Most people don’t think about their car warranties until something goes wrong. But once your warranty expires, every repair is an out-of-pocket expense.
If your car warranty is nearing its end, the time to start planning for life beyond coverage is now. Read on to find out what to do if your car warranty is almost up — and the best ways to use it now to keep your car costs low.
Last updated: Nov. 20, 2019
Regularly Maintain Your Vehicle
If you’re reading this long before your warranty is up, the single best thing you can do to get the most out of it is to follow a regular maintenance schedule.
A warranty is a contract between you and the manufacturer or dealer. Under that contract, you agree to take care of your car to reduce the likelihood of something going wrong with it. And the manufacturer, or dealer, agrees to fix your car if something does go wrong.
Failing to follow a maintenance schedule will void your warranty. Be sure to keep all of your service records and receipts.
Follow Your Manual's Advice
Your manual’s service section, which was written by the people who designed and built your car, suggests mileage-based service intervals. It might recommend oil changes, for example, every 8,000 miles and a change of automatic transmission fluid every 80,000 miles.
On the other hand, your dealership’s service department might suggest you cut those intervals by more than half, say to 3,000 and 30,000 miles, respectively. The reason is pretty straightforward. The more frequently you get your car serviced, the more money they get. Always defer to the manufacturer recommendations laid out in your manual.
Be Careful With Modifications
It’s a common misconception that using aftermarket or recovered parts, or making modifications to your vehicle can void your warranty. In most cases, it can’t — unless the modification causes a need for repairs or alters your car’s performance. That could include a modified exhaust, suspension or the installation of unconventional tires or wheels.
Know Your Warranty
If your warranty is almost up, reviewing the contract can help you prioritize your repairs. If you don’t have a hard copy, sites like AutoConsumerInfo.com keep databases with warranty information for most makes and models.
Find Out Exactly When Your Warranty Expires
Even if you think you know the exact date your warranty expires, double-check it — and don’t rely on your owner’s manual. A car might be purchased up to a year before its actual model year.
Instead, find your vehicle identification number (VIN) — it’s on your insurance card, title and a metal plate by your windshield — and write down your mileage. Then call the dealership where you bought your car or any dealership under the same make. The service department can track your warranty using the VIN.
Know Which Warranty Is Expiring
Most new cars come with two different kinds of factory warranties. Bumper-to-bumper warranties are more comprehensive and shorter-lived. Also called comprehensive warranties, these warranties generally last for either three years or 36,000 miles and get their name because they cover virtually everything between the bumpers. Ironically, they don’t cover the bumpers themselves, which are considered body panels.
Powertrain warranties, on the other hand, usually last for five years or 60,000 miles, but they only cover the engine, transmission and other components that make your car run.
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Get Your Documentation in Order
If your warranty is about to expire, you have several options, which you’ll read about in the following slides. But most of them require you to show service records and vehicle history documents.
Hopefully, you’ve been keeping your records filed away neatly — but many people don’t. Now is the time to track down or request copies of any misplaced maintenance records and receipts.
Research Your Manufacturer’s 'Secret Warranty' Policy
Most manufacturers have policies known as “goodwill service” or “policy adjustments.” Known informally as “secret warranties,” these policies allow manufacturers to pay for major repairs after a warranty has expired, requiring little more than the driver calling and asking. They’re most likely to extend this service to loyal/repeat customers, especially if other drivers have reported the same problem.
Ask Your Dealer for an Inspection
Give your dealer a call and let them know your warranty is about to expire and you want to be proactive about repairs. The dealer might offer an end-of-warranty checkup. Some brands do; others, like Toyota, do not. But it can’t hurt to call and ask.
Get an Independent Inspection
If your dealer doesn’t offer an end-of-warranty checkup, proceed to look for an inspection on your own dime — it could save you hundreds or thousands in the long run. Tell your service team why you’re getting the inspection so they’ll know what to prioritize.
So-called consumables like tires and brakes aren’t covered by warranties anyway. Instead, the inspection should focus on things like the electrical system, including the battery, alternator and charging components, as well as the cooling system and powertrain.
Fix Big-Ticket Items First
If your inspection reveals repairable problems, fix them in order of expense and priority. You might not be able to get everything done in one shot. And if you’ve cut it really close, your own schedule or the service department’s timeline might force you to string out repairs beyond your warranty’s expiration date. Fix the big stuff first.
Address Nagging Issues Right Away
If you don’t get an end-of-warranty inspection, take inventory of any recurring but currently manageable issues your vehicle has been having. That could be anything from strange noises, like knocking or squeaking, to an intermittent check engine light.
If you’ve been ignoring warning signs because they’re not interfering with your ability to drive, keep in mind that they’ll never get better on their own. Take your car into the shop and find out what’s wrong while you’re still under warranty.
Check For Recalls
If your car had a recall, the manufacturer will repair it at no cost, even after your warranty expires and up to eight years after the car’s original sale date.
If you bought your car new, there is a good chance that the manufacturer will contact you — but there are always exceptions and errors. Visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to search for recalls on your make and model.
Check For TSBs
Technical service bulletins (TSBs), which are issued by service departments, are sometimes confused with recalls, which are issued by manufacturers. But they’re not the same thing.
Service departments issue TSBs when they notice car owners or repair shops reporting a pattern of the same problem for a certain model vehicle. Ask your dealer about any TSBs before your warranty expires.
If you need a TSB repair while you’re still under warranty, they’ll perform it at no charge. If not, the cost could be left on you.
Consider a Manufacturer Extended Warranty
The car-buying process almost always comes with an offer to purchase an extended warranty, which can cover items the standard warranty doesn’t, your car for a longer period of time or both.
You don’t have to buy the policy the day you buy your car — or even the same year. In fact, you can purchase an extended warranty right up until your manufacturer warranty expires. You might still be able to buy one after it expires, but it could cost much more.
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Consider an Outside Extended Warranty
Before you settle on an extended manufacturer warranty, shop around with third-party sellers that offer their own extended warranties. There are pros and cons to each, but extended warranties from outside sellers often come with higher deductibles and sometimes require you to pay for repairs upfront and seek reimbursement after.
Consider Mechanical Breakdown Insurance
Many insurance companies, like Geico, offer mechanical breakdown insurance (MBI), although you often have to purchase it early in your car’s life. Later on, you can extend it if you choose. It’s like an extended warranty, but it tends to cover more and cost less — often much less. That’s because the cost of MBI is built right into the cost of your policy’s monthly premiums.
Revise Your Maintenance Schedule
Once your warranty expires, it’ll be up to you to pay for repairs. Now might be the time to break from your manufacturer’s service schedule found in your manual, and tighten up the intervals between inspection and maintenance appointments. While this costs a little more upfront, bringing your car in more frequently could catch any little problems before they get big, which saves you more in the long run.
Let Nothing Go Unchecked
When you’re under warranty, you can afford to briefly turn a blind eye to things like dashboard warnings, check engine lights and strange sounds. However, the moment your warranty expires, that all stops. The longer you wait, the more likely a small problem will fester into something unaffordable. Post-warranty vigilance is key.
Estimate Future Expenses
Being vigilant about servicing your car as soon as you notice a problem is much easier if you can plan and budget for what lies ahead. Sites like RepairPal show how frequently, on average, your model car is in the shop every year, the likelihood of it needing major repairs and its average annual cost of unscheduled fixes.
Set Up a Repair Fund
Once you estimate how much you can expect to spend on repairs, you can set a budget for your post-warranty repair fund.
Set up a dedicated account, separate from your checking and standard savings accounts. Contribute to it regularly so you can pay for out-of-pocket repairs that are inevitable if you hang on to any car long enough.
Check Owner Reviews of Your Car's Model
Sites like Edmunds offer comprehensive consumer reviews and ratings for popular makes and models. When your warranty is nearing its end, check those ratings to see about other owners’ long-term experiences with your model car.
This shouldn’t make your decision for you, it’s just helpful context. But if common gripes include major breakdowns shortly after the warranty lapses, you might want to consider selling your car and starting fresh.
Calculate Your Trade-In Value
It’s good to know what your car is worth, whether you want to sell it or not. Sites like Kelley Blue Book can give pretty accurate estimates of what your vehicle might be worth if you sell it now.
But if you wait until something big breaks, that value could go way down. Then you’ll have to decide if it’s worth paying to repair an aging car beyond its warranty.
Sell Your Car
It might be cheaper and easier to sell your car before a major breakdown sinks its trade-in value. If you’re at the end of your powertrain warranty, that also means you’ve probably made that glorious final payment. It can be a hard decision to start over with a new car and new payments — but that also means you get a new warranty.
Just Keep Driving
You can always choose to do nothing and drive your car for as long as possible. This could be the best and cheapest option, depending on your vehicle, driving habits and repair history.
After all, there are many rolling dinosaurs still on the road every day. But start saving toward a down payment now, for when — not if — your car eventually dies.
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About the Author
Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street’s investment community in New York City.