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Boat Warranties: Mistakes, Tips and Traps

Many people get caught up in the excitement of buying a new boat and do not pay much attention to the new boat warranty. That can be a big mistake.

Boat warranties can be complicated and confusing. They are often worded to protect the boat builder and not the boat buyer. You compare boats when you shop so why not compare the warranties before you buy?

You need to look at the fine print and figure out what it really means before you spend thousands of dollars on that new boat. Here are some common mistakes to look out for.

Mistake: Don’t Believe the Warranty Covers Everything

Your boat has lots of different parts and frequently the warranty coverage on one part is not the same as it might be on another part, even when both are made by the same manufacturer. The most important parts of warranty coverage are for the hull and the engines. However, you will probably also get other warranties from the manufacturers of different electronic parts, the steering, “living quarters” components, etc.

Like RV manufacturers, boat manufacturers buy different components from different manufacturers, and they each usually come with a warranty from that specific manufacturer. You need to look at each individual warranty to see exactly what is covered and for how long.

Tip: Make Them Write it down

Most important, however, is to look at the boat manufacturer’s own new boat warranty. Be sure you understand exactly what is covered and what is not. It is always a good idea to ask the sales person, but if what you read in the warranty booklet is not the same as what they told you, then make them right it down on a piece of paper so you know for sure what you really are getting. Remember: an oral warranty is worth the paper it isn’t written on.

Mistake: Not Reading the Warranty

You would think that when a person is going to spend thousands of dollars on a brand new boat, they would at least take the time to read the warranty booklet and see what they are getting for their money. Believe it or not, that often does not happen. In fact, you might not even get the warranty booklet with the boat at all. Make sure you do. If not, look on the manufacturer’s website for warranty coverage but don’t be surprised if the warranty isn’t what you expected it to be.

If the dealer tries to avoid giving you a copy of the warranty booklet before you buy the boat, then you have good reason to worry and you should probably go somewhere else with your business. After all, if they won’t even let you see what the warranty rights are, do you really trust what they are doing to you on the numbers in buying the boat in the first place?

Once you have the warranty booklet in your hands, read through it carefully and make sure it says exactly what the sales person said it would say. Make sure you understand what it covers and what it does not cover. Make sure you find out if you have to “register” the warranty and, if so, when do you have to do that or will the dealer do it for you.

Remember: your legal rights are in that warranty. You do not want to find out later that those legal rights are a lot less than what you paid for.

Trap: A Prorated Warranty Can Cost You

Watch out for the word “prorated” which means that you may not get full coverage for some part of the time or some components of the boat. For example, you might get a five-year warranty on the hull, but the fine print might say it is prorated over five years. This means you get a “sliding scale” of warranty coverage that amounts to pretty much nothing at the end of the five years and something in the middle around year two or three.

If the manufacturer’s warranty is too limited for your liking, ask the dealer to stand behind the boat with their own warranty. Getting the dealer’s commitment before you pay your money ought to be pretty easy. After all, if the new boat was built right, then why should the dealer worry about having to stand behind it with their own guarantee? If the dealer wants your money bad enough (and, trust me, they do) then they should be willing to guarantee that you are getting your money’s worth.

Tip: Get the Dealer’s Own Guarantee

Ask the dealer to write on the sales contract these words “Dealer guarantees this boat’s parts will be defect free and operate right for 3 years” or, if you want, make it longer. If the dealer won’t do it, then ask them why you should buy their boat in the first place if they won’t stand behind it.

Read the fine print carefully. Otherwise, you could get stuck for paying for part of your own warranty repair work. If that is what the warranty says, then maybe you should buy a different boat or go to a different dealer.

Trap: Make Sure the Warranty Is Transferrable

Many manufacturers now make their boat warranties transferable, so that when you sell the boat the remaining part of the warranty goes to the new owner. That can make your used boat worth a whole lot more money, then it otherwise might be. However, even here you have to be careful because the warranty transfer may have to be done carefully or the buyer might end up with no warranty at all.

If you are buying a used boat, check the manufacturer’s website to see what you have to do to transfer the remaining balance of the warranty. If you are selling a used boat, you should tell the buyer to do that. Either way, watch out for the “transfer fee” (usually $50 to $100) that the boat manufacturer may charge to transfer the warranty. Watch out because many boat manufacturers require the warranty transfer to take place within 30 days of the sale itself.

Mistake: Not Complaining Properly

One of the biggest problems with warranty coverage is that many boat owners simply call the dealer and figure that will take care of the problem. That is only the beginning of taking care of the problem.

When you have a warranty issue you should not only call the dealer, but you should send them an email or a letter and keep a copy of it. You should also send a copy of it to the boat manufacturer. You might even want to think about sending a copy of your complaint letter to the bank or finance company, if you financed the boat purchase.

Tip: The Squeaky Wheel (or Rudder) Gets the Grease

The idea is to make sure that everyone is aware of the problem that you have, so that if you end up in a dispute later then no one can say that they did not see it coming. Keep a log of your warranty problems and your repair trips, and keep all of your repair documents in one file. Make notes on when you take the boat into the shop, when you get it back, how much you had to pay for any kind of repair cost, and why you were required to pay. Remember, the more detailed, the better.

As sure as you keep a very thorough and detailed set of repair records, you will never need it. As sure as you don’t, you will wish you had.

Mistake: Doing Your Own Repair Work

Many boat owners have enough mechanical knowledge to be able to take care of some of the problems on their boat, even when those problems are covered by warranty. That’s fine, as long as you realize that when you do it, you may be voiding your warranty completely.

If you do your own repair work wrong or not do it as thoroughly as required by the manufacturer, you might as well tear up your warranty booklet. If you bought a row boat, that probably does not matter anyway. However, if you paid $100,000 + for a Sea Ray, you better be careful about doing your own warranty work, even if you have a shop full of tools and you know how to use them.

Take your boat to an authorized dealer or an authorized repaired shop, so that all warranty repairs are done by someone who is authorized to do it. Not only does it get be done for free that way (after all it is under warranty), but then no one can say the work was done wrong or that you hired an “unauthorized” mechanic. Also, keep all of your paperwork so you can prove what work was done and when it was done.

Tip: Only Do the Simple Stuff

When it comes to servicing your boat, you can certainly do simple things yourself as long as you keep good, thorough records to prove that they were done. Just be careful. Be sure you do all of the service work on time or even early.

Trap: Not Doing Boat Maintenance on Time

If you delay that oil change for a few extra days or a week beyond when it is suppose to be done, do not be surprised if the manufacturer turns down the warranty claim when the engine blows up on you. After all, they are in the business of making money by selling boats. Honoring their warranty costs them money and if you give them an easy way to avoid having to put new engines in your boat, don’t be surprised if they take it.

Tip: Schedule Warranty Work When it Is Needed — Don’t Wait

If you have something that is covered by warranty and it needs to be fixed, then get it done right then. Do not wait until the end of the seasons. Not only are dealers often busier, at the end of the season, but that delay may result in your warranty being voided because you did not bring the problem in for repairs right away.

Mistake: Not Complaining Until End of Boating Season

Most warranties require you to report a problem to an authorized dealer immediately when the problem occurs. Of course, some reasonable amount of time might be necessary for you to get around to doing that, if you happen to be out in the ocean at the time. But don’t wait until the end of boating season to report a problem or you could find yourself having to pay for the repair all by yourself.

If you do not have a good excuse for failing to report the problem to an authorized dealer right away, don’t be surprised if the manufacturer decides not to honor the warranty. They might decide to pay only part of the coverage, or they might decide not to do anything.

The only time you want to try and fix something yourself, even though you know it is covered by warranty, is when you are trying to minimize further damage so that you can get the boat into a dealer or if a safety problem occurs while you are out on the water. An emergency is, after all, an emergency.

Trap: Painting the Bottom Yourself

Osmosis blisters can cause expensive repairs and lately boat manufacturers have become very sensitive about their bottoms, so to speak. You can void your warranty if you sand the gel coat so that the paint adheres to the bottom better, because this might allow water to cause blisters.

“No sanding” primers are available, but you need to have a very good understanding of exactly what your warranty says you should and should not do before you take sandpaper to the hull for bottom paint. Otherwise, you could find yourself with no warranty left at all.

And the Biggest Problem: Thinking You Will Not Have a Problem

Okay, so you spent thousands of dollars to buy a new boat. And you took really good care of it, too. Then a problem arises and you expect that the manufacturer is going to stand behind it, right? Well, surprise, surprise, that is not the way it always works.

Tip: Complain the Right Way

With every complaint you ever make, there are two steps. First contact your dealer. Second, contact the manufacturer’s customer service department. You want the manufacturer to know about it each time you have a problem because your boat dealer may just do the repair and not turn in a warranty claim. Then, if the problem gets more serious you have no record of the first repair attempt at all.

Each time you complain, say exactly what your problem is and why you think they should cover it under warranty. And keep a diary of your problems and the repair attempts and your complaints, in as much detail as you can, at the time things are happening. Document everything carefully and be prepared to argue if you have to.

Be patience, and be professional. Try to get it worked out on your own if possible. However, sometimes it just isn’t. When that happens, talk to an attorney right away. With every legal right you have, there is only a limited amount of time to do something about it before your legal rights expire. When that happens, you are stuck.

If you want, you can have a competent marine surveyor do an inspection and prepare an independent report. That might help the manufacturer to decide to cover the problem. Your insurance company probably knows a surveyor in your area.

Just remember: you paid good money for what should be a good boat. When it isn’t, the boat lemon law lawyers at Burdge Law Office can help get warranty coverage, a new boat, or your money back. That’s why we’re here.

If you’ve got a problem, we can help. Call us toll free at 1.888.331.6422 or email us for your free lemon boat case review.

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