Answer Man

Government can’t mandate the length of car warranties

If you bought this Volkswagen, the U.S. government couldn’t tell them how long to make your warranty.
If you bought this Volkswagen, the U.S. government couldn’t tell them how long to make your warranty. AP

Q: As everyone knows, almost all new car warranties are three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first. The government is hellbent on forcing car makers to offer better mileage. When is the government going to force them to offer better warranties? Manufacturers have been getting away with low mileage warranties for a long time. It is time for the government to step in and protect consumers.

L.T., of Collinsville

A: Why stop there? Compared to most electronics guarantees, many car warranties are like almost forever. Why can’t we force companies to promise me that my new DVD or portable CD player will last more than 90 days or a year?

Many liberal-leaning folks are probably thinking, oh, yeah, with a Republican Congress and president, that’s gonna happen real soon. Like the 4th of Never. But ideologies aside, I’d offer another possible explanation: We are not a Communist nation. What you are suggesting is a slippery slope where the government steps in and starts dictating every facet of a company’s business model.

As I’ve said in the past, I’m tired of companies cutting a half-gallon of fruit juice to 59 ounces or bottles of dishwashing liquid to a ridiculous 9.6 ounces just so they don’t have to raise the price. But would I want the government to say they can’t? I don’t think so, so I either grin and bear it or find a different brand.

The same, I would argue, is true for car warranties. I appreciate the government stepping in when it comes to what I would consider matters of national interest. For example, mandating the use of seat belts and padded dashboards helps save lives, minimize injury and cut medical costs. More efficient engines and catalytic converters reduce pollution, which affects everyone, and the demand for fossil fuels.

Warranties, on the other hand, are more like an extra perk that a job recruiter might offer in addition to basic salary and vacation. It essentially affects nothing but your personal bottom line (if, for example, the car falls apart after five years). So, the government offers a broad outline of what any warranty should contain in Title 15, Section 2302 of the U.S. Code, but as far as mandating the specific length or coverage for any particular product, it butts out. Instead, it’s caveat emptor.

In fact, your suggestion often brought ridicule when former President Obama, in an effort to help GM and Chrysler recover from the 2008 crash, proposed a government-backed warranty that set up a fund to pay for warranty service.

“Government does not belong in the business of offering auto warranties,” conservative blogger Ed Morrissey raged at the time. “Two years ago, that would have been so obvious as to elicit derisive laughter for even mentioning it. But when we get a bunch of used-car salesmen in the White House and Congress, this is the result.”

So companies still enjoy the freedom to offer the warranty they feel will satisfy enough buyers while protecting their bottom lines. Many more upscale manufacturers (Buick, Cadillac) now give limited four-year and 50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper guarantees, but if that’s not good enough, you’re free to grab the five years and 60,000 miles at Hyundai, Kia and Mitsubishi, which also offer 10 years and 100,000 miles on their powertrains.

I just don’t have a problem with that. Every car I’ve ever owned (save one) has performed excellently for more than 10 years, including my current one, which will celebrate its 18th birthday in September.

Today’s trivia

As a teenager, what did renowned filmmaker George Lucas dream of becoming?

Answer to Saturday’s trivia: If you’re of a certain age (like me), actor William Bendix will immediately come to mind if someone mentions “The Life of Riley.” After all, he started playing Chester Riley on the radio version in 1944. But he wasn’t the star when the show premiered Oct. 4, 1949, on NBC-TV. Because Bendix’s RKO contract would not permit him to do both radio and TV, Jackie Gleason played Riley during the show’s first run, which lasted only a season. Bendix came aboard for the show’s second run from Jan. 2, 1953 to May 23, 1958.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer