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Car Warranty Guide: What's Covered on Your New or Used Vehicle

By Stephen Fogel, July 19, 2018

A good car warranty can take a lot of the stress out of auto repair. Whether you purchased a new car, a certified pre-owned one, or sprung for an extended warranty, many of the problems that can crop up with your ride will be covered by these policies.

car warranty guide

But there are different warranties, they don’t cover everything, and in most cases they eventually expire. It’s easy to forget what qualifies for coverage and when. 

Let’s to through the differences between the many warranties that come with new cars, or you can skip ahead to read about extended warranties or warranties for used cars. We've also listed the new-car warranty information by carmaker at the end.

New car warranties 

When you purchase a new car, truck or SUV, it comes with several different warranties that apply to different parts of the vehicle, for varying amounts of time and mileage. Every new car comes with a warranty booklet that will explain exactly what your coverage is.

The “bumper-to-bumper” warranty

The bumper-to-bumper warranty is also known as a comprehensive warranty. It covers most of the vehicle against manufacturing or functional defects. Depending on the carmaker, the bumper-to-bumper warranty will usually have a term between three years or 36,000 miles (whichever comes first) and six years or 72,000 miles.

Keep in mind that the bumper-to-bumper warranty does not cover wear items, or normal wear-and-tear from your use of the vehicle. Items like brake pads, windshield wipers, body damage, broken glass, and fabric wear are not covered by this warranty, unless they’re found to be the result of a manufacturing defect. 

Other items in your vehicle can have warranties of different types and lengths. Stereos, navigation systems and touchscreens may have shorter warranties, and tires usually come with their own manufacturer’s warranties.

» LEARN MORE: How to tell if your car is under warranty

The powertrain warranty

Your powertrain warranty is separate from your bumper-to-bumper warranty. It covers most items involved in the propulsion of the vehicle. This usually includes:

There are related items that won’t be included in the powertrain warranty, such as fluids, belts and electrical and electronic components, which may be covered under your bumper-to-bumper warranty.

The powertrain warranty usually lasts longer than the bumper-to-bumper warranty, with the exception of most European luxury brands.

Other warranties for new cars

The bumper-to-bumper and powertrain warranties are the best-known, but there are a few other warranties on that brand-new car of yours.

Emissions warranty: This typically comes with two components — a two-year/24,000-mile part that covers repairs and adjustments needed to pass the smog check, and an eight-year/80,000-mile protection policy that covers replacement of defective parts. This can come in very handy should your catalytic converter go out early, as it’s a pricey part.

Rust or corrosion warranty: Depending on the carmaker, this covers either corrosion or rusting-through (or both) of the car’s sheet metal for anywhere from three to 10 years. If the coverage is for rust-through issues, that means there will actually have to be holes in the metal. It can be extra valuable in places with rough winters, where the roads are regularly salted.

Battery warranty: On gas-powered cars, the battery typically has its own manufacturer’s warranty. On hybrid or electric vehicles, the battery is considered part of the emissions system and is covered for at least eight years.

» LEARN MORE: Is your warranty expired? Get a fair estimate for your car repair

New-car warranties by carmaker


Manufacturer Bumper-to-Bumper Warranty Powertrain Warranty
Acura 4 years / 50,000 miles 6 years / 70,000 miles
Audi 4 years / 50,000 miles 4 years / 50,000 miles
BMW 4 years / 50,000 miles 4 years / 50,000 miles
Buick 4 years / 50,000 miles 6 years / 70,000 miles
Cadillac 4 years / 50,000 miles 6 years / 70,000 miles
Chevrolet 3 years / 36,000 miles 5 years / 60,000 miles
Chrysler 3 years / 36,000 miles 5 years / 60,000 miles
Dodge 3 years / 36,000 miles 5 years / 60,000 miles
Fiat 4 years / 50,000 miles 4 years / 50,000 miles
Ford 3 years / 36,000 miles 5 years / 60,000 miles
GMC 3 years / 36,000 miles 5 years / 60,000 miles
Honda 3 years / 36,000 miles 5 years / 60,000 miles
Hyundai 5 years / 60,000 miles 10 years / 100,000 miles
Infiniti 4 years / 60,000 miles 6 years / 70,000 miles
Jaguar 5 years / 60,000 miles 5 years / 60,000 miles
Jeep 3 years / 36,000 miles 5 years / 60,000 miles
Kia 5 years / 60,000 miles 10 years / 100,000 miles
Land Rover 4 years / 50,000 miles 4 years / 50,000 miles
Lexus 4 years / 50,000 miles 6 years / 70,000 miles
Lincoln 4 years / 50,000 miles 6 years / 70,000 miles
Mazda 3 years / 36,000 miles 5 years / 60,000 miles
Mercedes-Benz 4 years / 50,000 miles 4 years / 50,000 miles
Mini 4 years / 50,000 miles 4 years / 50,000 miles
Mitsubishi 5 years / 60,000 miles 10 years / 100,000 miles
Nissan 3 years / 36,000 miles 5 years / 60,000 miles
Porsche 4 years / 50,000 miles 4 years / 50,000 miles
Smart 4 years / 50,000 miles 4 years / 50,000 miles
Subaru 3 years / 36,000 miles 5 years / 60,000 miles
Toyota 3 years / 36,000 miles 5 years / 60,000 miles
VW 6 years / 72,000 miles 6 years / 72,000 miles
Volvo 4 years / 50,000 miles 4 years / 50,000 miles

 

How to use your warranties and not void them 

Having a warranty is easy. Keeping and using one requires more thought and commitment. Here’s how to keep from voiding your coverage.

Read and understand your warranty

Get the warranty booklet out and read it thoroughly. Understand what is covered and what isn’t, and for how long. Understand the exclusions, and read all the fine print. By knowing what’s what, you can avoid surprises at the dealership or missing out on a free repair.

Service your vehicle properly

Your new vehicle comes with a service guide. This booklet lists the recommended maintenance procedures and intervals, in time or mileage. Don’t ignore them — they’re important for the health of your car and the life of your warranty.

You’re required to have these specified maintenance services done to keep your warranties in effect. They don’t have to be done by a dealer, but you must have them done, and you must retain your service records. Otherwise, you risk having a warranty claim denied simply because you couldn’t prove that the necessary maintenance was done. 

If you have a warranty-related problem, deal with it immediately

If your car starts showing symptoms of a problem, your first reaction might be to ignore it and hope it gets better. But it pretty much never does. 

If you’re under warranty, call the dealer right away and have it properly diagnosed. If the issue is covered, then the repair should cost you nothing. But if you keep driving with the problem, it could cause damage to other components, which may not be covered. Delaying the repair could cost you a lot.

What’s more, if you’re getting close to the end of your warranty, the clock is ticking. Get the issue fixed now, before the term expires and you no longer have coverage.

Don’t misuse your vehicle

Most warranties will not cover your vehicle if it has been used for racing, heavy-duty off-roading or other extremes. Your warranty booklet will spell these things out.

Don’t roll back your odometer

This is very difficult to do with today’s electronic odometers, but not impossible. Keep in mind that it’s easy to check vehicle histories online, and just as easy to get caught. Plus, it’s illegal.

Watch how much you modify your vehicle

If you like to “upgrade” your vehicle’s performance, you should be aware that this could void your warranty. There’s a big gray area here. If the dealer can prove that a modification you made led to engine, transmission or suspension damage, you’ll be on the hook for repairs. 

Still planning on modifications? Check the online forums for your specific vehicle. You may be able to locate a local performance upgrade-friendly dealer that can help you stay on the right side of your warranty.

Fight back if you were treated unfairly

If you believe that you had a warranty claim denied for no good reason, here are a few strategies to try, in order of escalation: 

  • Talk to the head of the service department
  • Try another dealer
  • Contact the manufacturer
  • Contact the state agency that oversees auto repairs — for instance, https://www.bar.ca.gov/
  • Contact the attorney general’s office in your state
  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission 

Should you get an extended warranty?

All the above warranties are helpful, but they do run out. Considering the average car on the road in the U.S. is more than 11 years old, three years isn’t that much time. That’s why there are extended warranties, also called vehicle service contracts. They’ll cover you for longer, but will cost you money upfront.

An extended warranty will typically cover repairs that are not covered or no longer covered by the manufacturer’s warranties. Each extended warranty is different, and covers different problems. Deductibles are typically required, which will also vary. There may also be several different “levels” of extended warranties available, with different types of coverage and deductibles at escalating price points. 

Reasons to get an extended warranty

There are some very good reasons to consider an extended warranty for your vehicle:

  • You plan to keep your vehicle long after the manufacturer’s warranties expire
  • Your vehicle has poor to fair reliability ratings
  • Your vehicle has high repair costs
  • Your budget can’t handle a big repair bill 

Many extended warranties are sold at the time of the new-car purchase. This is largely because the cost of the extended warranty can be rolled into the monthly payments, making it more affordable, and the dealer makes a lot of profit on an extended warranty.

Like everything else in the new-car transaction, you’re free to negotiate a lower price on your extended warranty. Also keep in mind that you can buy an extended warranty at any time before your warranty expires. Don’t feel pressured to buy one along with the initial vehicle purchase, especially if you’re not sure how long you’ll own the vehicle.

Buyer beware

It’s important to do your homework when shopping for this type of coverage. Many fly-by-night extended warranty companies have taken consumers’ money and then disappeared before any claims could be paid.

The safest extended warranties have a vehicle manufacturer’s name on them. If the carmaker is willing to put its name on the extended warranty, it should be reputable and reliable, and will be there if and when you need it. Read the contract thoroughly before you sign, and understand the terms and conditions.

Another benefit of the manufacturer’s extended warranty is that repairs will be made by factory-authorized technicians who know your car. If a dealer doesn’t offer the manufacturer’s extended warranty, check with other dealers. Some manufacturers sell their extended warranties online. Shop around.

Extended warranties are also sold by insurance companies, dealer groups and auto clubs. If the extended warranty isn’t backed by the manufacturer, you have some homework to do. First, get a copy of the contract and understand the coverage.

Then research the company online and check for customer reviews and any lawsuits brought against it. Check their Better Business Bureau rating. Check with your state’s attorney general’s website or office as well.

Another point to be aware of is who will be repairing your vehicle when you make a claim. Is it a shop that is convenient and highly rated? Also check whether claims are paid directly, or if you will have to pay upfront and then wait to get reimbursed. Avoid warranties that make you pay and wait.

When should you not buy an extended warranty?

  • There are also some very good reasons not to buy an extended warranty:
  • You’re leasing the vehicle and will return it before the warranty runs out
  • You plan to sell or trade the car before the warranty runs out
  • You purchased a vehicle with high reliability ratings and reasonable repair costs
  • You have the resources to cover a large repair bill if necessary 

Like many types of insurance coverage, extended warranties are often bought for peace of mind. But if you end up never using it, that’s money down the drain. A Consumer Reports survey revealed that 55% of vehicle owners who had bought extended warranties never used them, and that 75% of those who purchased them said they would never do so again. And for most car owners who actually used their extended warranty coverage, they spent more on their extended warranty than they saved on repairs.

As an alternative, you could instead put the amount you would pay for that extended warranty into a savings account earmarked specifically for car issues. If you need repairs, the money is there. And if you don’t, you’ve saved up some funds for your next vehicle purchase.  

Used-car warranties

Used cars present a different scenario. While all new cars are essentially alike, no two used cars are quite the same.

They’ve all been driven differently, in different places and climates, and were subject to their owners when it came to regular — or irregular — maintenance and care.

And now you are planning to buy one. A used-car warranty sounds like a pretty good idea, doesn’t it? Here are your options.

» LEARN MORE: These are the most reliable car brands 

Certified pre-owned: The cream of the crop

Certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicles are the top-tier used cars, and are usually found at auto dealerships.

A certified pre-owned vehicle is typically one that was leased for a few years and then returned to the dealer. It could also be a service loaner or an executive car. In any event, these are lightly used, low-mileage cars that must pass a comprehensive inspection, and be in like-new condition.

These cars come with an excellent, manufacturer-backed warranty, which is usually for a longer term than the original new-car warranty. Granted, a certified pre-owned vehicle will cost a bit more than a regular used car, but the difference is usually worth it.

Not all CPO warranties are the same

The warranties that come with certified pre-owned cars can vary between manufacturers. Read the fine print and compare. You can also ask to see the checklist of items included in each carmaker’s certification process. These lists will also vary between manufacturers.

Deductibles and transferability will differ from brand to brand. There may also be a requirement that all scheduled maintenance must be performed to keep your warranty valid. 

Warranties for other used vehicles

If you’re looking at a used car that’s older or with higher mileage, and does not qualify for CPO status, how can you protect yourself?

A used-car warranty can help. A version of the extended warranties exists to protect used cars, too. A warranty of this type can protect you from some of the potential problems that can crop up in used cars that are older, and much more used, than your average certified pre-owned vehicle. 

The same precautions apply to used-car warranties

Once again, it’s buyer beware. You need to make sure you’re paying a realistic price, getting sufficient coverage for the items that are likely to be expensive to fix, and buying it from a reputable company whose claims process will work for you. Shop around for the best legitimate coverage at the best price. And never buy an extended warranty without reading the contract first. 

Of course, having a used-car warranty is small consolation if the ride is constantly in the shop. When purchasing a used vehicle, your first line of defense should be a thorough knowledge of that car’s history.

Inspect its service records. Check its vehicle history report for service appointments, accidents, number and location of owners, and open recalls. Above all, have your mechanic inspect it thoroughly before you buy it. Research its long-term reliability, and look for expensive repairs that may occur while you own it. Then, if you still want to buy it, search for warranty coverage that will cover you if these issues occur. Alternatively, you can look for a brand that is more trouble-free in the long term.

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