Running A Car - Warranties
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 wear of certain parts. 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 from the more expensive makes – are considerably shorter.
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 (although much shorter) period of time – as little as a month from smaller garages, or as much as 12 months from a manufacturer's approved-used-car scheme.
There's nothing to stop you bolting an after-market warranty on to 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- and after-market warranties will require you to stick to the service schedule.
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. Also, you can usually transfer your warranty to a new owner as long as they're a private owner and not a dealer.
What Car?'s partner, Warranty Direct, offers after-market warranties. You can find out everything you need to know about the What Car? Warranty here.
What does a car warranty cover?
Car warranties protect you against unexpected failure, but 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 have a lifespan of only 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.
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 previous service.
Obviously, it's practically impossible to hit a fixed service interval bang on. There's some leeway, but never assume that a few hundred miles over the nominated point will be alright. Communication with the manufacturer is key. For their part, car makers 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.
Warranty documentation should be read very carefully, particularly when it refers to used cars, where the level of coverage is less comprehensive than for new cars. 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 unlikely to generate a positive result.