you are in an accident, you are liable for repairs — even if it wasn’t your fault. The good news is that Minnesota law requires all auto insurance policies to include rental cars. If you own a car and have paid your insurance, your rental car is covered, too. The car may also be automatically covered by your credit card company. Check before you pay out of pocket for repairs. However, your auto insurance policy may not cover cars rented in another country. Be sure to check first.

Purchasing Waivers

If you aren’t insured, you can purchase a collision damage waiver (also called a loss damage waiver) from the car rental company. A waiver, which isn’t insurance, is an agreement between the car rental company and you stating that the company will not hold you responsible for accidental damage or loss, and will pay for all costs itself, unless you violate the terms of the rental agreement.

Getting the Best Deal

1. Ask about weekly rates if you’re considering rental for five days or more. It is bound to be less expensive than five times the daily rate. Be aware that an early return may void your weekly rate.
2. Ask if you can confirm a price at today’s rate. Some companies will guarantee today’s rate for no more than 60 days in advance, while others will extend their guarantee for a full year with a confirmed reservation. Find out about cancellation requirements.
3. Are you part of a club or organization that offers car rental discounts? Also check for coupons you may have collected from airlines or credit card companies to reduce charges.
4. See if frequent flyer points are available with the rental.
5. Don’t assume an economy car is always the best deal. For a few dollars more, you may be able to drive a luxury car, depending on current discounts and promotions.

If you want a waiver you’ll pay an additional cost of anywhere from $3 to $15 a day. Do your homework in advance to be sure you need this before you buy it. Companies can’t require you to purchase it.

Liability Insurance

You can also purchase liability insurance. In the event of an accident, liability insurance covers you against claims by others for bodily injury and property damage up to a specific limit. Some companies provide only secondary coverage, meaning that your own insurance will be applied first to meet the state’s minimum requirements. Major companies offer an extended liability package at a daily rate, with up to $1 million in additional protection. Some packages provide uninsured driver protection as well, in the event that the other driver is not insured.

Personal Accident Insurance

This is available separately or in a package with options. It insures against death and certain medical expenses.

Personal Effects Coverage

This protects your luggage and personal property, but there are limitations for damage or loss. It may, for example, exclude jewelry and cameras.

Report the Accident

In the unfortunate event of an accident with a rental car, report the accident to the police and complete an accident report, just as you would if you were driving your own car. Also, notify the car rental company within 24 hours. You’ll have to fill out another accident report. Be aware that any statements you make may be a permanent part of the accident report. Be truthful because your statements may be used in legal claims.

— Adapted with permission from Alamo Rent A Car, Inc.’s, “A Consumer’s Guide to Renting a Car.” The guide was written in cooperation with the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators.

Accidents Happen . . . and You'll Pay for Them

You have to pay for repairs if you have an accident and don’t carry proper insurance or a waiver. You also probably will have to pay for the lost revenue the rental company incurs because it can’t rent the car to anyone else. And you may pay an administrative fee for the processing of your damage claim. So carry insurance.

If a rental company automatically charges your credit card for an accident or demands payment at the time of the accident, ask to see a manager. Most reputable firms will work directly with your credit card company or insurance carrier for payment.

Next Page: Chapter 10: Get Square on Repairs