It’s a secret that could save you hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars.

Let’s say your just-out-of-warranty new car needs a major repair. Before you pay for it, ask the car company for help.

“Take it to the dealer and tell them you want a goodwill policy applied to this,” says Phil Edmonston, author of the

Lemon-Aid Car Guide.

You can also try calling the customer service number listed in your owner’s manual.

If there’s a widespread problem with the vehicle, the car company may make the repair for free or at a low cost.

“If you present a good argument and it’s something they’ve had chronic problems with, they’ll fix it,” says Phil Reed, consumer advice editor at

Welcome to the world of the secret warranty.

“Secret warranties are an extension of the original warranty where it’s lengthened in time and broadened in scope,” Edmonston says.

“Any warranty can be extended and broadened at any time.”

Here’s another insider tip. Auto manufacturers will never use the words “secret warranty.” They’ll call it a goodwill policy or a special policy or a policy adjustment or a product improvement program or a customer satisfaction campaign.

You’ll have the best chance of landing a free or low-cost repair if your car is just a few months past its factory warranty. It also helps if the car manufacturer considers you a good customer. So a longtime or repeat customer may have a better chance of landing a freebie repair than a brand-new customer.

And someone who buys a high-end luxury car may feel more “goodwill” from a car company than someone who bought an economy car.

Do some research

Before requesting a goodwill repair, be sure to do some research. Your aim is to find out if other car owners have had similar problems.

“Your chances of getting a good result are better if this is a common problem,” says Rosemary Shahan, president of

Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety. “You’re on firmer ground.”

Your best bet is to hop online. Be sure to check out the Web sites of the

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the

Center for Auto Safety.

These sites offer information on auto recalls, defects and technical service bulletins. Manufacturers publish technical service bulletins to assist dealers in diagnosing and repairing problems in cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles.

Find a technical service bulletin that describes the repair needed on your car, and you’ll have a much better chance of getting the repair done for free.

You might also want to do a general Web search on your car. You may find some helpful information in an auto chat room or a consumer complaint site.

Any information you find will strengthen your case for a free or discounted repair when you contact the car company. Bring a printed copy of your findings to the car dealership.

When requesting a goodwill repair, it’s important to keep your cool.

“Screaming and hollering usually doesn’t get you anywhere,” Shahan says. “What you want to be is methodical.”

Start with the service manager at the auto dealership.

“You say, ‘I believe this is a premature failing and I want you to contact the (car) company before doing any work,'” Edmonston says.


If the service manager says he can’t help you, contact the auto manufacturer directly, using the customer service number in your owner’s manual.

“Take a second kick at the can,” Edmonston says.

Describe the problem with your car to the customer service rep as calmly as possible. Make them aware of any important information you’ve uncovered in your research. If you’re a longtime or repeat customer, be sure to say so.

“If you’re one of their top-notch customers, they’ll baby you,” Shahan says.

Be persistent. The dealer or customer service rep may try to place the blame on you, saying you must have abused the car in some way. Don’t let them discourage you.

Stand your ground. The problem with your car is due to a premature failing of a part or parts in the car and you feel the car company should step up and help with the repairs. If you’ve been a satisfied customer up to this point, say so.

“You have to be the squeaky wheel to be treated fairly,” Shahan says.

A phone call to an auto manufacturer may be all you need to get a $1,000 repair bill trimmed down to $250. It’s definitely worth the effort.

“Oftentimes, you just have to ask,” Edmonston says. “It will work out.”

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