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9 Performance Upgrades That Won’t Void Your Car Warranty

BY: Dario DiGiuseppe
Mechanic changing a tire with a car on a lift

Auto enthusiasts personalize their rides by making modifications to improve performance. However, these upgrades can void a factory or extended warranty, leaving owners unprotected. Navigating “warranty-safe” changes can be overwhelming, even for gearheads. With this in mind, we’ll walk you through common modification pitfalls and recommend performance improvements that won’t leave you out in the cold.

Remember that “performance” is a loose term in the automobile world. Of course, more horsepower or torque is one definition. But performance can also mean improved aerodynamics, better grip, or sharper handling. We’ll explore how you can improve your car without risking protection against breakdowns and surprise repair bills. There are opportunities for multiple warranty-friendly improvements across several vehicle systems.

Before we dive in, it’s essential to understand the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act of 1975, a federal law that provides important protections to car owners. One of the measure’s provisions says that a car manufacturer can’t void an entire warranty just because an owner installed an aftermarket part or made a modification. The automaker must prove that the change caused a problem being claimed under warranty.

For instance, changing the original wheels and tires wouldn’t cause a warranty problem if the engine developed a cylinder malfunction. The two systems aren’t related. However, coverage could be denied if the engine trouble is tied to installing an aftermarket turbocharger. Yet, coverage would continue for the other components that were covered originally.

Understanding Warranty Terms and Conditions

Another critical part of preserving factory or extended warranty protection is understanding what modifications are permitted under the terms of coverage. Before starting any project, spend time reviewing the warranty documentation.

While the terms may vary among automakers, some clauses are standard to factory warranties. For example, any upgrade that can alter the emissions system is prohibited. An extended car warranty (also called a vehicle service contract or auto protection plan) will have similar stipulations.

A case in point is one provision Endurance uses in its vehicle service contracts: “Any modification that voids the original manufacturer warranty will also void the coverage provided under this contract.” Other auto protection providers use similar terminology. Basically, if the automaker doesn’t like it, neither will an extended warranty company. However, Endurance offers coverage options for select aftermarket components (like lift kits and oversized or undersized wheels).

While not related to performance upgrades, you’ll notice in examining factory or extended warranty coverage that owners have other requirements. Among them is performing routine maintenance to keep your car in optimal running condition. Another element of the Magnussen-Moss law is that you’re not required to have this work done at a dealer. You can take it to any shop or even do the labor yourself. However, the work must be up to professional standards, and the components and supplies must meet manufacturer requirements.

Safe Performance Enhancements That Maintain Warranty Integrity

Certain popular modifications walk the line when it comes to preserving warranty protection. Equipment upgrades like cold air intakes and engine tunes offer noticeable horsepower and torque gains that improve straight-line acceleration. However, they also influence air/fuel ratios and emissions, alterations that could potentially void warranty claims if pushed too far.

However, there are performance workarounds that don’t conflict with most warranty coverage. It’s an approach that involves getting performance upgrade components from your car’s automaker. Many car companies have performance divisions that sell compatible parts.

Do you have a Mustang you’re looking to enhance? Chances are Ford has something that will meet your needs. The same goes for other brands, including Chevrolet, Dodge, Toyota, BMW, and Honda, to name a few.

Original equipment manufacturer (OEM) components are engineered to work within the standards and tolerances set by the automaker. There’s no worrying about having a car that’s “out-of-spec.” Depending on the manufacturer, these performance upgrades often cover the suspension, exhaust, and engine. You’ll pay a premium for OEM add-ons, but the benefit is compatibility with your car.

ECU Tuning and Software Updates: Navigating the Gray Area

Modern automobiles are rolling computers, which create opportunities to “hack” a car for better performance. An ECU (engine control unit) tune is a software modification that alters how a car’s computer controls aspects of engine operation.

The goal is to optimize these variables to safely generate more horsepower and torque. Properly tuned vehicles can see noticeable improvements in acceleration and efficiency. However, aggressive tunes that excessively push the engine beyond factory limits risk reducing reliability and longevity.

Professional tuners use specialized equipment to reprogram the factory settings, allowing more advanced control over things like timing, air fuel ratios, boost pressure, rev limits, and other parameters. You can also find dubious and inexpensive ECU tuner kits online that can be easily installed via the diagnostic port.

ECU tunes are a gray area when it comes to factory and extended warranty compliance. Making modifications to an engine may void coverage.* So, a car owner concerned with preserving warranty protection will want to skip this upgrade, no matter how tempting the effort.

Warranty-Friendly Upgrade #1: Factory ECU Tune

That said, there is a way to enjoy the benefits of an ECU tune without the worry. Many automakers offer their own ECU upgrades; Ford and Volvo are two examples. Not every manufacturer does this, but it’s worthwhile to determine if this modification is available for your car. Don’t expect extreme performance from a factory ECU tune. These offerings tend to provide a modest boost in horsepower and torque to ensure no resulting engine damage.

Exterior Upgrades: A Safe Bet for Warranty Preservation

One upgrade area that won’t cause a problem with warranty coverage is modifying your car’s exterior. These changes can range from appearance modifications to improved aerodynamics. Generally, any exterior change that doesn’t impact a mechanical system gets clearance as far as the warranty.

Warranty-Friendly Upgrade #2: Lighting

Changing your car’s exterior lighting won’t impact the warranty if you use quality components and don’t modify the electrical system. Perhaps you want improved headlights that illuminate farther than the factory units or prefer LED taillights for better noticeability. New lighting options are affordable and usually a DIY project.

Warranty-Friendly Upgrade #3: Cosmetic Changes

Swapping a grille or adding a graphics kit may not increase actual performance, but cosmetic upgrades can make your car look faster when thoughtfully applied. Call these types of mods “performance improvements in your mind.”

Warranty-Friendly Upgrade #4: Aerodynamics

Speaking of making your car look faster, a front air diffuser or rear spoiler will undoubtedly do the trick. However, there’s a practical purpose to these types of changes: improved aerodynamics. In truth, increased downforce or better airflow management won’t matter much on the street, but those who spend time on the track may notice a difference.

Exhaust System Modifications Within Warranty Limits

Changing the exhaust system is another popular modification, but owners must be cautious about the type of alteration. Generally, modifying anything exhaust-related between the engine and the catalytic converter should be avoided. X-pipe and H-pipe conversions can be appealing because of the extra horsepower and more distinctive exhaust notes, but these can also affect emissions and other systems. Instead, stick with post-catalytic converter (cat-back) changes.

Warranty-Friendly Upgrade #5: Cat-Back Exhaust

A cat-back exhaust system refers to the portion of the exhaust pipes and mufflers that run from behind the catalytic converter to the back of the vehicle. Aftermarket cat-back systems typically use larger-diameter tubing, less restrictive mufflers, and smoother routing than restrictive factory exhaust parts. The upgrades reduce back pressure, which allows engine exhaust to escape more freely. This boosts horsepower and torque while producing a deeper, more pronounced exhaust tone. Typically, a cat-back exhaust won’t cause warranty problems. However, checking with the dealer or warranty administrator before making any changes is always a good idea.

Warranty-Friendly Upgrade #6: Exhaust Tips

Exhaust tips are fittings mounted at the rear ends of exhaust pipes for mostly aesthetic purposes. Aftermarket tips come in various shapes, sizes, and designs to alter the visual appearance of the exhaust outlet. Popular options include carbon fiber, black chrome, and polished metal tips extending a few inches past the rear bumper. They simply bolt on to tailpipe ends, allowing easy customization of the rear styling cues. Some exhaust tips will also add a more throaty exhaust note.

Suspension Upgrades: Improving Handling Without Risk

Modifying the suspension is all about enhancing vehicle dynamics. Such steps can help with cornering or give the car a more solid feel. Often, such changes are accompanied by lowering the vehicle for a more aggressive look. When complying with a factory or extended warranty, you don’t want any suspension changes that require cutting into or welding factory components. Modifications that use existing fittings are the way to go. Review the warranty terms to confirm there are no restrictions on suspension upgrades.

Warranty-Friendly Upgrade #7: Shock Absorbers

Aftermarket shocks improve a vehicle’s handling and ride quality compared to what comes from the factory. Selecting higher quality components provides better damping, while some units allow a driver to customize the settings to meet their specific needs. The right shock absorber upgrade improves cornering, braking, ride comfort, and overall control.

Wheel and Tire Upgrades for Enhanced Performance and Safety

Wheels and tires remain one of the best ways to enhance a vehicle’s capabilities and appearance without jeopardizing warranty coverage. Ensure you buy quality components (wheels and tires greatly influence safety) and stay within the recommended size range for your car.

Warranty-Friendly Upgrade #8: Wheels

There are three key reasons to swap your car’s original wheels. Larger diameter rims and lower-profile tires improve handling and braking through better grip. Meanwhile, aftermarket wheels can be lighter, reducing weight and improving suspension response. In addition, custom wheels allow owners to add a personal touch to their cars.

Warranty-Friendly Upgrade #9: Tires

Owners looking to enhance a car’s handling and braking can often achieve these goals by upgrading to high-performance tires. Grippier rubber compounds and sophisticated tread patterns offer more traction, responsiveness, and control. Tire upgrades aren’t always about more engaging driving, as many owners have to deal with snowy and icy conditions. A dedicated set of winter tires can significantly improve traction, stability, and safety during extreme conditions.

Balancing Performance Upgrades with Extended Warranty Protection

Owning a car often involves compromise. Faster travel means being less fuel efficient. Getting more features and capabilities requires spending more money. The list of give and take is almost endless.

Likewise, choosing performance upgrades that don’t void warranty coverage involves striking a balance. That sophisticated ECU tune may dial up the horsepower and torque, but it won’t serve you well if the engine doesn’t have warranty protection. Instead, find a middle ground that meets both needs. Carefully weigh the risks versus the rewards when going beyond manufacturer specifications.

A reputable extended warranty company understands that enthusiasts enjoy modifying their rides and offers programs to accommodate certain upgrades. For example, Endurance provides coverage for vehicles with a suspension lift. There are other options as well.

The Ultimate Upgrade: Endurance Extended Warranty

As we’ve covered, there are many ways to upgrade your car. But none of these efforts protect against breakdowns and surprise repair bills. That’s why many car owners have enhanced their rides with an auto protection plan from Endurance.

There’s an option for just about every budget. Choose powertrain coverage for your car’s most essential systems, or select a comprehensive plan that comes close to a new car warranty. There are in-between programs that balance cost and protection.

Peace of mind also comes from standard benefits like 24/7 roadside assistance (with towing coverage and lockout assistance), rental car reimbursement, and trip interruption support. In addition, Endurance customers enjoy a 30-day free-look period. If you are dissatisfied with your coverage or the customer service we offer, you can cancel for a prompt refund of your payment. After that period, we allow cancellation at any time with a prorated refund (see plan terms for full details).

Discover all the advantages of Endurance Warranty by requesting a FREE online quote or visiting our online store for instant quote and coverage details. You can also call (800) 253-8203 for personalized assistance to speak with an Endurance plan advisor.

Review the Endurance blog for on-target articles about car care, DIY tips, vehicle reviews, warranty advice, and more.

Performance Upgrade FAQs

What performance mods don’t void a warranty?

Cat-back exhausts, wheels, tires, suspension, lighting, and exterior accessories like splitters typically don’t void warranties when installed properly. Manufacturer ECU tunes also maintain coverage.

Can I tune my car without voiding the warranty?

Aftermarket tunes may void engine warranty coverage. However, some automakers offer ECU tunes that provide mild performance gains without violating warranty terms.

What are some modifications that don’t void a car warranty?

Wheels, tires, shocks, cat-back exhausts, lighting, exterior styling upgrades, and manufacturer-approved parts/tunes allow added performance or customization without warranty conflicts.

Will adding a turbo to my car void my warranty?

Yes, installing an aftermarket turbocharger kit alters critical engine systems like air intake and emissions, changes that violate most factory warranty and extended warranty terms. It’s best to avoid this mod if warranty protection for the engine is essential.

Endurance provides a wide range of plans covering vehicle repairs and certain modifications. Please refer to your specific vehicle service contract for more details.

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