What New-Car Warranties Cover (and Don't)

Last Updated Jul 19, 2010 10:38 AM EDT

In the past decade, new cars and the warranties that cover them have greatly improved (though they don't cover everything). For instance, Chevrolet just announced it will provide an eight-year, 80,000-mile warranty on the batteries in its new Volt plug-in electric car due out this fall. You'll want to know what is and isn't included before you buy your next car.

Instead of the traditional three years or 36,000 miles, many warranties now cover engine, transmission and other powertrain components much longer (see table below). General Motors and Chrysler brands offer five-year/100,000 mile powertrain coverage; Ford has five-year/60,000 miles and other companies provide similar ranges. Korean auto maker Hyundai started the competition in the late 1990s with a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty; Hyundai and its corporate sibling Kia still have it.

What warranties cover

The basic, bumper-to-bumper warranty covers virtually everything in the car-including air conditioning, the audio system, and electrical components. It's typically capped at three years and 36,000 miles; luxury brands like Jaguar and BMW extend the warranty to four years or 50,000 miles.

The second, and most important, part of your warranty is the powertrain coverage. That's because this part pays for engine and transmission repairs which could run to several thousand dollars.

Under federal law, manufacturers must provide an eight year/80,000 mile warranty for defects in catalytic converters and other components of the emissions control system. If your amber check-engine light comes on, you probably have an emissions control problem covered by your warranty. Dealer service departments may be uncertain about this one.

Roadside assistance for breakdowns (once a feature only of luxury brands) has now been added to most warranties, too.

Warranties also contain rust protection coverage in case a body panel rusts through, though that's a rare occurrence in today's new cars.

If you buy a car with solid basic and powertrain warranties, you can happily avoid expensive extended warranties that many new-car dealers will try to sell you for added profit. (See Auto Finance: Watch out for These Dealer Scams.) As a powerful lobbying force, dealers just convinced Congress to exclude these and other such transactions from the jurisdiction of the new consumer finance protection agency.

What warranties usually don't cover
Most basic warranties exclude regular maintenance items such as oil changes, windshield wipers and brake linings. But some brands have been making a selling point of free maintenance lately. (See Free Car Maintenance from U.S. Luxury Models.)

Once you have selected a new car with a strong warranty, take these additional steps:

Check what's covered. Read the owner's manual closely, especially when you need a major repair. The dealership may say that a certain item is not part of the powertrain, for instance, and that you'll need to pay for the fix. If the manual seems to say it is covered, call the auto company number in the manual and double check. (Usually a difference of opinion is just honest confusion at the dealership, not avoidance. The manufacturer pays the dealer for any covered warranty work.)

Check the details of hybrid warranties. If you buy a gas-electric hybrid, the expensive-to-replace batteries and other hybrid components may carry special coverage. For instance, the Toyota Prius and the Ford Escape Hybrid both carry an eight year, 100,000-mile warranty on their hybrid components, more than the eight-year, 80,000-miles that Chevrolet will be giving on its Volt batteries.

Here is a rundown of warranty coverage for major brands.

Make Basic(yrs/mi) Powertrain
Acura 4/50,000 6/70,000

Audi 4/50,000 4/50,000

BMW 4/50,000 4/50,000

Buick 4/50,000 5/100,000

Cadillac 4/50,000 5/100,000

Chevrolet 3/36,000 5/100,000

Chrysler 3/36,000 5/100,000

Dodge 3/36,000 5/100,000

Ford 3/36,000 5/60,000

GMC 3/36,000 5/100,000

Honda 3/36,000 5/60,000

HUMMER 4/50,000 5/100,000

Hyundai 5/60,000 10/100,000

Infiniti 4/60,000 6/70,000

Isuzu 3/50,000 7/75,000

Jaguar 4/50,000 4/50,000

Jeep 3/36,000 5/100,000

Kia 5/60,000 10/100,000

Land Rover 4/50,000 4/50,000

Lexus 4/50,000 6/70,000

Lincoln 4/50,000 6/70,000

Mazda 3/36,000 5/60,000

Mercedes 4/50,000 4/50,000

Mercury 3/36,000 5/60,000

MINI 4/50,000 4/50,000

Mitsubishi 5/60,000 10/100,000

Nissan 3/36,000 5/60,0005

Pontiac 3/36,000 5/100,000

Porsche 4/50,000 4/50,000

Saab 4/50,000 5/100,000

Saturn 3/36,000 5/100,000

Scion 3/36,000 5/60,000

smart 2/24,000 2/24,000

Subaru 3/36,000 5/60,000

Suzuki 3/36,000 7/100,000

Toyota 3/36,000 5/60,000

Volkswagen 3/36,000 5/60,000

Volvo 4/50,000 4/50,000

Source: Edmunds.com
Logos courtesy of the manufacturers

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.