Where can you use an extended auto warranty?
Pretty much any ASE-certified mechanic — with a catch
Extended auto warranties (also called vehicle service contracts) can help to cover the cost of repairs needed due to manufacturing defects. Basically, as long as the part didn’t fail due to damage from an accident, abuse, neglect or missed maintenance, your warranty provider should cover almost all of the cost of getting your car back on the road.
But where can you take your car for warranty repair work? Do warranty providers have a “network” like health insurance providers do? What happens if you don’t go to the right mechanic? Read on to find out.
- Where you can use an extended warranty largely depends on whether you buy from your vehicle’s manufacturer or a third-party warranty provider.
- Automakers’ extended warranties typically require you to go to a licensed dealership for service.
- Most third-party extended warranty companies let you visit any ASE-certified mechanic in the U.S., which means you have way more options.
- You may experience a faster and smoother claims process if you stay within your warranty company’s preferred network of repair shops.
Where you can use an extended warranty
Where you can take your extended warranty mostly depends on whether you bought it from a dedicated extended warranty company or your vehicle’s manufacturer.
Where you can use third-party extended warranties
Most third-party extended warranty companies will let you take your vehicle to any ASE-certified mechanic in the U.S. for repairs.
For the uninitiated, ASE certification is a professional designation issued by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. There are over 250,000 ASE-certified mechanics nationwide, so you shouldn’t have to go far to find one.
Some third-party warranty companies do have preferred networks of mechanics, though. CarShield, for example, has a Shield Repair Network of over 8,000 preferred shops that it claims can offer you “a faster claims experience.” Likewise, a representative from Toco told us that it recommends clients take their vehicles to Pep Boys or AAMCO. olive recommends finding a mechanic through RepairPal.
Remember, these are just recommendations. We talked to seven extended warranty companies for this article and researched a dozen more, and none of them had additional requirements beyond the repair shop having ASE certification.
If you’re not sure whether your usual mechanic is ASE-certified, ask them or check the mechanic’s website.
The implied advantage of going to a preferred shop is that you may have a faster, smoother claims experience. A preferred shop may communicate and negotiate with your warranty company more efficiently, which can mean you get your car back much faster.
Where you can use extended warranties from your vehicle’s manufacturer
Extended auto warranties that come from manufacturers, like Subaru Added Care plans or Chevrolet Protection Plans, are usually a totally different story. Most automakers require you to take your vehicle to a dealership for covered services, and they may automatically deny your claim if you go anywhere other than a dealer. Some will waive your deductible if you take your car back to the dealer that sold you your warranty, though, which is nice.
A representative from Mopar — the company that provides factory parts and warranties for Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, FIAT and Alfa Romeo — confirmed this restriction for us in no uncertain terms: “We will deny the claim if you don’t go to a Mopar dealership.”
Where you can’t use an extended warranty
Trying to use your extended warranty at the wrong facility can result in your claim being denied, which means you might be on the hook for the repair bill. The good news is that things shouldn’t get that far if you do a little due diligence.
While warranty companies are fairly permissive about where you can get work done, the reality of where you can actually use an extended warranty is a bit more complicated, and once again, it often comes down to where you bought your warranty.
With manufacturers’ extended warranties, the answer is pretty cut and dry: You can take it to licensed dealers and nowhere else. There may be exceptions by plan, but for the most part, you can either visit the dealership or expect to have your claims denied.
With third-party extended warranties, the answer is a bit more muddled. As previously established, most third-party warranty companies will let you use their warranties at any ASE-certified mechanic in the U.S. Better yet, you can take it to a “preferred” shop for a faster claims process.
However, what these companies don’t mention is that “preference” goes both ways. We spoke with multiple independent mechanics who expressed mixed feelings about dealing with third-party warranty companies. The two most common complaints were:
- That the warranty company took too long to reimburse the shop
- That reimbursement didn’t cover the shop’s usual rate
“Overall, it’s hit or miss,” one shop owner told us. “Sometimes it takes up to four days to receive payment from a warranty company, and until we’ve been paid, we can’t let the customer’s car go.”
Ensuring your warranty company will work with your mechanic is critical, but it’s also important that your mechanic will work with your warranty company.
“Every time we’ve used a third-party extended warranty company, it’s come back to burn us,” said another ASE-certified tech. “It takes forever to get a payment out of them, and they only cover what they think the cost should be.”
When asked what he’d say if a customer called in advance intending to use a third-party warranty, he said, “I’d politely suggest that they go somewhere else.”
To be fair, sometimes the breakdown in communication can be on the shop’s end. Barbara, a ConsumerAffairs reviewer from Kentucky, left a review on our site complaining that CarShield had denied their claims, but CarShield responded that the repair shop never actually called to file any claims in the first place.
In short, independent mechanics and warranty providers don’t always get along. What this means for you, the warranty holder, is that it may be worth your time to find a shop that has a preexisting relationship with your extended warranty provider.
What to do once your car breaks down
To find out what using an extended warranty actually looks like, we spoke to seven different warranty providers to learn about their ideal claims processes. Here’s the simple, five-step version of what they recommended:
- You take your vehicle to an ASE-certified repair shop and share your warranty information with them.
- The shop diagnoses the problem and submits a claim to your warranty provider.
- Your warranty provider approves or denies the claim based on the situation and the terms of your warranty agreement.
- If approved, the repair shop completes the repair work and invoices your warranty provider.
- You retrieve your vehicle and pay your deductible to the repair shop.
Tips for a smooth claims process
The warranty providers we spoke with also told us that if you experience a breakdown, following these steps can greatly improve your chance of having a smooth claims process and getting your car back faster:
- Call your extended warranty provider immediately. While optional, it never hurts to call your provider right away to see if your plan will cover towing and get recommendations for nearby repair shops.
- Notify the repair shop in advance that you have an extended auto warranty. The hard truth is that some shops may request that you take your vehicle elsewhere. They may even be doing you a favor; a provider-preferred shop may provide faster service.
- Be prepared to wait anywhere from one hour to five days for a claim decision. Some issues can be diagnosed within the hour and approved for repair immediately. Other times, your provider may need up to five days to approve or deny a claim. It just depends on how complex the issue is and how backed up your warranty provider’s underwriters are.
- Once the repairs are complete, make sure you don’t pay more than you need to. If your claim was approved and you didn’t need any repairs that weren’t covered by your warranty, you generally shouldn’t see a bill for anything other than your deductible. “We cover diagnostics, fees, taxes, everything,” said a rep from Endurance.
» LEARN: What does a car warranty cover?
How soon can I use my extended warranty?
The unhelpful (but technically correct) answer is “as soon as your warranty provider’s waiting period has expired.” These periods often range anywhere from 24 hours to 30 days and up to 1,000 odometer miles, depending on the provider. (Many warranty companies use waiting periods as a way to avoid paying for preexisting conditions.)
Check with your warranty provider to find out how long its waiting period is. If you’re still shopping for an extended warranty and need urgent coverage, compare the waiting periods of the warranty companies you’re considering before you buy.
Can you use an extended warranty anywhere?
Most third-party extended warranty companies will let you take your vehicle to any ASE-certified mechanic. However, some manufacturers’ extended warranties may require you to take your vehicle to a dealership.
What does ASE-certified mean?
ASE-certified means an automotive technician has met the standards for knowledge and experience set forth by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.
For a repair shop to qualify for the Blue Seal of Excellence, at least 75% of technicians must be ASE-certified, and at least one ASE-certified technician must work in each area of service.
Will my experience be the same at every ASE-certified mechanic?
You’ll likely have different experiences at different mechanics. Warranty work can involve lots of back-and-forth between the repair shop and the warranty provider. Some repair shops may have preexisting relationships with certain warranty companies, while others don’t like working with warranty companies at all.
That’s why bringing your vehicle to one of your warranty provider’s “preferred” ASE-certified shops, if it has them, can result in a faster, smoother claims experience.
- Article sources
- ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
- National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, “About ASE.” Accessed April 18, 2023.
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