Imagine buying a new shirt at the store, getting it home, and discovering that it is missing a button. You may not be able to wear it right away, but you can rest assured that you can return or exchange it for a shirt with all the buttons in place at the store. This arrangement works for most purchases that we, as consumers, make. What about cars, though? If you buy a car, drive it off the lot, and discover that the taillight is burned out or that the back bumper has a rusty spot on the bottom, what do you do then?

Unlike most consumer products, cars cannot simply be returned to the dealership if you find a flaw in the coming weeks after your purchase. Luckily, they come with a different type of buyer protection. New vehicles come with a manufacturer warranty. Before you purchase a new car, you should take the time to understand what that warranty covers and what it doesn’t.

What Does Your Car Warranty Really Cover

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What is a manufacturer warranty?

Also known as a factory warranty, a manufacturer warranty is essentially a guarantee from the car manufacturer that if you find any defects in the car’s parts or the assembly of the vehicle within a specified time frame, that they will cover the cost to repair the defect or replace the part. In essence, if they make an error, they will fix it at no charge to you. There are many different types of warranties offered, but two are standard for most vehicles.

  1. Bumper-to-Bumper – Standard on new vehicles, this is comprehensive coverage on most major systems of the car. It includes safety features, steering, electrical components, climate control. This coverage typically lasts for the first three years you own the car or until the odometer hits 36,000 miles – whichever comes first. Problems arising from factory errors usually show up by the time this warranty expires.
  2. Powertrain – Commonly offered for the first five years or 60,000 miles, powertrain warranties cover defects associated with your transmission, engine, and drive train.

What is not covered by a factory warranty?

If you assume that anything that breaks in the first three years can be repaired free of charge, you will be sadly disappointed. Car manufacturers only warranty problems that are a direct result of the manufacturing process. Drivers should expect maintenance issues to arise over time.

  • Car Accidents – If your car gets hit by another driver or you accidentally hit the mailbox on the way out of the driveway, the resulting damage is not covered under warranty. This type of damage should be reported to your car insurance company and may be covered by your policy.
  • Weather Events – Hail and flooding can be a nightmare for your new car. While unfortunate, these incidents are outside the control of the manufacturer and not included in a new car policy.
  • Wear and Tear – Car components such as the filters, tires, brake pads, and windshield wipers have a short lifespan. Through no fault of the manufacturer, they may wear out and need replacing before your warranty expires. These routine maintenance items are the sole responsibility of the car’s owner.
  • Negligence – If you want your car to last and operate as expected, you should plan on performing regular maintenance on it. If you do not have the oil changed and fluids topped up as recommended, you may damage some of the car’s systems and void the factory warranty on the car.
  • Chips and Cracks – If you commute on the highway, you know it doesn’t take much to crack a windshield or chip the paint on the hood of a new car. This type of cosmetic damage arises from everyday driving and falls to the driver to repair.

What vehicles come with warranties?

A factory warranty is a guarantee from the factory and thus is only offered on certain vehicles. New vehicles, leased vehicles, and certified pre-owned all may come with a warranty. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires car retailers to post a buyer’s guide in the window of vehicles for sale on their lots. This guide will tell you if the car comes with a warranty. If the car is being sold “As Is,” you buy it as you see it. In these cases, it would be a good idea to take the car to a trusted Salt Lake City auto repair shop for a once-over before you buy it.

Used cars that you buy from online car retailers or private sellers usually do not come with a warranty. The exception to this rule would be a used car still covered under a transferable warranty to the next owner. However, it is important to note that when a car warranty is transferred from one owner to the next, it may not retain its full coverage. The coverage may scale back once transferred.

A manufacturer warranty protects buyers from footing the bill for expensive repairs to new cars. You can breathe easy knowing that if there are any manufacturing defects under the hood, they will be addressed. However, buyers should understand that there are limits to what the manufacturer will cover. It is up to the buyer to take care of the car and perform routine maintenance to keep it running long after the warranty expires.