Car Buying

Buying a Car: What Doesn't the Warranty Cover?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro April 2015

If you're interested in buying a car with a warranty, you're probably enticed by the fact that your warranty will keep your ownership costs low. After all, a warranty means the automaker pays for everything, right?

Not quite. A warranty only covers certain things, such as mechanical defects and similar problems. In fact, there's a wide range of automotive items that a typical new-car warranty won't cover at all. We've listed those items here to help you understand exactly what to expect when you're buying a car with a warranty.

Wear Items

Wear items are parts that are designed to wear down, such as tires, brakes, certain engine belts and hoses, and sometimes even headlight bulbs or interior lighting. Although some warranties will occasionally cover certain wear items, the majority of plans don't. Warranties also typically don't cover the clutch in a car equipped with a manual transmission.

These are the items most people are surprised to find that their warranty doesn't cover, and they can be some of the most expensive items to fix. As a result, we suggest making sure you know exactly what your warranty does and doesn't cover before signing the papers. If you're especially anxious about out-of-pocket repairs, you may even want to get estimates for some of the more common items, such as tires or brakes, to find out how much you're likely to pay when it comes time to replace them.

Body Panels

Automotive warranties typically don't cover body panels, which means you won't be covered by your warranty if you get a door ding or if you scrape the side of your car in a parking lot. You also won't be covered if you get in an accident and need to replace any components that were damaged in the collision.

Instead of assuming your warranty will take care of this sort of repair, you should expect your car insurance to cover these types of items.

Interior Repairs

Most warranties don't cover repairs to the interior of a car, unless they stem from a vehicle fault. For example, if the seat belt stops working in normal use, virtually all automotive warranties will cover the replacement or repair of the seat belt. But if you accidentally poke a hole in your driver's seat, don't expect your warranty to help you out. This would be defined as an issue caused by the owner, not by the vehicle, and automakers or warranty companies would be unlikely to pay up to fix your seat. Instead, you'll probably have to pay for it out of pocket.

Unusual Use

Some warranties have clauses that can void the warranty if a vehicle is used in an unusual manner. Many warranties won't cover a car if it's used as a snowplow, for instance, since plowing snow requires so much additional strain on a vehicle's powertrain components. Other warranties won't cover a car if it's been off road or driven hard on a race track. If you plan on doing any of these things, you'll want to check the warranty fine print very carefully to ensure you're covered, or else you could end up with a very expensive repair that isn't covered by the automaker.

Most Things Are Covered

Don't let our above list scare you, because the vast majority of warranties cover the vast majority of problems your vehicle might have. A good comprehensive warranty will almost always have you covered if the engine blows, the transmission dies or even if the windows simply stop rolling down. But you'll still be on the hook for wear items, and you'll have to get insurance to cover any damage sustained in an accident. These are two important things you'll need to budget for when buying a car.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Buying a Car: What Doesn't the Warranty Cover? - Autotrader