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. You compare boats when you shop so why not compare the warranties before you buy too? Look at the fine print and figure out what it means, before you buy if you can, and certainly after you buy your new boat when a problem arises.
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 exactly the paper it isn't written down on. And if the dealer makes any promises or representations to you that matter, make them write that down on the sales contract too. If it isn't written down, it may not count.
Mistake: Not Reading the Warranty
Make sure you get a warranty booklet and read it. 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. Find out if you have to "register" your warranty too. Remember: your legal rights are in that warranty. You do not want to find out later that those 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 1 year" or, if you can, try to 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. Remember: the dealer wants to sell you the boat and they will say lots of things to get that done, but none of them can be proven if they don't write it down too. As sure as you write it down, it won't be a problem. As sure as you don't, you'll end up wishing you had.
Tip: The Squeaky Wheel (or Rudder) Gets the Grease
If you have to complain, complain to everyone. The dealer, the salesperson, the manufacturer, even the finance company or lender. Do it on the phone. Do it with the mail. do it with email. Do it with a fax. Do it often and do it every way you can. 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. So be careful, even if you have a shop full of tools and you know how to use them. Take your boat to an authorized dealer or repaired shop. 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 was done and when it was done. And when you sell your boat, give that paperwork to next owner too.
Trap: Not Doing Boat Maintenance on Time
The easiest way to lose your warranty is by not doing maintenance on time and not keeping records of it being done either. 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. Do all required maintenance on time and keep your records for as long as you own the boat.
Mistake: Not Complaining Until End of Boating Season
Most warranties require you to report a problem to an authorized dealer immediately. 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. 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, 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. One of the biggest problems with warranty coverage is that many boat owners just call the dealer. That is only the beginning. You should not only call the dealer, but also email and mail a letter too, to the dealer, the factory and the bank..
Tip: Complain the Right Way
With every complaint you ever make, there are two steps. First contact your dealer. Second, contact the manufacturer. You want everyone to know 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. 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.
Additional resources provided by the author
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. When all else fails, get a boat lemon law attorney to help you out. This is a special area of the law too, so don’t bother going to an attorney who does not routinely handle lemon boat cases. Life is too short to put up with a bad boat.
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