What does a car warranty cover?
Even the most robust contract covers only factory defects
“All of our vehicles come with a four-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty” sounds comforting, but is it? What does a bumper-to-bumper warranty really cover? What about a powertrain warranty? And if your electric vehicle battery dies, would your warranty cover a $10,000-plus replacement?
With the cost of auto parts rising at the time of publication, it’s a great time to learn what your car warranty does — and doesn’t — cover. Knowing what’s covered and when to file a claim could easily save you thousands of dollars on your first major repair.
- Car warranties only cover factory defects — parts that fail entirely on their own due to manufacturer issues.
- Most car warranties (factory or extended) don’t cover repairs needed due to damage, abuse, misuse (e.g., racing, off-roading) or neglect. “Neglect” can be as simple as being unable to prove you completed all the recommended maintenance in full and on time.
- The two most common types of warranties are bumper-to-bumper, which covers every part of the car except a small list of exclusions, and powertrain, which covers select engine, transmission and drive axle components only.
- Not even the most robust bumper-to-bumper warranty covers every part of the car. The most common exclusions are for wear-and-tear items, like brakes and clutches, and cosmetic items, like interior upholstery.
Car warranties: What's covered?
Before we dive into what each type of auto warranty (bumper-to-bumper, factory versus extended, etc.) covers, it’s important to establish one thing all car warranties have in common: Auto warranties cover only repairs needed due to factory defects.
It’s typical for an auto warranty to offer coverage for about four years or 50,000 miles.
If you’re driving along and your transmission suddenly starts lurching and won’t shift out of second gear, that repair would likely be covered under warranty.
Similarly, if your infotainment screen suddenly goes black and won’t respond to any inputs, the repair would very likely be covered under your warranty.
The common thread between these issues is they don’t seem to have any cause. You didn’t pummel your transmission at the racetrack or pour coffee all over your center stack, and there’s no one and nothing to blame but the people who put the car together.
Automakers call these “defects in materials or workmanship.” A warranty is the automaker’s promise to fix problems that shouldn’t be problems yet.
All car warranties have an expiration date, though. The average auto warranty is around four years/50,000 miles in length, meaning once you drive for four years or 50,000 miles, you’re on your own. That’s why some drivers choose to invest in an extended auto warranty.
What isn't covered by a car warranty?
Most car warranties won’t cover repairs needed due to:
- Accidents or collisions
- Weather damage
- Aftermarket parts causing other parts to fail
- Misuse/abuse (including competitive racing, off-road use and towing above rated capacity)
- Neglect (including missing maintenance or abandoning your vehicle)
Aftermarket parts in particular lead to countless claim denials. We asked a claims adjuster with Mopar, the brand that handles parts and warranties for Jeep, Dodge, Ram, Chrysler/Stellantis, Alfa Romeo and FIAT, the most common reason he denied warranty claims: “Unauthorized lift kits. If we find out that you installed a lift kit that wasn’t one of ours, we’ll automatically deny any claims for any suspension or transmission work.”
» MORE: Alfa Romeo extended warranties
In addition to the scenarios above, car warranties won’t cover certain parts. Not even a bumper-to-bumper warranty will cover:
- Routine maintenance like oil changes and tire rotations
- Wear-and-tear items that have short, predictable life spans, such as brakes, tires and wiper blades
- Cosmetics like leather upholstery, dashboard trim or scratches on your carbon fiber finish
- Body panels like doors, bumpers and paint (although you may get some paint protection through your factory anti-corrosion warranty, explained below)
- Any other exclusions listed in your warranty agreement
In short, even the most robust bumper-to-bumper car warranty will only cover some of your car’s parts — and only some of the time.
Types of car warranties
There are a few different types of car warranties. Terms may vary by agreement, so it’s always best to read any warranty contract carefully before signing.
Factory auto warranties
Also known as manufacturer warranties or new car warranties, factory warranties are included with all brand-new vehicles. The minimum factory warranty term is three years/36,000 miles (and the factory warranty always follows the car, not the owner — so if you buy a used car that’s only two years old and has 20,000 miles on the odometer, it very likely will have some factory warranty left).
» COMPARE: Best new car warranty
There are two main types of factory car warranties: bumper-to-bumper and powertrain.
Bumper-to-bumper warranties unofficially cover every part between your bumpers. You may also see them listed as “basic” or “limited” warranties. Technically, they cover every part except the ones listed under the exclusions in your contract, so be sure to read that section carefully.
» NEED MORE INFO? READ: What does a bumper-to-bumper warranty cover?
Powertrain warranties typically cover your engine, transmission and drive axle (the part that brings torque to the wheels) only. Even then, your powertrain warranty may only cover a handful of parts within each system or a few dozen parts in total. Due to their limited scope, powertrain warranties often outlast bumper-to-bumper warranties. Some, like Hyundai’s, go as long as 10 years/100,000 miles.
Other types of factory warranties include:
- Emissions/rust/corrosion warranties are factory warranties that cover very specific scenarios or component groups, such as rust underneath the car or your emissions system.
- Hybrid/EV battery warranties cover the big, main battery powering your hybrid or EV and certain battery-related components. They typically guarantee the battery will keep working and retain 70% maximum charge up to a certain number of years or miles, typically around eight years/100,000 miles.
Certified pre-owned warranties
Certified pre-owned (CPO) warranties are coverage plans manufacturers or individual dealerships may include with a certified pre-owned vehicle purchase. They’re typically bumper-to-bumper warranties lasting two years/24,000 miles or less.
Extended auto warranties
Extended auto warranties, also known as vehicle service contracts, are optional warranties that extend your factory warranty coverage. A common term for an extended warranty is seven years/100,000 miles, meaning it would extend your four-year/50,000-mile factory warranty by another three years/50,000 miles.
You can purchase extended auto warranties from the manufacturer of your vehicle (e.g., Honda Care) or from a third-party company like Endurance. Some automakers require you to purchase your extended warranty before the factory warranties run out, while third-party companies are generally more flexible. As you might expect, the price of an extended warranty tends to rise as your vehicle ages.
In most cases, bumper-to-bumper coverage offers the best bang for your buck.
The main three categories you’ll see for extended auto warranties:
- Platinum/Diamond/Supreme plans are generally bumper-to-bumper-equivalent plans, but be sure to read the fine print before you buy.
- Gold/Silver plans typically offer something in between bumper-to-bumper and powertrain, with coverage for a few hundred parts.
- Powertrain Plus, or simply Powertrain plans, are generally a direct extension of your factory powertrain warranty, with coverage for a few dozen engine, transmission and drivetrain-related components only.
While the Gold/Silver plans may sound like the best value, based on our experience pricing out hundreds of extended auto warranties from top-ranked providers, bumper-to-bumper plans tend to be the best overall value because they cover hundreds or thousands more parts for around 10% to 40% more.
In fact, we spoke to around 15 dealerships representing various automakers that told us they no longer sell Gold- or Powertrain-equivalent extended auto warranties because so many customers ended up dissatisfied with how many repairs weren’t covered.
What kind of things would void my car warranty?
You can reasonably expect your warranty to be voided if your vehicle is:
- Flood titled
- Salvage titled
- Found with an altered odometer
- Subject to extreme environmental damage
You can see how a warranty administrator would look at a car with these issues and say, “Yeah, we definitely can’t guarantee the parts after that.” But, contrary to popular belief, the following scenarios may not instantly void your warranty:
- Aftermarket part installs
- Installing a chip/altering the engine logic
- Racetrack or off-road use
- Nonrated towing
- Missed maintenance intervals (e.g., delayed oil changes, bald tires)
- Damage short of a total loss
These may lead to denied claims, but your warranty provider may still leave your remaining warranty intact.
The key difference is that in list No. 1, it’s reasonable to assume that every part of the car has been affected, and therefore, factory quality can’t be guaranteed.
But in the second list, only some of the areas of the car may be impacted, and therefore it wouldn’t be right — or, in some cases, even legal — to void your entire warranty.
For example, if you’re 2,000 miles late for an oil change, your warranty provider may deny your claim for an engine repair but shouldn’t deny your claim for a sunroof repair. Similarly, if you install a custom engine part, you run the risk of your warranty provider denying all powertrain-related claims. But no matter how much horsepower you add, they shouldn’t deny claims for a broken blind spot monitor.
The key takeaway is this: Even if it doesn’t void your warranty altogether, it may effectively “void” coverage for certain areas of your car. So approach aftermarket parts and off-road/racing with caution.
» NEED MORE INFO? READ: What voids a car warranty?
When is extended warranty coverage worth it?
So, is it worth paying thousands of dollars to extend your factory warranty? It depends.
In general, an extended auto warranty is more likely to be worth it if:
- You drive a vehicle with below-average expected reliability.
- The cost of extended warranty coverage is less than the cost of expected (warranty-covered) repairs needed.
- A surprise repair bill could be financially ruinous.
- You don’t mind paying a few thousand dollars for extra peace of mind.
You can get an overall idea of your vehicle’s expected reliability from J.D. Power’s annual U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study. Then you can see how much repairs might cost from Kelley Blue Book’s 5-Year Cost to Own tool, Edmunds’ True Cost to Own (TCO) tool and RepairPal’s estimated annual repair cost.
What should I look for when comparing car warranties?
Keep a close eye on cost, coverage and company reputation. A warranty is no good unless the company is known for paying out claims in full and on time.
Can I transfer my car warranty to a new owner?
If your vehicle is still under factory warranty, the remaining warranty amount should transfer automatically. Most extended auto warranties can be transferred to new owners, though you typically have to fill out paperwork and pay a transfer fee of around $50 within 30 days of the sale.
What’s the difference between a warranty and a recall?
A warranty is passive protection against factory defects. A recall is an acknowledgment of a known, widespread issue affecting certain models and years. Recall repairs are free and often safety-related, so it’s best to schedule your recall repair work as soon as possible.
What happens to my warranty if I modify my vehicle?
Most modifications won’t instantly void your warranty, but they may result in claim denial for any parts or systems the aftermarket part affects. For example, if you install a lift kit without your warranty provider’s approval, all claims for engine, suspension and transmission repairs may be denied if the lift kit can be implicated as the cause.
How will warranty companies know if I abused, misused or neglected my vehicle?
To trained technicians and experienced claims adjusters, the telltale signs of neglect, abuse or misuse can be quite apparent. Excess clutch wear, worn-out brakes, balding tires or a carved-up undercarriage are all signs the vehicle may have been tracked, taken off-road or otherwise abused or misused.
Neglect is much easier to define; if you can’t provide receipts, warranty companies may simply assume the vehicle has not been properly maintained as outlined in your manual.
Are car warranties voided if I miss a scheduled maintenance?
They aren’t instantly voided in most cases, but your warranty provider may deny claims for parts related to the missing maintenance. If you miss an oil change, for example, your provider may deny claims for engine-related repairs.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “ Table 2. Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U): U. S. city average, by detailed expenditure category .” Accessed May 10, 2023.
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