Bye Bye Warranty Woes

SEMA aftermarket warranty program

If you’ve ever thought about customizing your vehicle, chances are you’ve faced some pretty tough questions about how your vehicle’s warranty would be affected. Tip-toeing around the huge minefield of do’s and don’ts is a head-scratching affair. It can be accomplished by working closely with your dealer and discussing the modifications you’d like to make beforehand. But, more often than not, people don’t spend enough time on planning and researching vehicle modifications and, in turn, their warranty claims (even legitimate ones) are denied because the dealer or manufacturer believes aftermarket (non-OEM parts) are at the root of the problem.

People with experience in modifying street vehicles know all too well the headaches that go along with it. According to Chris Kersting, president and CEO of the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), those days of kissing your car warranties goodbye are coming to an end. I caught up with Kersting and his colleague Peter MacGillivray, SEMA V.P. of marketing and communications at the MPMC Trade Conference earlier this year, to get information straight from the horse’s mouth. “A lot of the problems in this area are perception problems (i.e. ‘This is what I heard’),” says Kersting. But, with the creation of ProPledge – the world’s first aftermarket parts and installation warranty program “…consumers will know exactly what these companies are offering by way of support for their products and support for the installation,” added Kersting.

Not only is it the first program of its kind, the ground-breaking industry initiative offers motoring consumers peace of mind when it comes to making decisions about customizing their vehicle(s). In cooperation with some of its roughly 6,500 member companies, “SEMA is creating a uniform standard that consumers can come to recognize by brand name,” says Kersting, who’s taken a particular interest in this project since its inception a few years ago. “It’s going to have great value for the customer out there,” he says. “A quantum leap in terms of an industry-led standardized approach; and, thanks to a lot of hard work by a lot of people, we’re very excited about ProPledge.”

Basically, ProPledge is a new, standardized, uniform warranty promise honored by participating SEMA member accessory manufacturers and installers that will protect consumers in the event an aftermarket product and/or installation defect results in the denial of a vehicle warranty claim for a minimum of 36 months/36,000 miles. These terms are on par with most new vehicle warranties and, the best part, it’s included in the price of the (backed) product and installation, making it a very easy sell.

A limited number of product categories will be covered initially by the warranty, including sunroof installations, a wide range of appearance and restyling accessories, custom interiors, some mobile electronics installations, as well as wheel, tire and suspension installations. A full complement of truck accessories will also be covered in the initial pilot period with additional categories to be added as the program rolls out.

Initially, the pilot had a limited number of manufacturers and installers who are committed to the program in key markets like Dallas/Fort Worth, TX, South Florida including Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Palm Beach, New Jersey and New York territories, Charlotte, NC, Milwaukee, WI, Central California. There’s even an installer signed up in Hawaii.

ProPledge will be supported by sales-training materials, point-of-purchase displays and a national public relations campaign to help build awareness amongst dealers and consumers.

“The program comes with a full-service customer service center so that consumers will be immediately able to contact a professional customer service outlet who will handle whatever claims they have,” he elaborates. And, those customers will be able to get service on-line via the Internet and /or toll-free phone number.

Of further benefit to the consumer, Kersting points out that “These manufacturers and installers are offering coverage on any downstream impact that the product may have on the vehicle – where the product actually causes a problem.” Now, that’s a pretty substantial warranty promise consumers can really feel comfortable with!

SEMA’s goal for ProPledge is “…to make it appealing across a wide range of products from the different niches that consumers will be looking at this from (i.e. guys who are into trucks or guys who are into the sport compact scene). The idea is to get some experience with it so we can see how it works and make sure it works really well for consumers before we roll it out into a broader national program. We want to be as inclusive as we can be, so based on the experience and based on the results, we can figure out what it is that people will want down the road.”

Throughout the test period, SEMA will measure the impact and effectiveness of the program, assess communication and training needs and refine the administrative processes. The results of these findings will help out in fine-tuning the program before it goes larger scale and possibly open the door for SEMA to offer variations in the coverage (perhaps extended warranties or coverage for engine internal modifications, for example) down the road.

“The reaction has been very positive for the concept we have on the table right now,” says Kersting. “As we’ve been going along, we’ve been talking with not only the vehicle manufacturers but also the dealers who are very excited about the idea. I think that the vehicle manufacturers, as a general matter, are pleased to know that there will be support for the customer that we share.

“The dealers now see this as a great opportunity to offer these products with the same kind of assurance they feel in selling a new vehicle with this warranty. That’s a business climate they’re used to and, for our industry to be able to offer this to them in a uniform way to them now, including the installation, is really going to change the way they think about this and the product offerings that they’re willing to be involved in.

“Because ProPledge is a broad-based uniform program involving more than one manufacturer and more than one installer, it’s been a pretty long and arduous effort to put a program like this in place,” Kersting admits.

“If one company seeks to do this, they, more or less, are able to control a lot of the variables exactly the way they’d like to do it; but, to be able to bring a uniform program that’s spread across manufacturers where everybody is participating in a standardized way, has really proved to be quite a challenge. But, our industry has been up to the challenge and we’re ready to go!”

Seeing as how personalized vehicle customization reached popular culture long ago, there is a great need for something like ProPledge. You could even say it’s long overdue.

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