Are warranties worth the paper they're written on?

The offer of a warranty or guarantee to protect you should something go wrong with an expensive item you are buying can make the difference between you paying out and walking away.

But these contracts do not always offer the level of protection they seem to at first, and you could easily be left out of pocket thanks to the numerous exclusions typical to agreements of this kind.

Car trouble
That is what happened to Kenneth Luty, 82, who told the Guardian newspaper that car manufacturer Citroen let him down when the seventh model he bought from the company developed a major problem within the three-year warranty period.

Luty, from Threshfield in Yorkshire, thought that he would be covered by the warranty agreement when the engine of his C4 hatchback, which cost more than £16,000, seized up a month before his warranty expired.

However, Citroen has refused to pay out on the claim due to anomalies in the service history on the vehicle.

And this is not the first time the company has refused a claim from Luty for this particular car. He has already had to pay about £800 to replace the diesel car's semi-automatic clutch, after being told by Citroën it wasn't covered by the warranty because Luty must have caused it with bad driving, despite the vehicle having done fewer than 30,000 miles at this stage.

A month later – still a few weeks inside its three-year warranty period – the turbo failed, resulting in the engine seizing up.

But Citroen argued that this too is not covered because on its first service - with the Citroen dealer the car was bought from - staff failed to change the oil.

Luty was therefore left facing a £7,000 bill to get a car that was no longer even worth that amount back on the road.

"The whole thing has been a disaster," said Luty. "I have written countless letters to both the dealer, and to Citroën HQ in Slough, and have got nowhere. Citroën has refused to honour its warranty even though the car has only ever been in Citroën dealers, and I did exactly what I was told to by their dealer."

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Citroën said: "Given the nature of the information available in this case, we feel we have been very fair in our response."

It's a pretty shocking tale. But Luty's case is just one example of how some car manufacturers fail to pay up when a customer claims on a warranty – refusing even their best customers the benefit of the doubt. It also illustrates why car owners need to make sure any work they have done on their car complies exactly with the terms of the warranty.

So what are my rights on warranties?
Most cars sold in the UK now come with a three-year, 60,000 miles warranty – although some car makers, notably Kia, Hyundai and even Vauxhall, have extended it to seven years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes sooner.

But car warranty payments, or a lack of them, continue to be a big problem according to a Which? Car investigation.

The consumer champion claims that it is regularly contacted by people who feel they have had a legitimate warranty claim turned down unfairly.

This is because many of the agreements impose restrictive conditions on buyers that have to be followed to the letter, or the warranty will be invalidated.

The message therefore seems to be to ensure that you read all the small print, otherwise you could find yourself stuck with a huge bill for an almost-new car.

You do, however, always have the option of taking your case to the courts if you feel you have been unfairly treated.

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