As the name suggests, a bumper-to-bumper warranty is just that — a warranty that covers nearly everything on your vehicle from its front bumper to its back bumper (although, ironically, not your car’s bumpers, which are classified as body panels and therefore, not covered).
A bumper-to-bumper warranty is not to be confused with a powertrain warranty, which is a valuable type of warranty that covers your car’s powertrain (engine, transmission, AWD system, etc), nothing more, nothing less.
If you purchase your car new, then you likely get this type of warranty as part of your new car’s factory warranty or manufacturer's warranty, which gives rise to the bumper-to-bumper warranty sometimes being called a new vehicle limited warranty. And while other warranties may be included in a new car warranty package—warranties on the drivetrain, roadside assistance warranties, or warranties that hedge against rust and corrosion—the bumper-to-bumper warranty is the star of the show simply because it offers the greatest number of protections for your car.
What does a bumper-to-bumper warranty cover and not cover?
This type of vehicle warranty covers most of the systems and parts that the vehicle’s powertrain warranty does not, including things like electronics, air-conditioning system, audio components, your car’s suspension, and more.
Excluded from most bumper-to-bumper warranties are items that are considered subject to normal wear. Wear items include components such as the trim on the car’s interior, brake pads, windshield wipers, tires, upholstery covering the seats, the surfaces of the cabin, and the car’s glass, or part of the routine maintenance needs of the car, such as oil changes or tire rotations.
New Vehicles vs Used Vehicles
New car purchases almost always with minimal exceptions come with at least powertrain warranty coverage and a bumper-to-bumper warranty. These warranties generally last from two years or 24,000 miles to 10 years or 100,000 miles, although the length of time for the warranty varies widely and depends largely on the warranty provider, the automaker, and the particular vehicle's make in question. Most have no deductible.
If you’re buying a used car, you will more likely than not be offered the option to purchase an aftermarket bumper-to-bumper warranty along with your new ride. A more in-depth look at what bumper-to-bumper warranties cover can help you decide if the purchase price is truly worth it in your situation and for the car, you plan to purchase before you pay for this additional coverage.
Are they truly comprehensive?
First things first. Is a bumper-to-bumper warranty truly comprehensive coverage for your car, especially when you purchase it for a used car? The short answer is “maybe, it depends.”
A bumper-to-bumper warranty is more comprehensive than a simple powertrain warranty since it covers -- as the name implies -- nearly everything between the vehicle's bumpers, subject to some exclusions.
A powertrain warranty covers just the components that make the vehicle move: the engine, transmission, and their related parts.
A manufacturer's bumper-to-bumper warranty builds on a powertrain warranty by adding coverage for all other non-wearable parts including the heating/cooling/air conditioning, electronics, and suspension.
While it sounds like a bumper-to-bumper warranty covers your entire new car regardless of what breaks on it, this isn't exactly true. As mentioned, warranties of any stripe don't cover wearable items and they don't cover components that break or fail due to lack of maintenance.
And it will not cover damage that you or someone else causes. For example, if someone bumps into your car in the parking lot and dents your fender, a warranty wouldn't cover that repair. But your car insurance/the at-fault party’s car insurance might.
How to use a bumper-to-bumper warranty:
Most bumper-to-bumper coverage is easy to use when there's a problem. Owners simply make an appointment at their local dealership for that brand of vehicle (even if you didn't buy it at that dealership itself) and the dealership handles most of the paperwork and the repair itself.
Generally, they will do the repair and bill the automaker (or whomever issued the warranty) for all parts and labor relevant to that repair.
How do warranties relate to vehicle recalls?
The key difference between a recall and a warranty issue is that recalls are done because they're required by law and they pertain to a wide number of the same vehicle. Warranty issues are specific to your vehicle.
When a car manufacturer recalls a vehicle, it's because they've discovered a flaw with a certain component in a vehicle. This can be anything from malfunctioning airbags to electrical issues or issues with the body panels or frame, brakes, or the instrument panel.
Once an automaker notifies the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that it plans on recalling a vehicle (or once NHTSA mandates that they recall it), the automaker then notifies registered owners of that vehicle. When the replacement parts are ready (which can take up to several months), owners take their vehicles to their local dealership and have it fixed at no charge to them.
Recalls have no impact on your warranty and can be conducted regardless of whether you have a warranty or not. They also are done even if your vehicle is now out of warranty.
While recalls can be done on hundreds of thousands of vehicles for a specific flaw, a warranty is usually a case-by-case basis: your specific car might have a specific issue that no other versions of that car have or that other car owners have but not in numbers large enough to necessitate a recall.
Transferring a warranty:
Some people prefer to buy a car that's only a year or two old instead of a new car, which loses value as soon as you drive it off the lot. But what about that bumper-to-bumper warranty? Does it go with the car or expire with the change of ownership?
This depends on the warranty and whether it's transferable. Many new-vehicle warranties allow for at least one transfer of ownership to the vehicle's next owner.
This is a good thing, so try to find a warranty that is transferable. Transferable warranties are an asset for people selling their car with miles/time left on the warranty since it could increase the sale price because the seller is getting additional peace of mind. Whether or not the warranty is transferrable often boils down to the third-party provider holding the vehicle service contract.
Warranties for used vehicles:
Many companies offer extended bumper-to-bumper warranties for used cars -- either a vehicle you already own or a used vehicle you're considering buying. This includes most major manufacturers, including Honda, Hyundai, Toyota, Ford, and others.
If you have a used car, you might consider investing in one of these protection plans. However, many of these warranties differ in that they require the owner of the vehicle to pay part of the price of repairs, similar to health insurance covering a majority of a health service.
Some of these policies have strict guidelines on where you can have work done on your car and receive coverage. If you want a warranty on the vehicle you already own, the company may require an inspection to make sure there aren't any known issues you could try to have repaired once you buy the warranty.
Some of these policies can be expensive. If you're considering purchasing an extended warranty for your original coverage, make sure to read it very carefully and see what it does and doesn't cover. The coverage can vary in terms of parts that it covers and circumstances in which it covers it.
For instance, a policy might not cover engine repairs if the policy was purchased when it was already known the engine needed said repairs.
Do Your Homework
Before spending the money on an extended warranty, do your homework. After finding two or three policies, research the companies for positive and negative reviews online. Some common things that an extended warranty covers include brake pads, tires, windshield and wiper blades, turn signals, paint, brake lights, interior trim, and body panels. It may also cover regular maintenance to your car and pay for damage, including both accidental damage and damage from collisions.
It is not uncommon for a dealer to try to sell an extended car warranty on top of the bumper-to-bumper warranty that your new car comes with. In fact, it’s pretty much standard practice. And while it might seem odd to buy coverage before you even need it, it can be a smart move that gives you peace of mind that your warranty is going to be there for you in the here and now and that you can keep it going after the factory-included warranty expires. That type of security is one of the biggest reasons to consider investing in an extended warranty, whether on top of your bumper-to-bumper warranty from the manufacturer or as a standalone purchase when you buy a used car.
If you truly want to make sure that you are more likely to need an extended auto warranty, you can always check your vehicle’s reliability ranking. Consumer Reports and J.D. Power are both great sources for determining if the car you’re looking to buy is a tad bit unreliable, which makes an extended warranty even more valuable or if the car is notoriously reliable, which may negate the need for an extended warranty to begin with.
Extended Warranty Perks
Keep in mind that some extended warranties and bumper-to-bumper warranties come with added perks that make them an even smarter purchase. For instance, some may provide reduced-cost vehicle rentals, rental car reimbursement, round-the-clock roadside assistance, discounts on towing, and more in addition to covering repair costs for covered components. Again, research the car that interests you to find out if it normally requires more service the older it gets and consider these perks when making your decision to purchase or not, since towing and car rental can help deflect your costs as your car ages.
Bumper-to-bumper warranties are definitely a big plus when you’re buying a new car. Purchasing a bumper-to-bumper warranty for your used car can also be a good idea if you want to enjoy the peace of mind that a warranty brings. If the vehicle you’re purchasing has a good track record, you may not need the warranty anyway, but if the unexpected happens and your warranty covers an expensive repair, you’ll thank yourself for having this type of coverage in place.