What are vehicle protection plans?

Get coverage against repair bills

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The terms “vehicle protection plan,” “vehicle service contract” and “extended auto warranty” are all different names for the same product — just with varying degrees of popularity and accuracy.

If you’re new to this type of coverage, we’ve broken down the information you need to know below, with links to our other extended warranty content if you wish to learn more.

Key insights

  • A vehicle protection plan can pay to fix your vehicle when it breaks down.
  • Plans are available from vehicle manufacturers, dealerships and third-party warranty companies.
  • Most plans cost $2,500 to $3,000, but you can make monthly payments if you don’t want to buy your VPP upfront.
  • Vehicle protection plans aren’t right for everyone, so it’s worth making sure you’re in a situation where you’re likely to benefit from coverage before you buy.

Vehicle protection plans explained

A vehicle protection plan is a type of contract that offers coverage against automobile repair bills. It's essentially an agreement between a vehicle owner and a warranty provider that the warranty provider will cover certain repair costs over a specified period of time or within a given mileage limit.

Your vehicle’s manufacturer, a dealership or a third-party warranty company can provide a vehicle protection plan for you. Coverage typically begins after the manufacturer's original warranty period ends, but some plans are designed to overlap with the vehicle’s factory warranty, providing complementary protection.

» READ THE FULL ARTICLE: What to know about manufacturers’ extended warranties

What are the benefits of a vehicle protection plan?

Here’s a breakdown of what you usually get when you buy a vehicle protection plan:

  • Warranty coverage: The primary benefit of a vehicle protection plan is it can keep you from paying for vehicle repairs out of pocket. That means your protection plan can essentially pay for itself if you avoid more in repair bills than your plan cost you. On the other hand, your coverage may be a waste if your car doesn’t have a covered breakdown in your contract term.
  • Roadside assistance: This is an umbrella term that can include a variety of services, such as towing, flat-tire repairs, fuel deliveries, lockout services and jump-starts.
  • Rental car reimbursements: If your vehicle is in the shop for covered repairs, many plans cover some or all of the cost of a rental car for a specified number of days.
  • Trip interruption protection: If a covered breakdown occurs while you're away from home, the plan may cover related expenses, such as meals and lodging.

» READ THE FULL ARTICLE: How an extended auto warranty works

What does a vehicle protection plan cover?

The parts covered by a vehicle protection plan can vary widely, with some plans covering almost every part of a vehicle, while others only cover a specific list of components.

Most vehicle protection plans fall into three levels of coverage:

  • Powertrain coverage is often the most basic type of plan available and usually the least expensive, too. A powertrain warranty typically covers your engine, transmission, axle(s), transfer case (if applicable) and the other major components that generate power or deliver it to your wheels. These are some of the most expensive parts of a vehicle to repair or replace, so this coverage can provide peace of mind even though it is relatively minimal.
  • Stated component coverage usually includes everything covered by a powertrain plan as well as additional systems and components. The specific items covered vary from one plan to another but typically include things like your vehicle’s electrical system and air conditioning.
  • Exclusionary coverage is the most comprehensive level of coverage, and it’s usually the most expensive. Exclusionary coverage, also called bumper-to-bumper coverage, includes all the mechanical and electrical components of your vehicle except for a list of exclusions. That means if a component or system is not listed in the exclusions, it's covered by default.

It's important to carefully read and understand the terms and conditions of any vehicle protection plan before purchasing it. You should also keep a copy of your vehicle service contract so you have the terms in writing in case there’s ever a dispute later on.

“I was told when I bought my new vehicle protection plan it covered everything. However when I picked up my vehicle they said it didn’t cover shop fees or something. So I had to pay my deductible and more for supplies,” reported Beau, a ConsumerAffairs reviewer from Minnesota. “I am not sure if the dealership lied to me or if [they] just don’t cover everything.”

A lot of unhappy vehicle protection plan reviews are the result of people not fully understanding what their plan covers, so it’s worth studying your contract details before you sign up.

There are also some common exclusions you should be aware of. For example, protection plans practically never cover repairs needed due to missed maintenance or preexisting conditions. Like your factory warranty, you should only expect your vehicle protection plan to protect you from repairs needed due to manufacturing defects.

That means preventive maintenance, like oil changes, and parts designed to wear out over time, like brake pads, aren’t covered. (Your warranty contract will likely require you to keep up to date with maintenance if you want your claims approved, though.)

» READ THE FULL ARTICLE: What does a car warranty cover?

How much do vehicle protection plans cost?

On average, vehicle protection plans cost $2,500 to $3,000, but the overall price range is much wider. (We’ve seen quotes for over $10,000 on some vehicles, but those cases are rare.) The cost of your plan will depend on several factors, including the level of coverage provided, how long the coverage lasts, the make and model of your vehicle and who’s selling you the plan.

Some plans also have a deductible, which is the amount the vehicle owner must pay out of pocket before the plan covers the rest of the cost.

Vehicle protection plans cost between $2,500 and $3,000 on average.

The good news is you can usually make monthly payments on your protection plan, so you don’t need to pay for the whole thing upfront.

It's important to shop around and get quotes from multiple providers to ensure you are getting a good deal. Prices for vehicle protection plans can vary erratically from provider to provider, so you may be able to score some real savings by comparison shopping.

» READ THE FULL ARTICLE: How much does an extended car warranty cost?

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    Is a vehicle protection plan worth it?

    Generally speaking, a vehicle protection plan is more likely to be worth the cost if any of the following statements are true for you:

    • You drive an unreliable car.
    • The cost of the plan is less than you expect to spend on repairs.
    • Getting a large repair bill could ruin you financially.
    • You’re fine spending a few thousand dollars just for peace of mind.

    As you can see, whether or not a vehicle protection plan is worth it really depends on what you’re looking for.

    Think of it this way — a VPP can put you ahead financially if it covers more in repair bills than it cost you to buy. However, most warranty companies price their plans so they don’t lose money on the deal. If you only want an extended warranty as a way to save money, you might be better off just saving your money and paying for repairs out of pocket.

    However, if you’re more interested in a vehicle protection plan as insurance against a massive repair bill you have no way of paying, you may still feel you got your money’s worth even if your plan doesn’t pay for itself in covered repairs.

    “Having a vehicle protection plan is really valuable especially with me having cancer,” said Robert, a ConsumerAffairs reviewer from Arizona. “There’s no way I could ever afford a repair on my vehicle.”

    “I wanted to make sure that I have that backing … just in case anything major were to go wrong,” said Jennifer, a ConsumerAffairs reviewer in Illinois. “If I weren't to go with an auto warranty, and then if my transmission goes out next year, that's $3,000 out of my pocket, and I really don't want that to happen.”

    » READ THE FULL ARTICLE: Is an extended car warranty worth it?

    Who has the best vehicle protection plans?

    There really isn’t a universal “best” vehicle protection plan. The right plan for you will depend on your vehicle, your budget, your coverage needs and your preferences. We’ve assembled some top picks elsewhere on our site to help make your search easier, but it’s important to remember that shopping around and seeing what’s available are key to finding the right vehicle protection plan for you.

    » READ THE FULL ARTICLE: Best extended car warranty companies

    Here are some things to look for in a vehicle protection plan:

    • Adequate coverage: Make sure you understand exactly what is and is not covered by the plan. Some plans cover almost all components and systems of the vehicle, while others only cover specific parts or systems. Read the fine print and understand the exclusions. Otherwise, you may be in for a disappointment when you make your first claim.
    • A reputable provider: Is the warranty provider well-known? Does it have good reviews? Scams and subpar companies are unfortunately common in the industry, so it pays to make sure you’re staying away from the worst of the bunch.
    • An affordable price: Weigh the total cost of the plan, including the deductible, against what you’re getting for your money. Make sure you understand how the deductible works and how much you will have to pay out of pocket for covered repairs.
    • An easy claim process: Look into the process for filing a claim. Is it straightforward and customer-friendly? Do you have to pay for the repairs upfront, or does the plan provider pay your mechanic directly? Policies differ, so it’s worth making sure you know what to expect before you sign up.
    • Additional benefits: Consider any additional benefits that are included with the plan, such as roadside assistance, rental car reimbursements or trip interruption reimbursements. These are generally less valuable than warranty coverage, but they’re nice to compare if you can’t decide between two VPPs.
    • Transferability: Some VPPs are transferable to a new owner if you sell your vehicle before the plan ends. If you don’t plan on keeping your vehicle long, check to see if the plan is transferable to your vehicle’s next owner. If it is, you may be able to get a little extra money out of the sale.

    Remember to carefully read and understand the terms and conditions of any plan before purchasing it. It's also a good idea to shop around and get quotes from multiple providers to ensure you are getting the best deal. Ultimately, the best vehicle protection plan for you will depend on your individual circumstances and preferences.

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