Question Of The Day: Should Manufacturers Be Held Liable For Lifetime Fluids?

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
question of the day should manufacturers be held liable for lifetime fluids

Some cars out there are as rough as a wore out mop.

It always pains me to see them because there are so many folks in this world who are all too happy to own a car. Even one that may seem to be worth more dead than alive by the present idiot driving it.

My father was a food importer for 60 years. I got to see a lot of this world and, to be frank, our society is a bit spoiled by the inherent affluence within it.

What some destroy, others would cherish.

However, there is one screw-up that always ticks me off to no end in the car business because it’s based on false information. The one where the manufacturer plays a game with the future reliability of their vehicle in exchange for a potential accolade known as low ownership costs.

The lifetime fluid. To me it’s a false promise that has cost too many people, too much money, to no fault of their own. Let’s start with that simple word, lifetime, and weigh in the full effect of that word.

Lifetime is a pretty simple word where I grew up. Two syllables. One unmistakable connotation.

Lifetime means the duration of a person’s or thing’s existence. From beginning to end. There is no intermission. No limit to the lifespan. What starts must be finished. No matter how long or short it may be.

Yet certain fluids get a complete pass on this concept. Thanks to a nice meeting of the minds between the manufacturer’s legal team and the marketeers who go about promoting what is in essence, a lie.

Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Volvo, Toyota, GM, Ford, Mazda, Chrysler. The list of manufacturers that have signed onto the lifetime fluid line is now as long, as the number of affordable replacements for their older defective parts is short.

For example, I have a lot of trouble finding a good transmission for many older vehicles these days that were sealed with lifetime fluids. Even those components whose production runs number well into the six-digits.

Why? Because these transmissions were given maintenance schedules that had no remote connection with reality. In the end, tens of thousands of owners got screwed because they took faith in the automaker’s lifetime fluid and the maintenance schedule that removed the need to service it.

The manufacturer walked away with the profits, and a guarantee that is inherently deceptive and insincere. There is no other way of putting it.

When you say the word “lifetime” to someone, they don’t think about five years or, in the case of a car, 100,000 miles.

They think, “Oh. I will never have to worry about this. Great!” The owner gets to rave about the minimal service required over the first five years and the manufacturer may even find an extra industry award or two to advertise due to their supposed low ownership costs.

A warranty is most definitely a warranty, with limits and specifics. A deal is a deal. However when you use the word “lifetime” to describe the durability of a product, that word has a strong and obvious guarantee within it.

You are stating, in a brutally blunt manner, that the fluid will remain useful and defect free for the entire life of the vehicle.

What would be a reasonable solution to the idea of a lifetime fluid? Pretty simple really. Just have it walk the walk.

Approximately .01% of trade-ins these days will last 500,000 miles. If your vehicle’s component can last that long, and you are willing to warranty that guarantee, then bless you for truly changing the economics of ownership.

Please step up to the microphone of American advertising, shout out that sacred word known as lifetime, and put your amazing product on a durability level with other true lifetime products such as the Ginsu knife and the Garden Weasel.

If it can’t, then don’t. Just let folks know the truth about the useful life of your products. If this concept is too hard to contemplate for the unethical and amoral, then maybe we need to put forth new laws that will protect consumers from this bastardization of the English language.

In today’s courts, the right for individuals to sue is but a pittance compared to the right of large corporations and governments to screw them into a financial corner well before a court can put the case before a grand jury. Life may not be perfect or fair. But there is a completeness to that word lifetime and it should be honored.

Lifetime should mean the lifetime of it’s use. You say it as a seller and the product breaks, you pay for it along with everything else that got broke because of it.

Should manufacturers be held liable for lifetime fluids? I’ve already pounded my personal opinion into a fine red mist. So what’s yours?

Author’s Note: I can be reached at

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2 of 106 comments
  • PandaBear PandaBear on Jun 02, 2014

    I suspect one of the major reason for lifetime fluid is lazy engineering, so they don't have to design components that can be easily serviced. Instead of going back to the drawing board they just call it lifetime and kick the can down.

  • SaulTigh SaulTigh on Jun 02, 2014

    This article reminded me that I had been planning to have the transmission fluid changed on my 2008 MKZ. This has an Aisin-Warner 6-speed and specifies a very specific kind of fluid so I decided to let my local Ford Dealership do it today. $183 out the door for a full flush with the machine and a fill. Drives like a new car. I bought it with 47k on the clock and it has 81k now, and it's never shifted as smoothly as it does now. The original fluid was supposed to be "lifetime."

  • ToolGuy Seems pretty reasonable to me. (Sorry)
  • Luke42 When I moved from Virginia to Illinois, the lack of vehicle safety inspections was a big deal to me. I thought it would be a big change.However, nobody drives around in an unsafe car when they have the money to get their car fixed and driving safely.Also, Virginia's inspection regimine only meant that a car was safe to drive one day a year.Having lived with and without automotive safety inspections, my confusion is that they don't really matter that much.What does matter is preventing poverty in your state, and Illinois' generally pro-union political climate does more for automotive safety (by ensuring fair wages for tradespeople) than ticketing poor people for not having enough money to maintain their cars.
  • ToolGuy When you are pulled over for speeding, whether you are given a ticket or not should depend on how attractive you are.Source: My sister 😉
  • Kcflyer What Toyota needs is a true full size body on frame suv to compete with the Expedition and Suburban and their badge engineered brethren. The new sequoia and LX are too compromised in capacity by their off road capabilities that most buyers will never use.
  • ToolGuy Rock crushes scissors, scissors cut paper, paper covers rock, and drywall dents sheet metal.