A car warranty is an insurance policy covering your car against a variety of circumstances and events. It's also a legal contract between buyer and manufacturer, with each party having responsibilities to fulfil.
For new cars, a manufacturer's warranty will cover mechanical and electrical breakdown and other long-term quality control conditions such as corrosion or premature part wear. The manufacturer is expected to pay for repairs or 'making good' if the items covered by the warranty go wrong within prescribed time periods.
These timeframes vary between manufacturers. Most new car warranties offer three years cover. Some are as long as seven years. Others – ironically, often the more expensive marques – are considerably shorter. Alpina offers a two-year warranty, Morgan gives just one year.
For used cars bought from dealers, a warranty will often be ‘bolted on' to the car. It will generally cover mechanical and electrical breakdowns, again for a prescribed (though much shorter) period of time – as little as a month from smaller garages, or as much as 12 months with unlimited mileage and other benefits from a manufacturer's approved used car scheme.
The buyer needs to be aware of what is and what isn't covered by the warranty. Motor warranties protect you against unexpected failure but they're not always maintenance contracts, and they don't always cover breakdowns that arise through normal wear and tear. If a provider claims to cover wear and tear‚ check that it covers normal deterioration: some parts may only have a life span of one year.
Every warranty will have a list of parts that are covered. These lists can vary widely. Not all car warranty providers cover consequential damage, which is where an insured part fails as a result of the failure of another part that's not on the insured list.
Warranties are written by lawyers. That means it's easy to drop out of the coverage if you don't follow the rules. New car warranties can be invalidated if you don't stick to the service intervals specified by the manufacturer. That interval might be every 10,000 miles, but with today's ‘intelligent' servicing it could be more, or indeed less if your car has had a hard life since its last service.
Obviously, it's impossible to hit a fixed interval point bang on. There's some leeway, but never assume that a few hundred miles over the nominated point will be all right. Communication with the manufacturer is key. Car makers, for their part, have been kept honest by the removal of restrictive servicing clauses from their new car warranties, so it's no longer compulsory to use a franchised dealer for servicing. Other regulations recently brought in nullify any contract terms that are seen to be unfair to a consumer.
Particularly for used cars, where the level of coverage is less comprehensive than for new cars, warranty documentation needs to be read very carefully. If items that you feel should be covered don't seem to be, you need to clarify that before committing to the purchase. Arguing the point after the car has been bought is very unlikely to generate a positive result.
There's nothing to stop you bolting an after-market warranty onto your own car, either to take over after the expiry of the manufacturer's cover, or at a later point. As with new-car warranties, used warranties will require you to stick to the service schedule. However, also as with new warranties, you should be at liberty to choose where that servicing is carried out.
After-market warranty prices vary, but so do the terms and levels of cover, so always compare like with like. It's usually cheaper to deal with warranty suppliers direct, rather than through a car dealer or warranty broker. You can usually transfer your warranty to a new owner as long as they're a private owner and not a dealer.
What Car? Warranty provides good quality used car warranties at competitive prices. Visit What Car? Warranty for more information.
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