Understanding Automobile Warranties

The fine art of understanding automobile warranties, including finding your way through the fine print, extended warranties, car corrosion, car emissions and extended service plans.

| November/December 1987

  • Automobile warranties new cars
    A warranty is your contract with the manufacturer of your car—through its representative, the dealer—that any defects will be corrected at the manufacturer's expense.

  • Automobile warranties new cars

Against that time (if ever that time come)
When I shall see thee frown on my defects,
When as thy love hath cast his utmost sum,
Call'd to that audit by advis'd respects;
Against that time when thou shah strangely pass,
And scarcely greet me with that sun, thine eye,
When love converted from the thing it was
Shall reasons find of settled gravity:
Against that time do I insconce me here
Within the knowledge of mine own desert,
And this my hand against myself uprear,
To guard the lawful reasons on thy part.
To leave poor me thou hast the strength of laws,
Since why to love I can allege no cause.

—William Shakespeare
49th Sonnet

Understanding Automobile Warranties

Like falling in love, picking out a new car isn't a completely rational act. Dewy eyes take over, and before we know it we're rolling along in bliss. Only after the deals are sealed do the realities—be they uncapped toothpaste tubes or frozen transmissions—show themselves.

A warranty is your contract with the manufacturer of your car—through its representative, the dealer—that any defects will be corrected at the manufacturer's expense. Sadly, a thorough reading of automobile warranties prior to purchase is just about as rare as a well thought-out prenuptial agreement. And like marriages, not all automobile warranties are created equal.

The Honeymoon

All major manufacturers in the U.S. offer at least a 12-month basic warranty on new cars, during which time the entire car (save the tires, which are warranted by their manufacturer) is covered against defects in materials or workmanship. However, most of these plans are tied to a 12,000-mile, "whichever comes first" clause that may significantly shorten the actual warranty period.

Most mechanical problems occur as a function of the number of miles driven—but not all of them. For example, a busy driver who buys new wheels in the fall might roll right through the warranty mileage before ever turning on the air conditioner. For that reason, be sure to get at least a 12-month, unlimited-mileage air conditioner warranty.

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