The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act And Other Ins & Outs Of Motorcycle Warranties

Legalities, Terms, Conditions, and Two Wheels

Give some grizzled riders half a chance, and they'll bend your ear forever about motorcycle failures in the bad old days. Seized engines. Holed pistons. Transmissions or rear drives suddenly locked up.

Not so much anymore. Overall quality of motorcycles has progressed hugely over the past decades, and warranty issues crop up far less often. So why do manufacturers offer warranties? And should you need to pursue a warranty issue, what might you want to know ahead of time?

First off, understand that written warranties are not required by law. Warranties are an extra-value sales tool, used by manufacturers to foster buyer confidence with a promise to stand behind the product. However, once that promise is extended, written warranties in the US become bound by law—the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, to be specific. Passed by Congress in 1975, Magnuson-Moss not only ensures full access to warranty information, but it also allows consumers to comparison-shop warranties, encourages warranty competition, and promotes quick and complete fulfillment of warranty obligations.

In real life, the fruits of Magnuson-Moss can be seen as online warranty descriptions and three- or five-year warranties attached to deluxe-model bikes instead of the one-year factory warranties on run-of-the-mill motorcycles. Also, you may be offered extended service contracts—sometimes called “extended warranties”—at time of purchase. But true warranties are included in the price of the product, while service contracts are separate, cost-extra products.

In general, warranties cover mechanical failures resulting from defects in materials or factory workmanship under normal use, so the purchaser will not incur out-of-pocket costs. Wear items such as tires, batteries, bulbs, chains or drive belts, clutch plates, spark plugs, filters, etc. are not covered. Should you sell your motorcycle, the warranty transfers to the new owner, assuming that the coverage period has not expired and you’ve complied with all terms and conditions of the warranty.

Ahh—terms and conditions. This is where things might get crosswise. In truth, the typical terms and conditions of a warranty are quite reasonable and should serve a prudent rider well. The fact that you’re reading this magazine indicates you have an interest in the sport, want to learn more about motorcycling, and will likely care for your two-wheeled pride and joy—as opposed to those who will purposely thrash their bikes then cry “foul” and try to finagle free fixes under warranty.

Usually, the warranty only applies if: the bike has been fully assembled and set to manufacturer’s operating specifications by an authorized dealer; the owner has followed proper break-in and storage procedures; the owner can provide record of maintenance having been performed as recommended; and the odometer has not been altered. In addition, a warranty will not cover the repair of damage resulting from owner abuse, lack of proper maintenance, or neglect.

Double ahh—abuse or neglect. This is where perceptions might run wild. But you can usually identify abuse and neglect when you see it. Most manufacturers list: racing or competition use; modification of original parts; abnormal strain; use of improper lubricants, oils, fuel and fuel additives; improperly installed accessories; use of non-factory parts or accessories; damage as a result of accidents or collisions; water submersion; and use of the motorcycle after discovery of a defect.

In short, if you properly maintain your stock motorcycle and correctly add factory-approved accessories, manufacturers will stand behind their products. As well they should. If you add an aftermarket exhaust to boost power and noise, re-flash your ECU, swap camshafts, or perform other such changes, you’re on your own. (This doesn’t mean you will be denied warranty coverage, but you could be.) You might be tempted to put the bike back to stock after a failure, but even an entry-level dealership tech can tell the difference between bolts untouched from factory assembly versus those that have been twirled off and on again.

Still and all, nobody’s perfect. Perhaps one of the people who assembled your motorcycle had a bad Monday because his dog died over the weekend. Stuff happens, and we’re all human. Manufacturers understand that and will stand behind their products. Modern motorcycles have grown to become very reliable machines, but there are plenty of riders who will never look at the drive chain, change the engine oil, or even attempt to locate the air filter.

Some of the truisms spouted by those grizzled veteran riders still hold today, including, “Take care of your bike and it will take care of you.” And should you need an extra bit of help, check out your bike’s warranty.