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

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 go 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.

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 service plan?

All the above warranties are helpful, but they do run out. The average age of a car on the road is over 11 years old. That’s why there are extended service plans, also called vehicle service contracts. They’ll cover you for longer, but will cost you money up front — or, if you’re buying a used car, you may have the option of rolling the cost into your vehicle financing.

An extended service plan will typically cover repairs that aren’t covered or are no longer covered by the manufacturer’s warranties. Deductibles are typically required, and there may also be several different “levels” of extended service plans available, with different types of coverage and deductibles at escalating price points. 

Many people call this type of plan an “extended warranty,” but there’s a difference. Warranties can only be fulfilled by the dealer, but these plans give you the flexibility to get your car repaired anywhere you choose

Do your homework

If you buy an extended service plan, you’ll need to stay on top of it. Before taking your car to a repair shop, ask whether it’s familiar with your plan and its claims process. This will help you get the most coverage possible. You can also call your plan administrator, whose phone number should appear on your contract. Most have a preferred network of repair shops and dealers who can get approvals quickly and easily.  

You should also keep all repair and service records for your vehicle, as you may need to prove that your vehicle was properly maintained in order to gain coverage for a bigger repair. 

Make sure you know the rules. Some plans pay directly to the shop or dealership, and some reimburse you for repair costs. If you have a job completed without following the proper process, you risk losing coverage and having to pay out of pocket for the repair. A preferred shop, as identified by your plan provider, should be able to handle this part of the process for you. 

Reasons to get an extended service plan

There are some very good reasons to consider an extended service plan 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 service plans are sold at the time of the new- or used-car purchase. This is largely because the cost of the plan can be rolled into the monthly payments, making it more affordable for you and adding profit for the dealer.

Like everything else in the car transaction, you’re free to negotiate a lower price. You can also buy an extended service plan at any time before your manufacturer’s warranty expires — but if you’re buying a used car from a dealer other than the manufacturer, your options may be limited down the line. Don’t feel pressured to buy one along with the initial new vehicle purchase, especially if you’re not sure how long you’ll own the vehicle.

Buyer beware

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

The safest extended service plans have a vehicle manufacturer’s name on them, or are offered by a reputable used car dealer. Always read the contract thoroughly before you sign, and understand the terms and conditions. Just like the manufacturer’s warranty, there are always exclusions to these plans. Some plans only offer powertrain or large component coverage, while others only cover things like tires and glass. Comprehensive plans will give you more peace of mind, but there is no situation where the care and maintenance of your car will be 100% free. 

Extended service plans are sold by insurance companies, dealer groups and auto clubs. When evaluating them, here are the steps you should take: 

  • First, get a copy of the contract and understand the coverage.
  • 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.
  • Check whether claims are paid directly, or if you will have to pay up front and then wait to get reimbursed. Avoid plans that make you pay and wait.
  • Look at additional perks. Many good contracts will offer rental car, towing and roadside assistance benefits.
  • Ask if you’re able to get any of the money you spend on the plan refunded if you never use it. Some good plans will offer you a partial refund in this case.

When should you not buy an extended service plan?

Don’t buy one if:

  • You’re leasing the vehicle and will return it before the warranty runs out.
  • You plan to sell or trade the car before the manufacturer’s 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. 
  • You’re not able to get extensive or comprehensive coverage for your vehicle.

Like many types of insurance coverage, extended service plans 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 service plans 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 service plan coverage, they spent more on their extended service plan than they saved on repairs.

As an alternative, you could instead put the amount you would pay for that extended service plan 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.

Stephen Fogel

About the Author

Stephen has been an automotive enthusiast since childhood, owning some of his vehicles for as long as 40 years, and has raced open-wheel formula cars. He follows and writes about the global automotive industry, with an eye on the latest vehicle technologies.

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