Thinking of moving? Your warranty might not be coming with you.

by Michael Satterfield

A poll conducted in late 2019 by the University of California at Berkeley found over fifty percent of California voters were considering leaving the state due to the high cost of housing, heavy taxation, or political culture. I myself, a native Californian, officially left in 2018 for many of the same reasons. But now with COVID-19 fundamentally changing the way people live and work, heightened political tensions, and months of civil unrest, many people are looking towards smaller communities and even other states for a change of lifestyle.  

While some people have been planning for years to move, many are making decisions to move in a matter of weeks. Priorities like finding housing, changing addresses, figuring out licenses, and sorting out schools mean that most people simply load up their cars and head to their new home state. For most car owners they are just excited that they are going to be paying less in registration fees or perhaps lower insurance costs. The last thing on their mind is the fact that moving may end up voiding part of their factory warranty. I know it wasn't something that occurred to me... until last week when I took my BMW in for service at the local dealer here in College Station, Texas.

The issue starts with the California Air Resources Board, better known as CARB, who began offering credits to auto manufacturers to produce Partial Zero-Emission Vehicles or PZEVs. What this essentially means is that these PZEV's had zero evaporative emissions from their fuel tanks as well as other emissions equipment that made them cleaner than their standard counterpart. BMW's under this program were designated Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicles or SULEV, and in 2003 BMW offered SULEV vehicles for the first time in California, New York, and Massachusetts, in 2004 Vermont began offering SULEV BMWs and a few other states would follow in subsequent years. Part of the deal with the SULEV, PZEV, or other specialty emissions classed vehicles is that manufacturers had to provide 15 year/150,000 mile warranty on emissions-related parts and service. 

For BMW this includes the 128i, 328i, 430i, I3 REX, and dozens of other models that are classified as SULEV or PZEV. One of the selling points of my BMW daily driver was that as a SULEV it had this warranty that covered a number of parts from coil packs to o2 sensors, with the car having just 48,000 original miles on the clock it meant I had at least some coverage for over 100,000 miles and until 2026. While living in California I would take the car into the local dealer for everything, oil changes, battery, because I wanted to make sure that I had all the service records to protect the warranty on my daily driver. It paid off too when the car needs a full set of new coil packs it was covered, even some minor oil leaks were covered by the SULEV warranty. But then I started to crisscross the country looking for other places to possibly move to, and I ended up settling on Texas. 

After moving to Texas I continued to have my service work done at the closest BMW dealership and a few weeks ago once a service engine soon light appeared on the dash. I pulled out my scanner and discovered it was an O2 sensor and figured since it is covered I should just take it into BMW of College Station. At this point, I still have six years and over 70,000 miles of SULEV coverage. I booked my appointment online and even included in my note about the SULEV warranty in the information section.

Once arriving at the dealership the service writer seemed worried or annoyed, he said he was looking into my warranty and asked me to grab a seat. I wandered over to the sales department to inquire about a new SUV as the lease is up in a few months on my wife's car and we had been looking at a BMW or Mercedes to replace it. I chatted with a nice sales lady, keeping an eye for the service writers, I told her what we were looking for, got her card, and returned to the waiting area to figure out if I was going to need a ride or not. 

After about 20 minutes the service writer appeared, he told me that my SULEV warranty was no longer valid because the car, while it was sold in California, is now registered in Texas. "Texas doesn't cover that and in fact, until you asked about it, I had never even heard of it," he said. I asked the service writer how it could be that my car with specific SULEV parts and warranty isn't covered any longer simply because I moved. He couldn't provide an answer, but he said he would call BMW Corporate, look into it, and give me a call the following Monday with an answer. He never called back, I guess it was just too much hassle to look up the information, or perhaps they just felt it wasn't going to be a big enough service bill, who knows.

So after reaching out to a friend who happens to be a former BMW employee, I was able to get a definitive answer. He sent over the original warranty information where I found that in 2011 BMW changed the language on their SULEV warranty, prior to 2011 the warranty was applicable to all vehicles "sold, leased, and/or registered in California" and nine additional states. But in 2011 BMW dropped the "sold and/or leased" from the language requiring that the vehicle be registered in a handful of SULEV states to exercise the warranty. 

This made me wonder if other manufacturers were also dropping warranty coverage based on registration and found that Honda, Volkswagen, and nearly all other manufacturers, require registration in a SULEV state. While it appears that Nissan and a few others will cover your vehicle in 50 states but only in the event that it fails a California emissions test or equivalent. Since the warranty is for a rolling 15 years, there are potentially hundreds of thousands of vehicles on the road going back 2005/2006 that may still have coverage that will be affected by moving to a non-California compliant state. 

This dueling standard has led to the fight between California and the Federal Government forcing automakers to take sides over emissions standards.  General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, and others have sided with the feds, while Nissan, Hyundai, Subaru, Maserati, and others have sided with allowing states like California to make their own rules, which now includes their plan to phase out the sale of gasoline-powered cars by 2035. If you aren't living in California, these standards may still affect you,  since Connecticut and the other SULEV states passed a law in 2004 that couples their standards with any changes that California makes. Meaning unless something changes, the sale of gasoline-powered vehicles would be outlawed in all SULEV states in just fifteen years. 

So if you are moving out of California, Connecticut, Main, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, or Washington, and you aren't moving into another SULEV state, you may want to check your warranty before you register your vehicle as you might just be signing away some of your coverage. 

I did reach out to BMW North America for comment about what prompted the change in 2011 but they have not replied. 

7 Comments

  1. This was a story worth telling! Something that I’ve spoken about, but somehow never put it to paper.

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  2. Too bad none of the warranties transfer to Texas! �� Do Californians know they can't buy Teslas in Texas? And I hear the CA outbound transfer tax is pricey.

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  3. Very odd. As my experience with this, as an o2 sensor being an emission item, should be covered for 100k. Last I checked that was a federal requirement.
    But honestly, losing that warranty, it's worth getting out of Cali.
    Only people I know want to be there, are the ones on govt assistance.

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    1. BMW Warranty:
      4 year/50K Comprehensive
      12 Year/ Unlimited Miles For Rust
      2 Year/ 24KFederal Emissions
      3 Year/50K California Emissions
      10 Year/150K or 8 Year/100K SULEV

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  4. I did not know that was a thing. That’s remarkably customer unfriendly.

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