How should you handle a warranty-related repair or problem with your vehicle?

* First, know what's covered -

Most new cars and trucks come with not one but several warranties.

The one most people think of first is the so-called "bumper to bumper" (or "basic") warranty and it covers just about everything except routine maintenance items such as oil and filter changes, brake pads, etc.

Most 2010 model vehicles come with at least a three year/36,000 mile bumper to bumper warranty.

After this, and overlapping it, is the so-called "powertrain" warranty. It typically covers the engine, transmission, axles and so on.

The powertrain warranty often lasts longer than the bumper-to-bumper warranty; for example, several new cars (Hyundai, Kia) have powertrain warranties that are good for as much as 10 year/100,000 miles - whichever comes first.

There are also separate warranties for the emissions control systems, hybrid components (on hybrid gas-electric cars) such as batteries and electric motors - even a warranty for the tires.

Information about your warranty coverages - all of them - should be in your glovebox, with the literature that came with your car when you bought it. It's a good idea to read through this all stuff, ideally before you have a possible warranty-related problem. Know your coverages; then put the paperwork someplace safe. If you do have a problem at some point down the road, dig up the appropriate paperwork and get ready to take the next step.

* Schedule an appointment at an authorized repair facility -

"Authorized" is very important. Excepting emergencies (and sometimes, even then), most warranty work must be performed at a shop specifically authorized by the manufacturer (the people who built your car; GM, Toyota, etc.). That doesn't mean it has to be a dealer; independent shops are sometimes ok. It just means the shop - dealer or independent - must be authorized. Don't authorize work before you know whether the shop is in fact authorized - or you may end up with the bill.

If you have an emergency, such as a breakdown miles from home that forces you to seek help at the first place you can find - "authorized" or not - warranty coverage will sometimes still be honored. But you must follow the procedure (see your paperwork), which usually involves calling or otherwise notifying the manufacturer (GM, etc.) and documenting everything that is done to the vehicle.

* Discuss the problem/repair with the service advisor -

It's important to be on the same page with them - and them with you - regarding any work that may (or may not) come under the provisions of your warranty. If it's warranty work, be sure the service advisor agrees - and that it is so noted on your invoice. You don't want to argue with the guy after the work has been done.

* Keep records (and documentation) of any and all service work related to a warranty issue -

Sometimes, problems recur because the part (or design of the vehicle) is itself flawed or defective in some way. If you're unlucky enough to be the owner of such a car, you want to have evidence of an ongoing problem so that the dealer will have a harder time trying to claim later on that "it's just normal wear" should the same part fail once again - after the warranty has expired. In such cases, you may still be able to get them to fix it again at no cost or partial cost, even if the warranty is no longer in force. Worst case, you'll have evidence to help you seek redress under state "lemon laws."

* In case of dispute -

If you are unhappy with any aspect of warranty-related service, the first step is to attempt to communicate with the manager (or owner) of the dealership. Try to reason with him; present your paperwork and explain your grievance. Be polite rather than accusatory; make it clear all you're looking for is fair treatment - and a working car.

Hopefully, the problem can be resolved at this level. If, however, your problem has not been addressed to your satisfaction, the next step is to call the manufacturer's Customer Assistance Center (this number will be listed either in your new vehicle owner's manual or the warranty paperwork). They will try to mediate between you and the dealer to arrive at some mutually satisfactory agreement. And if that doesn't work for you, the next step is to get in touch with the Better Business Bureau's Auto Line Program. This is a free, out-of-court program run by the Better Business Bureau to settle disputes without lawyers (and the expense of hiring a lawyer). The BBB Auto Line Progrm typically takes 40 days to handle a complaint; the tool-free nationwide number is 1-800-9555-5100; you can also obtain more info at*

The final resort is to pursue the matter through the courts. Hopefully, it won't go that far - and you should try to prevent it from getting it that far, because the cost to litigate a warranty claim can literally be more than it's worth - although you may get some satisfaction "on principle."