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ask joanne

I just bought a Grand Cherokee with the off-road package. I was talking to friends about going off-roading but they said doing so would invalidate my warranty. Is this true? If so, why do manufacturers advertise features you can't use? – Bernie, Texada Island, B.C.

New vehicle warranties are provided to protect consumers from defects in manufacturing, generally in the first three to five years of ownership.

However, if circumstances outside of normal operating conditions are the cause of failure – for example, the vehicle is submerged in a lake, smashed into a rock, or filled with the wrong fuel – warranty work will typically be denied. In these instances, the failure is clearly not due to a manufacturing defect.

When it comes to a vehicle marketed for off-road use, the warranty is not invalidated by simply driving off-road. As the advertisements show, these vehicles are designed to withstand more than city or highway driving. However, off-road conditions will undoubtedly increase the odds of a non-warrantable repair.

As confirmed by a Chrysler Canada spokesperson: "Please be advised that driving a trail rated Jeep off-road would not in itself 'invalidate' the warranty, however, it is important for the customer to understand that warranty coverage applies to factory defects only. Damage or failures attributed to any other source are the customer's responsibility."

No matter what make or model, dealers want your business. However, dealerships are typically franchises, and must ensure they'll be reimbursed by the manufacturer for any warranty work they perform.

The Canadian Motor Vehicle Arbitration Plan (CAMVAP) handles complaints from consumers about how a manufacturer is applying or administering the new vehicle warranty.

"We do see cases, where consumers come to us and the manufacturer has denied warranty usually based on the manufacturers view that you abused the vehicle and therefore they should not be responsible for it," says Steve Moody, CAMVAP general manager. "From a CAMVAP perspective, that is something clearly eligible for the program. If a consumer came to us, an arbitrator would have to make a decision, based on the evidence put forward by the consumer and by the manufacturer as to whether the manufacturer should be responsible for the warranty repairs or not.

"Sometimes the allegations simply won't be found, and the manufacturer will be ordered to do the repairs. The obligation is on the manufacturer to prove that you actually abused the vehicle, and that's a fairly hard thing to do. Now saying that, we've had [cases] denied."

So, when it comes to off-roading incidents, what does CAMVAP commonly see?

"The kind of thing we'll see is that there's been problems with something where it appears the consumer has gone through deep water and the manufacturer will allege that that's an abuse," says Moody. "But each case is individual. It really depends on what did the consumer do, what was the shape of the vehicle, what were the clues that made the manufacturer not do the warranty. Was the vehicle clearly in too deep, or just a bit? So, it depends on the vehicle. Some vehicles are clearly made for off-roading with the expectation they will go off-road."

"And if the manufacturer denies warranty then the consumer has the option of coming to CAMVAP to try and resolve that dispute," says Moody.

Before venturing off-road, make sure you understand what your vehicle is designed to do, and its performance limitations.

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at

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