For most used car buyers, paying big bucks for an extended warranty is usually a waste. It’s great for those who don’t like surprise expenses, or for those that know their particular car can be very expensive to repair, but warranty companies usually know this as well, and charge appropriately. Obviously, the goal of a warranty company is to make money, but in the case of my latest McLaren MP4-12C, splurging on mechanical insurance saved the previous owner (and cost the warranty company) well over $100,000. Yes, OVER SIX FIGURES — and I have the paperwork to prove it.
When my McLaren was purchased in September 2016 by the previous owner, it came with a one-year, unlimited mileage warranty from McLaren, and it was almost immediately put to use. Within weeks of purchase, the check engine light came on, and the engine would stall randomly. Turns out, the camshaft phasers had failed, which required tearing apart the top of the engine to fix. Since this was a warranty repair, the receipt shows zero dollars billed, and doesn’t disclose how much was billed to the warranty company. So we’ll never know how much this job cost, but for reference, cam phaser issues are also a problem with mid-2000s Ford F-150 trucks, where they cost around $2,500 to fix. No doubt the same repair on a McLaren costs way more, but this job turned out to be a total waste, as the engine didn’t have long to live.
During the same visit, the technician also replaced a leaking hydraulic suspension strut (which sells used for $1,450 on eBay) and one of the LED taillamps ($881 used on eBay) that was collecting water. With those repairs out of the way, the car lasted about three months before it was back at the dealer again, this time with complaints about smoke on startup, as well as massive oil consumption. Additionally, the car’s infotainment display, called the Iris system, had failed. Even more issues included a non-functional seat switch, reverse lamp and horn. This is already a spectacular amount of failures on a car in less than 2,000 miles and three months into ownership, but we’re just getting started.
The Iris system had to be replaced with the next generation system, which is a huge plus for this car, as other owners have reported paying $4,000 for this upgrade. The seat switch was also any easy fix, and the backup lamp was simply unplugged, likely from the earlier taillamp replacement. As for the engine oil consumption and smoke, the oil was topped off, and the level needed to be monitored to verify the issue before qualifying for a warranty claim. The next invoice reports that it only took about a month to burn through another 1.5 quarts in 550 miles, which is really, REALLY bad.
Further investigation found metal shavings in the oil, as well as major scoring of the cylinder walls, which meant the original engine was dead. I asked the McLaren service manager how much an engine replacement would cost out of curiosity, and he ballparked me around $70,000. He also noted it was extremely rare, and this was one of the few engine failures he’s heard of. It only took about a month for them to source a new engine and install it, but unfortunately, the hits kept coming.
Only five months and 4,000 miles passed before another unscheduled trip to the dealer, this time for a leaking transmission. After cleaning off the fluid coating the underside, the technician discovered the transmission was leaking from a weep hole, which apparently requires replacing the entire transmission to fix. Transmission problems are reportedly a common issue with the 12C, and the service manager told me the last transmission replacement they performed cost around $30,000. So in just one year and 6,000 miles of driving, the warranty had already saved the previous owner approximately $120,000 in repairs.
Obviously, when it came time for the car’s annual service, the warranty was also renewed immediately. Even though it had only been a month since its last visit, there were a few new issues that needed addressing, including an annoying suspension creak and poor performance of the windshield washer sprayers. The creak turned out to be a loose metal shield around the tie rod, and the windshield washer issue came from improperly routed hoses, which sent the more powerful washer pump flowing to the headlight washers. This may have been a mistake from the factory.
With the repairs, annual service and warranty renewal out the way, the car finally had a honeymoon period, with nearly a year of trouble free service spanning 3,000 miles. Still, another massive failure wiped out any hope for the warranty coming out ahead — and ruined my plans for taking delivery of my latest purchase. As seen in my last video, my McLaren now needs a third transmission after some kind of internal failure — the cost of which will pay for the warranty extension six times over.
In total, that’s about $150,000 in savings versus going without the warranty for these past two years — and the car only has 32,000 miles on the odometer. Obviously, it was a no-brainer to spend the $4,755 to extend the warranty at the most recent annual service — and McLaren owners can opt to continue doing so until the car is 12 years old, or until it reaches 75,000 miles. So we’ll see if the warranty carnage continues when I finally take delivery, but one thing’s for sure: a good night’s sleep would probably be impossible without one.
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