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Why The Interstate Battery Warranty is Worthless

…And its implications for Modern Consumerism

This is a tale of how even customer service with “good intentions” can sometimes have a deleterious effect on customer approval and long-term loyalty.

I can’t blame Interstate’s customer service rep(s) for how they acted; but it would be useful for Interstate to understand why this particular customer — my partner, Josh — chose to buy an entirely new non-Interstate battery when his Interstate battery died, even though he was eligible for a free, unconditional replacement under the Interstate battery warranty.

It is also a demonstration of how consumer attitudes have shifted and continue to shift beyond the behaviours expected by classical economics.

Not long ago, Josh found his Mazda RX-8 in an unstartable condition after about a month of garaging. He quickly tracked it down to a dead battery — which was curious, given that he’d only bought the battery about a year ago. Untroubled as he had an Interstate battery that was well within their much-vaunted warranty, and he still had the receipt, he proceeded to call around to find locations that would replace his battery.

The Interstate warranty is of course a lengthy and legalistic document, but it boils down to this: all batteries bought from Interstate which fail within a certain time period (depending on type and usage of battery) will be replaced free of charge. Simply take your dead battery with the receipt to any Interstate vendor — regardless of where you purchased it — and you’ll be provided with a new one.

Simple enough in theory. But as we quickly discovered, Interstate is not actually able to enforce their own warranty.

First Josh called up a local Firestone and asked if they would replace the dead battery. Firestone informed him that they wouldn’t give him a new battery unless he paid for 2 hours of labor. Since 2 hours of labor costs about double what a new battery costs, this course of action would be patently ridiculous.

Next he called Midas to see if they’d replace it. They told him they’d only replace an Interstate battery if he were holding a Midas receipt.

Finally, Josh called the local hardware store about a mile and a half from our place. They also refused to honor the warranty in their store since the Interstate battery hadn’t been purchased through them.

Annoyed, Josh went looking for their account on Twitter, didn’t find them, and posted a public gripe about Interstate batteries that was something along the lines of, “Interstate’s battery warranty is worthless. Firestone and Midas won’t replace.” Within minutes, a user known as @interstatebatts, which turned out to be the official voice of Interstate’s customer service division, told him that his battery should absolutely be replaced, and that Josh should contact Interstate more directly to remedy the situation.

Over Twitter and phone conversations, the situation was relayed, but not exactly remedied. Interstate appeared to have no interest in trying to hold their resellers and vendors to their stated warranty.

Instead, Interstate suggested to Josh that he go ahead and take the battery to Firestone — paying them for 2 hours labor — and that Interstate would reimburse him for that labor time. End result: Josh gets his battery replaced for free; Interstate spends 3 times what the battery is worth.

We Can’t Afford to Just Be Consumers Anymore

In the classical model of economics, a self-interested consumer like Josh would readily accept Interstate’s offer, seeing no downside.

But Josh is part of a new class of consumers who understand the idea of “voting with your dollar”, and it goes well beyond which brand of toilet paper you bring to the checkout line. There are several immediate downsides to the “resolution” Interstate brought to the table:

  1. Firestone would be rewarded for their ridiculous 2-hour-minimum policy to change the battery.
  2. Interstate would continue to be unable to enforce their warranty.
  3. The customer (Josh) would have no reason to believe he’d be able to get a new battery in the future without all of the nonsense implied by the resolution — namely, paying for the 2 hours of labor himself and then securing reimbursement from Interstate.

Josh looked at the options and decided not to enable the vendors in their bullying of Interstate, and not to encourage Interstate to bend over for them. And he realized his time in chasing down his due was worth more than the value of the product in question.

So in the end, Josh refused the offer, and bought a brand new non-Interstate battery at a chain auto parts store, which will honour his receipt at dozens of locations around the Bay Area.

And he swears never to buy an Interstate battery again, because even the best-intentioned customer service and warranty offers mean squat if they cause the consumer more hassle than the product is worth. His decision was rooted in a certain kind of “new self-interest” wherein consumers can see the web of consequences arising from a transaction and can vote with their dollars — or in this case, with their acceptance of customer service — on whether they’d like to live in a world that continues to operate in that way.

Interstate may have written up an “impressive warranty”, but it’s worthless without a business ecosystem willing and able to fulfil it.

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  • http://www.chuckmoulton.org/ Chuck Moulton

    What you are describing is the interplay of two phenomenon:
    1) search theory: you don’t search forever for the lowest possible
    price because you need to take into account the opportunity cost of
    your search time. rel="nofollow">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Search_theory
    2) price/quality trade-off: people don’t just buy the lowest price
    item because most items aren’t actually homogeneous; instead they
    consider quality too, which can include factors as diverse as
    craftsmanship and environmental impact. Nothing about his decision
    violates classical economic reasoning. Of course quality
    considerations and the above trade-offs are inherently subjective,
    so another person deciding to exercise the warranty wouldn’t be
    violating classical economic reasoning either. If the warranty were
    exercised by many people, Interstate could be driven out of
    business or made to stop offering such a stupid warranty. But it is
    much more likely that Interstate has insurance for its warranty
    paying premiums based on a risk analysis of the probability it will
    be exercised. That could introduce a moral hazard problem with
    Interstate not caring much about waste paid for labor. Interstate
    or the insurance company handling warranties could also earn some
    money implicitly from float: the time between when a customer pays
    for labor and when he is reimbursed, which can be thought of as an
    interest free loan to Interstate. Not wanting to give out interest
    free loans is why customers shouldn’t purchase rebate products and
    taxpayers ought to underpay their estimated taxes to avoid
    refunds.

    • National Chemical Supply .

      Horrible Product. Warranty, and Service, I can’t believe they sdo as well as they do, It really is redicukous,
      I am a car dealer and I have never seen one of there batteries work after 18 to 24 months , EVER !!!!!!!
      Buy a Die hard, Spen a couple bucks extra, and switch the battery if you sell car. I have a couple cars and Everytime
      I buy a cgeap 39 dollar battery at a dept store on sale it outlasts the interstate product Honest It does.

  • Dwilsonjr

    Just had a similar but different experience. I bought an Interstate battery for my ATV about 9- 10 months ago. about 3 months ago, the ATV would not turn over. I figured it was a dead battery and later hooked up my charger. Again, I did it later, using the guidelines in the Interstate paperwork. The battery would not turn over either time. I was concerned my charger could be bad so I unpacked another I had and tried again. No luck. I took the battery to the dealer and found it could not be recharged; it was and is dead. I called Interstate and was told that was life; admittedly the warranty is ONLY 6 months. This is a $100.00 battery, not a cheap date. For that price I expect more than 7 or 8 months of work. I would suggest that anyone thinking about this brand of battery rethink it. I will never buy another one and neither will anyone I get a chance to tell my story to, including my family.

  • Joe

    Josh’s experience is not typical. I know for a fact that most Interstate installers would replace the battery free of charge, after verifying the battery is actually defective and not simply discharged. It may require a minimal fee at the shop’s hourly labor rate because they have to bill for time spent resolving the issue. Two hours seems extreme though so I bet there was actually some degree of diagnostic testing performed on the vehicle as well. In contrast, the average part store employee, having very little knowledge of how a battery works, may be more willing to just simply replace an allegedly bad batter without charging a fee of any sort but that’s not the right thing to do if it is merely discharged. Something caused the battery to discharge and unless the real problem is fixed, the customer will be back again with the same issue. Time is money whether you are the business owner or a consumer. If Josh was reluctant to accept Interstate’s offer because of his speculation of a future repeat performance then he needs to not worry so much or else move out of California. I have heard too many stories told of do-it-yourself types returning “defective” parts to the parts store time and time again because they think they are getting bad parts, When in reality, the combination of their lack of experience, knowledge and aptitude are the real reasons why they have continued problems.

    • Anonymous

      “Josh’s experience is not typical.”

      Doesn’t matter. The fact that it happens at all (and Josh isn’t the only one!) means that the system Interstate wants people to believe in is not trustable.

      “Two hours seems extreme though so I bet there was actually some degree of diagnostic testing performed on the vehicle as well.”

      Go back and read what I actually wrote. Josh never took the car anywhere. He called around and was told that he had to commit to paying 2 hours of labor before they’d even look at his car.

  • oledawg

    After more than fifty-some years of experience in rebuilding and maintaining cars, I have learned the hard way to buy the cheapest battery available, because warranties are and generally have always been worthless.
    Even the cheapest battery is too expensive, thanks to the EPA’s onerous over-regulating, their excuse is to ‘save the environment’.

    It is also prudent, if one’s vehicle is not driven at least several times a week for at least ten or fifteen miles per use, the battery should be ‘topped off’ once per month.
    The longer a battery is neglected, the quicker it will eventually fail. Never leave a battery with less than 12 or so volts capacity for an extended period.
    A fully charged battery’s voltage is about 13.5 volts.

    Battery chargers are not expensive. Most chargers now on the market contain microchips that know better than I how to bring a battery back to full charge.
    When first started, the charger will analyze the battery, then begin with a reasonable ampere rate, and then reduce the rate as it approaches the battery’s maximum voltage.

    Also, by using a charger with a digital display, each time you top off a battery, it will show you the current voltage and the ampere rate it is using. You do not need to maintain extensive records, just use common sense and try to remember the voltage and rate the last time you topped it off. This isn’t rocket science here.
    When the battery is topped off, the charger will automatically shut down.

    I must warn, though, that inexpensive ‘trickle’ chargers will eventually ruin your battery, even those that offer an automatic start and stop charge.
    I will not go into the details here, but the issue concerns the build-up of residue on the battery plates.
    There is a lot of supporting data available if one researches the issue with an internet search or two.

  • Jerry Baldoz

    Interstate batteries and their warranty is crap. In Jan 2008 I bought a battery with a 75 mo warranty. Well after 54 months of use it died. I took it to the local Interstate shop and they told me it was bad; would not hold a charge and a new replacement battery would cost $118.00. I pointed out the fact that it still had 21 mos of warranty left. They then informed me that with the warranty credit it would only cost me $110. ARE YOU SHITTIN ME!!! with nearly 1/3 of the warrant left I get a whole frickin $8 credit towards a new battery. I can buy a cheap battery at Walmart for half that cost and it would probably last just a long if not longer.

    I will bad mouth Instate batteries to everyone I know and share my experience. Interstate Battery warranty? A rip off joke.

  • Holley99

    no one will warranty a interstate battery for warranty even tho thay claim nation wide warranty perfornance tire and wheel in brewton alabama ack like thay dont know you when you take an interstate battery back for warranty thay dont even know how to read the date on the battery so thay say so when you buy a battery from performance tire and wheel in brewton alabama u have no warranty

  • NOAHBADSHAW

    I will never buy another interstate battery. Warranty is no good and battery is no good. Dies after one season of use. If not charged every 30 days it eats itself up. According to the assistant to the president of interstate batteries. What a joke. DO NOT BUY INTERSTATE BATTERIES.

  • Minorkle

    This article is useless. If a car sits for a month, there is a good chance the battery will be dead. It can usually be recharged. It isn’t defective, Josh was. Also, why didn’t he take it back to where he bought it? That is SOP.

    • nthmost

      As a matter of fact, Josh HAD gone through the process of recharging the battery from his handy-dandy car battery charger, with disappointing results.

      But the workingness of the battery itself really isn’t all that relevant to my article. We’re assuming a broken battery and then looking at the business process around having the warranty on that battery actually honored.

      Why didn’t he take it back where he bought it? Because he lives in San Francisco, no longer in North Carolina.

      I don’t know what SOP means, but thanks for the insightful comment pointing out a couple of holes in my story.

      • Minorkle

        SOP = standard operating procedure

    • Mansgame

      Sorry that’s just ignorant. If the battery is healthy, all it needs is a jump and it will be back to normal. Besides, how long do you think the batteries at Autozone sit there without losing their charge? Nice strawman though. The original point is that there is no way to cover their warranty and that is why sadly I’ve had to get my batteries from a chain store as well. They are the only ones who sell that brand so they can’t deny warranty even if you lost your receipt which happens given that it’s on a piece of thermal paper that fades.

  • Tiredofidiots

    you are not in the here & now. if you had the prescience of mind and a morsel of common sense, you might not have belabored us with too much fukin’ info.. wake up.

    • Mansgame

      you sound like you work at firestone or interstate

    • nthmost

      You probably meant “presence” of mind. “Prescience” wouldn’t exactly support your point.

  • Tiredofidiots

    buffoons i say…

  • Andyret

    Thanks for the heads up… am in need of two Group 65 batteries for my 2000 Ford superduty….. was a bit put off several days ago that I would have to travel some 90 miles for getting an internet price quote.. the catch is that I would have to bay 24 dollar installation fee…. it was not clear if that was for both batteries or 24 dollars for each one… now in light of this report of their fraudulent warranty claim procedure… I think I will research an alternative battery replacement. Thanks.

  • Gaige

    We are a shop that replaces batteries… #1 Battery that fails early in our experience is Interstate.. Next Napa.. although I have heard they have a new supplier now.
    From what we have seen, I would never buy Interstate..

    • Gaige

      As a follow up…. The longest lasting batteries we see in our shop are Motorcraft and AC/Delco… Most of these batteries we pull out are 7-10 years old and have pulled a Motorcraft over 12 years old.. Just pulled an AC/Delco today from a Bonneville that was 11 years old. Part of the reason for the long life of this battery was the fact it is mounted under the rear seat away from the heat of the engine compartment.

  • JEFF

    You have to remember one thing Johnson control only warranties BAD defects made in processing NOT in “oopsie daisy” I left the door open and drained the “fish tank”of power and think that a cup will get it refilled again. over the years this WAS the leeway but now losses are through the roof with abuse and stolen batteries given for warranties when never purchased is now hurting the mfg and the consumer so now the hurt and tight belt is held by the consumer . Which it shouldn’t but if people understood their mistakes and took care of their products . Make sure that water levels where up to right ratios and keys weren’t left on etc. etc. then things would be cheaper but we rather abuse, discard and cheat warranties not to pay or abuse customer / business relations. And now price increases are even more hurtful but I have knowledge about what I need to know about batteries and what it takes to take care of them .. And not worry about abuse of warranties and figure out good discounts on batteries

  • Ron Stevens

    So let get this straight. Interstate not only responds to his twitter comment when clearly he should have just called the Interstate Batt customer service line LISTED ON THE BATT. But they offer to cover the cost of installation which is beyond great customer service (your boy couldn’t just swap the battery and put it in himself?). Yet he still doesn’t approve of them? Do you know how many places sell interstate batteries? it’s impossible for them to enforce it on all of them. Did you even look to see if there was an offical interstate batt store? I have 3 within 5 miles of me that will swap the batt for free! Even AAA has a contract with interstate where they will swap the batt for you provided you use their services! This rant is not warranted (get it? lol) I love my interstate battery and have been provided with service equal to this experience which I believe to be phenomenal. The fact that they were willing to pay for Labor is a cut above the rest!

  • Argyll12

    I had one Interstate battery last seven years and the current one in my car is over 6 years old (a 75-month battery in month 75).