The timing has made some retailers suspicious.
The clawback unfolds as parent company Nissan Motor Co. of Yokohama, Japan, is in financial turmoil. The company has forecast an operating loss of $4.5 billion for the fiscal year, ending March 31, 2021. Nissan executives are scrambling to find ways to tighten up company finances.
"Nissan has lost more money than they've ever lost in 20 years," said one dealer who said he was recently charged back about $60,000 in warranty claims. "It's an easy way for them to get cash."
Some of the dealers, who spoke with Automotive News on condition that they not be identified, said the new audits are tending toward nitpicking, calling for repayment for infractions such as incomplete paperwork.
"They certainly don't seem to be accommodating with a reasonable man's approach to doing a warranty audit at a dealership," said one retailer, who is facing a $40,000 chargeback. "Typically, warranty audits are looking for fraud. They're not looking for 'Did you time-punch everything to perfection?'?"
Another dealer faced $30,000 in chargebacks because a warranty ticket wasn't signed by the service manager. "But the service manager created the RO [repair order], his name's on top of the RO," the dealer said.
Nissan says the audits are meant to ensure dealerships comply with the factory's processes. The automaker has also stepped up dealership employee education to increase awareness about common infractions, Parman noted.
"Auditors are not looking for administrative or clerical errors," he said. "They are not looking to nickel-and-dime anybody. They are looking for significant policy issues that are often state statutes and safety-related."
Dealership audits by manufacturers also serve a larger purpose. The investigations can alert dealers to rogue employees committing fraud or help retailers address errors in their claim submission process.
But audits also can become a "revenue center" for automakers, said dealer attorney Richard Sox, managing partner at Bass Sox Mercer of Tallahassee, Fla.
"It's a tremendous transfer of wealth from dealers to the manufacturer," Sox said. "Auditors have admitted their instructions are to make sure they pay for themselves in regards to their findings. So they have to dig things up."