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Chrysler offers lifetime powertrain warranty

Consumer Reports News: July 27, 2007 02:40 PM

Chrysler Group has announced a lifetime powertrain warranty on most new Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep vehicles purchased from dealer inventory and delivered on or after July 26, 2007. The warranty program covers 88 percent of the retail models sold, excluding fleet sales, SRT variants, Dodge Sprinters, and other vehicles with diesel engines.

This bold warranty announcement follows the trend that has seen many automakers extend their warranty protection as a means to shore up brand image and customer confidence. Clearly, it will be hard for another manufacturer to one-up the length of Chrysler's warranty, though other makes do shine in other areas of protection, such as Chevrolet with its 100,000-mile roadside assistance (5 years) and rust warranty (6 years).

Chrysler’s warranty initiative was motivated by multiple factors, according to a company spokesperson, including dealers reporting that the latest Chrysler Group products were the highest quality they had seen and customers stating that vehicle warranty, specifically powertrain, is a chief purchase consideration. This program precedes involvement from Cerberus, the investment group that is acquiring Chrysler Group from DaimlerChrysler.

The new warranty is available only to the new-vehicle buyers; it is non-transferable. That caveat alone significantly decreases the how many years will actually be covered within the vehicle’s “lifespan.” With the previous 7-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty, there was a low instance of warranty transfer from the first to second owner, according to a company spokesperson, despite the process being a simple paperwork sign off. Because of this, Chrysler expects costs associated with the change in the warranty coverage to be less dramatic than the marketing-friendly name may suggest.

And with all seemingly good news, there’s always the “fine print.” For example, while the lifetime warranty does not require owners have the car serviced at a dealer, it does demand that maintenance adhere to recommended intervals and be documented. To continue the warranty coverage, the owner must have the powertrain inspected (for free) within 60-days of each five-year purchase anniversary.

We suspect that once the total eligible vehicle pool is filtered out by those who sell their vehicle within five years, lose their paperwork, and/or forget to have this inspection performed, there will be a very modest original-owner group come year six. And those leasing will not reap the benefits at all, as most contracts are for just two to three years. However, for those drivers who like to hold on to their vehicles, such as those in the unofficial 200,000-mile club, there could be real financial benefit from this program. Of course, that only matters if you truly want a Chrysler, Dodge, or Jeep model for the long haul.

For such a broad product portfolio, there are precious few Chrysler Group models that meet the stringent standards of a Consumer Reports Recommendation:

Chrysler 300 (V6)
Chrysler PT Cruiser
Dodge Durango
Dodge Ram 1500
Jeep Liberty

Several models are too new for us to have any reliability data and/or haven’t been tested.

Looking closer at the Recommended models, those vehicles don’t shine in their respective classes. The Durango, for instance, did earn a Good overall score, though it is the lowest-rated model in the full-sized SUV class and has just average predicted reliability. Likewise, the Liberty qualifies as Good, though it ranks near the bottom of the class. The Dodge Nitro and Jeep Wrangler score even lower.

In a brand comparison, Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep each rank below average in predicted reliability, based on analysis of the 2006 Consumer Reports car reliability survey. Jeep ranks 32nd among 36 tracked brands.

These numbers show that the Chrysler Group vehicles could use the type of image enhancement that such a well-promoted warranty can offer. After all, the 10-year warranty has worked wonders for Hyundai--once the punch line for reliability.

Either way, more protection can only aid the customer and motivate the manufacturer to focus on quality. In the end, consumers should focus on buying the best vehicles for their needs, weighing reliability more heavily than warranty protection. After all, the best deal is not having to visit the dealer for unscheduled maintenance, rather than have it performed for free. Clearly, Chrysler needs to get people into its showrooms, but it’s too early to tell whether this warranty announcement will do the trick.

--Jeff Bartlett

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