Warranties Defined: The Meaning behind the Quickly Spoken Selling Points

-If you’re in the market for a new car, you are no doubt considering a lot of the perks that come with getting a vehicle that has had no prior owners. Your unused ride should smell factory fresh, have minimal miles, and be at the onset of a manufacturer-backed warranty. That last item—the warranty—is often a key selling point for automakers when marketing new cars and trucks. In car commercials, quick-talking voice-overs promise warranties that are bumper to bumper, lifetime, or even “America’s Best.” But what does it all mean?

Put simply, a warranty is an agreement between the consumer and manufacturer, with the latter saying it has faith in the product it has built—for at least its first few years of use. For automakers, it can also be a key part of their marketing. Hyundai launched a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty in 1998 to combat negative perceptions about the quality of its cars. That warranty still exists today. Chrysler, not always known to be a bastion of quality, launched a lifetime powertrain warranty in 2007 but scrapped it a couple of years later.

What’s important to remember is that every automaker has its own definition not only of “warranty” but of the different kinds of warranties they include with new vehicles. Focusing here on new-vehicle, manufacturer-backed warranties, these are some terms you should be familiar with before you shop:

1956 Li’l Sunshine Bumper Car

Bumper to Bumper

Most automakers offer “bumper to bumper” warranties that span three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first. Although the name implies that everything on the car is guaranteed, there are exclusions. For example, you could argue the tires are between the bumpers, but they are often covered by a separate warranty from the tire manufacturer. Parts that fail due to general wear and tear are typically not covered by bumper-to-bumper warranties; nor are fixes that are not defect related and outside of automakers’ control, such as car crashes, theft and vandalism, general abuse, and alterations or modifications done by the vehicle owners.

Otherwise, the bumper-to-bumper warranty is the most extensive coverage and begins from the date the vehicle is delivered to the customer. Most new cars and trucks come with a three-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, but some companies have longer coverage. Higher-end marques such as Mercedes-Benz and Buick, for example, cover vehicles for four years or 50,000 miles. Last month, Volkswagen announced that its all-new 2018 Atlas and Tiguan will come with the lengthiest bumper-to-bumper warranty among SUVs sold in the United States. The coverage is for six years or 72,000 miles, whichever comes first, and is transferable to subsequent owners at no cost.

A V-8 connected via torque tube to a transaxle is Chevy’s recipe for balanced weight distribution, but save for the aging Aston Martin Vantage, none of the AMG GT’s more-direct competitors make use of it. Jaguar uses a conventional behind-the-engine transmission. Porsche hangs the engine off the back of the transaxle, while Audi’s mid-engined R8 sees the transaxle bolted to the back of the engine. The most similar car to the AMG, then, would be the new Ferrari California T, with its twin-turbo V-8 and rear-mounted trans, but the droptop Italian costs a lot more, while even the supercharged Vette Z06 will cost significantly less.


The “powertrain” warranty comes hand in hand with the bumper-to-bumper warranty, but it typically lasts a little longer, with most automakers offering it for up to five years or 60,000 miles, whichever comes first.  It covers only the parts that make the vehicle go: the engine, transmission, and drivetrain. And as with the bumper-to-bumper warranty, most automakers will say what’s covered in paperwork that comes with the new vehicle. In Ford’ s powertrain warranty, the company spells out the parts included, right down to the engine thermostat housing.

It is also important to see what is not covered. In Hyundai’s 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain limited warranty, for example, the camshaft is covered if there is a factory defect, but not if the damage was caused by poor lubrication brought on by improper maintenance.

Regular Maintenance

With all vehicle warranties, maintenance is very important. Automakers usually require that, to keep repairs covered, the vehicle must be regularly maintained according to a schedule laid out in the owner’s manual. For example, if you skip all the scheduled oil changes and then subsequently experience problems related to low or dirty oil, the automaker can argue that a needed fix is not covered, due to your lack of care. Even if you don’t want to sift through your warranty documents to find the specifics on this, a good rule would be to just maintain your car at regular intervals.

An image in Ford’s warranty guide for 2017 vehicles shows lengths of coverage.

Captive Repairs

Car companies typically expect you to do regular maintenance at their factory-backed, franchised dealerships. But by law, automakers cannot void your warranty just because you get your vehicle serviced or repaired at an independent mechanic or retail chain shop. The Federal Trade Commission notes that manufacturers and dealers are not obligated to pay for those fixes, however.

In other words, if you’re going to pay for the repairs, even though they’re covered by the warranty, feel free to have your car fixed by whomever you want. But if it’s covered by the warranty, you have to go to where the warranty dictates to get it fixed for free. Another caveat: If you or your independent mechanic improperly repair something and it causes greater damage, the automaker and its franchise dealer can decline to pay for the repair, as long as they can prove that you caused the damage.

“Limited” Edition

You may also notice that new-vehicle warranties include the word “limited” in the title. Fun fact: The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act requires a written warranty for any consumer product that costs more than $ 10 to be labeled either “full” or “limited.” Limited means that not everything about the product is covered. It is also limited because it does not span the life of a product and can also be given that name if it is limited to the original purchaser.

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Is It Transferable?

That brings up another important aspect of warranties: You need to know whether they are transferable. Remember that aforementioned Volkswagen warranty on the new Atlas and Tiguan? VW is calling it “the best in the business.” In making such a bold claim, the German automaker acknowledged Hyundai’s America’s Best 10-year/100,000-mile warranty but noted that the Korean automaker’s coverage is not transferable to a second owner. VW’s is.

Tires, Emissions, Rust, and Other Warranties

The tires of vehicles are sometimes covered by automakers’ new-vehicle warranties or may have separate coverage. Ford’s new-vehicle limited warranty covers tire defects in factory-supplied material and workmanship on a prorated basis up to 36,000 miles. But at least 10 tire manufacturers that supply Ford’s vehicles also offer their own warranties, as outlined in Ford’s 69-page pamphlet. Same with Honda.

New vehicles may have roadside assistance warranties built into the bumper-to-bumper warranties. Many automakers and dealerships also sell them separately. Some automakers, such as Fiat Chrysler, will pay for the vehicle to be towed if it’s for a fix that is under warranty, for example.

Like power yoga instructors for your car, engineers have helped make cars both quicker and more efficient by focusing on their breath. Today, even the lowliest of subcompact cars breathe easily through four valves—two intake and two exhaust—for every cylinder, and most modern engines have the ability to advance and/or delay the opening and closing of both the intake and exhaust valves. Aerodynamicists have mastered the craft of directing airflow into the engine bay—sometimes through active aero shutters—allowing engines to gulp in as much fresh, cool air as they need but no more. Exhaust systems have also evolved to reduce back pressure through the pipes, emissions components such as the catalytic converter, and mufflers.

Emission-control warranties are federally required and have been since 1972. The coverage comes in two parts: a performance warranty and a design-and-defect warranty. The performance warranty covers repairs for two years or 24,000 miles to ensure the vehicle passes emission tests. Design-and-defect coverage is for the same amount of use, but some automakers may add on to the limits.

Major emission-control components are covered for up to eight years or 80,000 miles. Components included in this coverage are the catalytic converters, electronic emission-control units or computers, and onboard emission diagnostic devices. As this is the law, you can expect it to be uniform across all makes and models. But not all states require emission testing, and some, such as Alaska or Texas, require it only in certain parts of the state. AAA has a good state-by-state breakdown.

LeMons Barber Studebaker Rust

Rust and perforation warranties are common, and the length of coverage varies from brand to brand. Toyota’s new vehicles are covered for an unlimited amount of time but up to 60,000 miles. Chevrolet covers its cars’ and trucks’ sheetmetal for three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first, and guarantees rust-through coverage for 6 years or 100,000 miles. Cadillac and Buick vehicles have a warranty of six years/unlimited miles for rust-through corrosion.

What about what’s on the dash? Hyundai’s limited warranty includes five years/60,000 miles for its vehicles’ radios, CD and DVD players, and navigation systems. It also has unlimited coverage of its air-conditioner refrigerant charge. These are just some of the more specific warranties often offered alongside powertrain and bumper-to-bumper coverage. It all goes back to the point that bumper to bumper typically does not mean everything between the bumpers is covered.

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With any new-vehicle warranty, you have to read the fine print or at least understand what is in the owner’s manual and related documents. All companies are required to detail to consumers what the warranty covers and what it does not. The onus is on you, the consumer, to be familiar with these documents at the time of purchase, so there are no surprises later.

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