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What is a car maintenance plan?

Learn how these plans can help protect your vehicle

mechanic checking car
Photo (c) Shutter2U - Getty Images

Proper maintenance is key to preserving your vehicle’s value. Oil changes, tire rotations and fluid refills are mandatory if you want to keep your car in good shape, but the cost and hassle of these services lead many people to delay critical car care.

Prepaid car maintenance plans cover the costs of vehicle upkeep, helping you avoid future malfunctions and breakdowns. Keep reading to learn about vehicle maintenance plans, how they work and how to choose one.

How does a car maintenance plan work?

You can generally purchase a maintenance plan from your local car dealership or the automaker itself. If you get a maintenance plan from your local dealership, expect your plan to only pay for service from that particular dealership. However, when you get a plan from the automaker, you can usually take your car to any dealership for that brand.

When you purchase a prepaid car maintenance plan, the cost is usually added onto your monthly loan payment, assuming you have one. The cost of a maintenance plan often depends on its duration, given in terms of time and mileage. For instance, a plan might cover scheduled maintenance costs for up to two years or 45,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Prepaid car maintenance plans are often confused with extended car warranties, but there are significant differences. Although both types of coverage are usually limited by time and mileage, they cover different things:

  • Prepaid car maintenance plans generally only cover services and parts that are part of your vehicle’s factory maintenance schedule, like oil changes, filter replacements and inspections.
  • On the other hand, warranties cover vehicle repairs necessary due to malfunctioning or broken parts, such as engine work or transmission fixes.

What you should know before purchasing a car maintenance plan

Before committing to a maintenance plan, weigh the pros and cons of a maintenance plan and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you have room in your monthly budget?
  • Do you like the idea of paying a little every month to make maintenance more convenient or can you handle paying out-of-pocket?
  • Do you want a plan through your local dealership or do you need to have service available at multiple locations?
  • Do you plan on keeping your car long enough to enjoy your maintenance plan?
  • How long do you need your maintenance plan to last?

Once you know what you want, it’s easier to eliminate bad options and find a maintenance plan that’s right for you.

What does a car maintenance plan cover?

Proper maintenance should protect you against many significant car problems, and prepaid maintenance plans help cover the cost of keeping up with your manufacturer’s maintenance schedule, including:

  • Oil changes
  • Filter changes
  • Tire rotations
  • Fluid replacement

Note that this doesn’t cover repairs due to malfunctions (that’s what a warranty is for), accident damage (that’s what car insurance is for) or wear and tear. Components that wear down with regular use include tires, windshield wipers and brake pads, and replacing these components isn’t covered under most prepaid maintenance plans.

Bottom line: Are car maintenance plans worth it?

It’s up to you to weigh the cost of a prepaid maintenance plan versus the convenience it adds. Just keep in mind that the value of maintenance isn’t always immediately apparent. The point of a prepaid plan is that it makes maintenance more accessible and convenient, which, in turn, should lead to extended vehicle life down the road.

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