Extended warranties: Are they worth it?

Smallville

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This has been brought up in another thread, and I thought it deserved it's own thread. It should be noted that on lower-priced products, when you buy with a credit card, a lot of times, your card company will double the manufacturer's warranty.

Also, it should be obvious that I am not a fan of the extended warranty. This is a Pro and Con thread, not just for dumping on extended warranties. Or, if no one really cares, this thread should be out of mind in a couple of days!

Here are a few things I found on the subjct, all from Consumer Reports, and these first three posts are about extended warranties on automobiles:

Extended warranties: A high-priced gamble
Our survey of 8,000 new-car buyers shows they are usually a poor deal

Most people don't buy a new car without hearing the dealership finance manager warn about "how foolish it would be" not to protect your investment from unexpected repairs as you put on the miles. What comes next is a persistent sales pitch for a solution to your new fears: an extended warranty. "You could save the amount of the plan cost with just one covered repair!" says a brochure for Ford's Extended Service Plan.

But extended warranties sell costly "peace of mind" for repair nightmares that probably won't occur, according to a survey of more than 8,000 readers in December 2007 by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. We have long advised that extended warranties are a poor deal for almost every product. Now we have the first data showing that this advice applies to most new cars as well.

The survey included buyers of extended warranties for cars in the 2001 and 2002 model years. That allowed sufficient time for the factory warranties to expire, as well as several years of extended coverage. The chart on Costly contracts lists results for makes for which we have sufficient data; note that models within a make may vary. Some owners in the survey might have had coverage remaining, but our analysis shows that the need for serious repairs is uncommon.

The main reason is that automobiles today are more reliable than ever. "The odds are that what's covered won't fail," says Terry Wynter, who owns Terry Wynter Auto Service Center in Fort Myers, Fla., and is helping to write an extended-warranty guide for the Automotive Service Association (ASA). The sellers of extended warranties know what parts tend to break within the coverage time and mileage, so buyers are betting against the house.

In fact, that's a lesson many people already know. About 75 percent of all respondents in our initial screening did not buy extended warranties, with more than two-thirds saying they didn't think it was a good value for their money.

The best course of action for most consumers is to buy a car that gets top reliability scores in our Vehicle Ratings (accessed by pulldown menus on major pages within the Cars area or through our interactive New Car Selector, available to subscribers), and you probably won't need an extended warranty. But if your heart is set on a car with a below-average reliability record, it's more of a toss-up. You can decide for yourself how much "peace of mind" is worth. For example, the highest usage claims were for Mercedes-Benz, for which we have no recommended models due to below-average reliability. But only 38 percent of those owners said they saved money with the extended warranty; the average loss was $100.

The experience of our readers who bought extended warranties and a closer examination of how they work (available to subscribers) show why the odds are stacked against you.
 

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How they work: Terms and coverage

1. NOT INSURANCE, NOT A WARRANTY

Many consumers think of extended warranties as insurance. That's not by accident. Marketing materials promise "peace of mind," or "fully insured," describe their business as "insurance-related," and point to their financial "strength and stability."

But extended warranties are not insurance in most states. They're not even warranties as defined by federal law. These arrangements are most accurately described as prepaid repair contracts, also known as extended service contracts. Here's how they work:

A car dealer usually sells a contract that is handled by independent auto warranty companies called administrators. The dealer just makes the sale, so the contract is between you and the administrator, which might be a carmaker's subsidiary or a separate company. The administrator pays the repair shop or reimburses you only for covered problems. Another company might insure your contract against default.

"Auto extended warranty companies are not subject to the same close regulation and oversight as insurers," says Jane Cline, the insurance commissioner of West Virginia, who spoke with us on behalf of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. That means that buyers of extended service contracts in states that don't consider them to be insurance don't enjoy the same regulatory safeguards that they get from, say, auto insurance, whose price must bear a reasonable relationship to cost.


2. HIGH SALES COMMISSIONS

Since extended service contract pricing is not regulated, dealers charge whatever the market will bear, and a 50 percent cut for sales commissions is not unusual. That means on a $1,500 to $2,300 contract, $750 to $1,150 can go to the administrator, minus that company's own costs and profits.

By contrast, only 17 percent of your annual premium for auto insurance goes to commissions and other selling expenses. On average, dealers collected $795 per new-car extended service contract last year, according to Superior Integrated Solutions, a dealer management consulting firm. Such sales contributed 14 percent to dealerships' bottom line, according to CNW Marketing Research, which covers the automobile industry.

Stephanie Marquis, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Insurance Commissioner's Office, says if there's a state-licensed insurance company or lesser-regulated risk-retention group behind the plan, "only $300 actually goes to the insurance company" in her state.

In other words, a very small portion of the price you pay for an extended service contract actually goes to repairs after intermediaries get their cut.


3. UNLIKELY CATASTROPHE

The standard sales pitch for extended service contracts includes invoking fears about the breakdown of big-ticket items. Promotional materials for the GM Protection Plan, for example, show an array of pricey internal parts under the skin of an SUV—$1,200 for an air-conditioning compressor, $2,600 to replace the transmission, $7,300 to switch out an engine.

Concern about future repairs is what mainly drove people to sign up for an extended service plan, but for the most part, their worst fears did not materialize. Plans were used by 58 percent of buyers, and the average repair savings were less than what they paid for the contract. Only about a third of all respondents who bought an extended warranty actually used their plan to cover a serious problem.

Another way to look at this is through the experiences of people who had vehicles four to six years old and who did not have extended warranty coverage. Analysis from our extensive reliability database showed that only about 4 percent of those cars had repair costs of more than $1,700 in a one-year period, and fewer than 1 percent had $3,700 in such costs.

A Ford official acknowledges that big-ticket repairs are rare during the life of its biggest-selling five-to-six-year Premium Care Extended Service Plan. "What you tend to see is a few small repairs as the vehicle gets older," says Mark Bardusch, Ford's ESP sales manager. "Major repairs are decreasing." But Bardusch says Ford's plans, for which consumers pay about 2 percent of the vehicle price per year of extended service, are a much better deal than those offered by the home-appliance industry, which usually charges a higher percentage of the product's price.


4. TRICKY COVERAGE TERMS

The contracts offer seemingly generous periods of coverage, up to eight years/120,000 miles. But you get less than meets the eye. If you buy a plan when you purchase your vehicle, as 82 percent of our respondents did, you pay to finance the deal up front, and the meter on the plan typically starts running that day.

But the core coverage doesn't kick in until after the original factory warranty is up. About 37 percent of respondents who didn't use their extended service contract to cover repair costs said they didn't collect because the problem was covered by the factory warranty.

For example, if your Honda comes with a common three-year/36,000-mile factory warranty, the Honda Care eight-year/120,000-mile extended service really only covers repairs for the last five years or 84,000 miles, whichever comes first. Factory warranties on some cars are getting better. General Motors and Chrysler recently increased their powertrain warranty. Hyundai for several years has had a long powertrain warranty.

Many brochures we reviewed tend to wax eloquently about "comprehensive" coverage for hundreds of parts and other benefits. Those sales tools usually don't say much about numerous exclusions and limitations. To learn that, you need to delve into the contract:

Wear and tear. More than 57 percent of survey respondents who bought a contract when they purchased their car did so to guard against problems that develop as cars get older. A number of extended service contract brochures we examined said or suggested that the plans cover "wear and tear," which can be a confusing term.

In general, it means a covered part will be replaced if it dies prematurely during its expected lifetime, suggesting that it is associated with some hidden defect or is simply the bad egg of its production lot. Extended warranties, however, typically don't cover parts and labor related to normal wear items, such as brake pads, rotors, shock absorbers, belts, hoses, etc. A potential sticking point is how "normal" and "premature" are interpreted.

Covered part not covered. Ford's ESP contract, like some other agreements, does not cover "repairs needed to a covered part caused by the failure of a non-covered part."

Remember that worst-case worry about replacing the engine? If your fan belt, a part not covered, broke and caused the engine to overheat, the engine repair might not be covered. "We would have to see why the fan belt failed," Bardusch says.

Reasonable cost. Contracts can be imprecise in their promise to pay "reasonable" labor rates and parts costs. After Robert Cleaves, 77, spent $4,000 for an extended service contract, Warrantech, of Bedford, Tex., wouldn't pay more than $1,435 of an $1,825 claim on his 2002 Mercedes-Benz, based on its definition of "reasonable" labor and parts rates. So Cleaves, a retired Los Angeles attorney, sued, prompting full payment. "If I had that $4,000 now, I'd be money ahead," says Cleaves, who now counsels against buying such contracts.

Sometimes "you're dealing with a claims adjuster whose function is to pay as little as possible," says Bill Moss, co-owner of Advantage Certified Auto Group in Manassas, Va., and another author of the ASA's extended-warranty guide.

Tear-down diagnosis. A repair shop may take apart an engine to determine the cause and cost of repair. "You will be responsible for these charges if the failure is not covered," says Warranty Direct's MajorCare contract.

No maintenance records. All extended plans require that you perform and pay for regular maintenance according to the owner's manual. But they can deny claims if you can't produce records of that maintenance.


6. BANKRUPTCY RISK

Even if you follow all the rules, you still might not be able to collect on your plan because the administrator went bust. Last year Ohio-based Ultimate Warranty left more than 137,000 customers holding the bag on an estimated $45 million in expected claims. Tim Meenan is executive director of the Service Contract Industry Council, a trade group that has been effective in pushing industry-standard regulations for service contracts in more than 25 states. He says: "There used to be a tremendous amount of insolvencies in this business. There still are, though we've reduced that number."
 

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Highlights:

Highlights
  • Sixty-five percent of those surveyed said they spent significantly more for the contract than they got back in repair-cost savings. Respondents said their extended warranty cost them $1,000 on average while providing an average benefit of $700. That means the average loss was $300. A big reason: 42 percent of extended warranties in our survey were not used, in most cases because the vehicle didn't need repairs or the standard manufacturer's warranty sufficed.
  • About one in five respondents said they had a net savings. In general, extended warranties were a better deal for those who bought more troublesome cars, scoring lower in our reliability Ratings. When we looked at net costs by car make, only owners of Pontiacs and Jeeps broke even because on average they had covered repairs that equaled the warranty cost.
  • Only 38 percent of buyers said they were highly satisfied with their purchase, which puts extended warranties near the bottom of dozens of services rated by Consumer Reports, including home, auto and health insurance.
  • Twelve percent of buyers reported trouble getting repairs when they used their extended warranty, because of contract terms that excluded coverage for the needed repair or parts, or because of disputes with the claims administrator.
This is an ad CR took out in USA Today in 2006:

 

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INHO- they are always a money-loser for you over the long haul. ANY insurance policy (that's what an extended warranty IS) is designed to do several things:

1. Divide the risk among a large pool
2. Pay off the statistical exception who suffers a loss
3. Divide the substantial profits up among the insurance company and it's owners.

In other words- warranties are priced at such a level that there is LOTS OF PROFIT over and above the claims that will be settled.

So health insurance, for instance, (another story entirely) potentially could save you several million $$$ if you are critically injured in an accident, suffer recurring cancer, etc. - a financial exposure few could cover alone.

But extended warranties cover at most $2000-$4000 for a new engine on a car and in many cases cover only $100-$200 repair on a computer or camera, etc. HOPEFULLY- those are risks that any of us could cover either out of pocket or via credit card.

So on average (and that's how you have to look at it) you're reducing your risk, of incurring an affordable repair bill, but in doing so you're admittedly spending the AVERAGE exposure PLUS all of the profit the company earns in selling you the policy.

More simply, if you bought extended warranties on everything you buy- you might spend $30,000 in policies over a lifetime, and you might NEED $5,000 worth of repairs on those collective items you've insured. The OTHER $25,000 all went to the warranty companies and their selling agents in the form of profits and commissions.

Insurance is designed to cover risks you can't cover yourself: premature death, catastrophic health expense, the loss of your home due to fire or flood, the unexpected death of a business partner or other financial principal, etc.

For risks you CAN cover yourself (car repairs, computer repairs, cellphone repairs) unless you're the single, most-unlucky human being who ever lived, you're wasting a BUNCH OF MONEY!

My .02...
 

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For me, a lot of it comes down to the cost of the extended warranty. If it is 5-7% of the cost of the item, to me it is usually worth it. If a store wants $50 to cover a $1000 TV for two years past the manufactured warranty, that is worth it to me. I wouldn't pay much over that though. I usually won't do them unless the cost is really low. We bought a used Honda van a few years ago that had about 30,000 miles. It was from a Honda dealer so they offered an extended warranty (bumper-to-bumper) to go up to 100,000 miles. I wasn't going to do it, but it was only about $450. Way too cheap to pass up that deal. It has more than paid for itself with minor things that have come up, and we only have about 75,000 miles on it now so we still have a year or two until it is up.

Normally I don't do them, but if the cost is low enough I will.
 

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Even CR recommends an extended warranty for certain items:

EXTENDED WARRANTIES: SOMETIMES WORTH THE PRICE

Consumer Reports advises against extended warranties with specific exceptions

January 2005 Issue

YONKERS, NY — Once offered only on costly appliances, extended warranties have trickled down to just about everything on the store shelves. And when retailers’ profit margins are being squeezed, extended warranties yield 40 to 80 percent profit. The January issue of Consumer Reports warns that although most of the time extended warranties aren’t worth the money, there are specific instances where it makes sense to consider buying one.

Consumer Reports has reliability data from thousands of readers on a wide range of products. Many products, particularly those with tried-and-true technologies, are unlikely to need repairs within the first three years. But there are three notable exceptions: treadmills or elliptical trainers, laptop computers, and those pricey plasma televisions.
  • Treadmills/Elliptical Trainers – The $70 to more than $100 for two or three years of coverage can be well worth it considering that a service call can cost between $75 and $100 before paying for parts.
  • Laptop computers – Laptop parts are made to fit within the manufacturer’s unique case design and for that reason Consumer Reports recommends that consumers consider buying an extended warranty from the manufacturer, not the retailer. The manufacturer’s extended warranty also allows for continued access to tech support.
  • Plasma televisions – An extended warranty for a plasma set costs $300 to $1,000 depending of the cost of the TV and the length of the warranty. But Consumer Reports suggests that buying one may be prudent. After the manufacturer’s usual one-year warranty runs out, a service center will charge several hundred to several thousand dollars for repairs.
Before saying yes to any extended warranty, Consumer Reports recommends checking to see whether the credit card used for purchase provides similar coverage. Typically found with gold and platinum cards, these plans can extend the original warranty by up to one year. MasterCard holders can check the fine print for the words “extended warranty,” and Visa calls its program Warranty Manager Service.

The full report on extended warranties will be available for free on www.ConsumerReports.org.
 
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I don't know about plasmas or treadmills, but in truth I *HAVE* bought extended warranties on every laptop/notebook computer I've ever bought- and I've used EVERY SINGLE WARRANTY at least once- and a couple of them numerous times.

The fragile nature of a computer when it gets tossed around, dropped, thrown on and off airplanes and overhead storage etc. is a tough working environment.

So I agree- Laptops FOR SURE!
 

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An extended warranty is not worth the money. Chances are that if a part hasnt failed by the time the 36,000 mile warranty is up, it isnt going to fail until the vehicle has well over 100,000 miles on it.
IMO, they are just preying on people's fears. People worry when the 36,000 mile warranty is up and extended warranty gives them peace of mind. While it does give that peace of mind, when they look at what that added warranty costs, they are wasting a lot of money that could be put towards potential repairs in the future.
 

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They are NEVER WORTH IT.
 

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I was always torn about whether or not to take an extended warrenty. On regular household items I never take it but for my car I just wasn't sure. I had one on my last car and it seemed whatever went wrong was NEVER covered under the extended warrenty. In the end I decided to take strictly due to fear of not being able to afford a major problem. I sincerely regret doing this now and do not think I will take one again in the future, unless it is a great deal.
 

Badger_Golfer

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I was always torn about whether or not to take an extended warrenty. On regular household items I never take it but for my car I just wasn't sure. I had one on my last car and it seemed whatever went wrong was NEVER covered under the extended warrenty. In the end I decided to take strictly due to fear of not being able to afford a major problem. I sincerely regret doing this now and do not think I will take one again in the future, unless it is a great deal.
Thats why you learn how to work on your vehicle yourself, GG. That way, unless its something major, you can handle and it will cost you a lot less money.
Not to mention the fact that if you do it yourself, you know its done right.
Also, even if you do have to take it in for service, if you kinda know whats up, they wont be able to BS you into paying for a bunch of service you dont need.
Its all pretty easy too. Oilchanges, sparkplugs, belts, rotating tires and changing brakepads is all stuff thats easy to do.
 

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Thats why you learn how to work on your vehicle yourself, GG. That way, unless its something major, you can handle and it will cost you a lot less money.
Not to mention the fact that if you do it yourself, you know its done right.
Also, even if you do have to take it in for service, if you kinda know whats up, they wont be able to BS you into paying for a bunch of service you dont need.
Its all pretty easy too. Oilchanges, sparkplugs, belts, rotating tires and changing brakepads is all stuff thats easy to do.
It's a shame you aren't my neighbor then because I don't know ANYTHING about cars. I know how to put gas in it an drive it and JB will tell you the last part is debatable.
 

RocketSauce

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It's a shame you aren't my neighbor then because I don't know ANYTHING about cars. I know how to put gas in it an drive it and JB will tell you the last part is debatable.
LOL! that was funny
 

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It is not even debateable.
 

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I was waiting for you to chime in haha. He is right, my driving leaves a lot to be desired. But I would like to point out that I am the one with the safe driving record *cough* *cough*
 

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Only cause you cry to get out of everything...hehe
 

RocketSauce

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Only cause you cry to get out of everything...hehe
lol. must be nice to be able to whip up some tears to get your way, hehe
 

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lol. must be nice to be able to whip up some tears to get your way, hehe
I got pulled over once for running a stop sign and I was so scared to get a ticket and I was crying so hard I was having trouble breathing and the cop felt so bad for me that he waited with me until I calmed down and told me to have a nice day and try not to run anymore stop signs haha.
 

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I got pulled over once for running a stop sign and I was so scared to get a ticket and I was crying so hard I was having trouble breathing and the cop felt so bad for me that he waited with me until I calmed down and told me to have a nice day and try not to run anymore stop signs haha.
HAHAHAHAHA! :clapp:
 

Osahar

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They are NEVER WORTH IT.
Now now JB, never say never. My first portable DVD player I purchased I bought the 4 year replacement contract at Best Buy. 1 1/2 years later, the lens stopped reading DVDs. I picked out a brand new one at up to the cost of the original (2" screen size upgrade!) and walked out the door. I also bought another 4 year replacement contract on the new one. It's now been ~2 years and once again it refuses to read DVDs so time to go have it replaced again.

As far as cars go, I'll give you my non-company-line tips on extended service plans. IF you decide you do want to buy one, make sure it's the manufacturers plan and not Joe Blow's Extended Warranty Services. I say this for a couple of reasons:
  1. The manufacturers (at least I know ours) covers more parts than the offbrand.
  2. You can take your vehicle to ANY dealership for that company in the country - offbrands are usually only valid at dealers that sell their plan and some are dealer/dealer-group specific.
  3. This one's from personal experience - many offbrands will claim that the item that failed was due to a "known manufacturer problem" and refuse to pay - our coverage would have paid no questions asked.
  4. There are no payment issues like cited above - the dealership knows exactly what they can charge for labor/parts/etc.

Now, with that having been said, most manufacturers now offer extended powertrain coverage, which will cover most engine/transmission/drivetrain issues beyond the standard 3/36 "Bumper-to-Bumper" Warranty. Since most big ticket repairs occur in those areas of the car, the only reason anymore to have the extended warranty is if you plan to keep the unit beyond the extended powertrain coverage. Other repairs tend to be fairly small ticket items and unless you're unlucky will not amount to the cost of your warranty + deductible charges before it expires.
 

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1 and a half years later Osahar for the amount you spent on the replacement plan you could have bought another one anyway.
 

Osahar

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1 and a half years later Osahar for the amount you spent on the replacement plan you could have bought another one anyway.
Not quite sure how that would compute, JB. Spend $200 on DVD Player, $50 on replacement plan. Replace DVD Player, $0 + $50 on 2nd replacement plan. I figure I'm about $100 ahead right now, especially considering the way investments have tumbled in the past 18 months.
 

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It has been proven by just about every single "consumer shopping expert" out there that replacements plans over the long term NEVER pay off. You will see isolated incidents, but math disputes every single plan. There is a reason that stores sell them remember? Its not to be generous.
 

Osahar

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Oh, agreed. If you sampled everyone who purchases one, the stores/companies make out like bandits. For me, in that case, it's worked rather well - but it's one of the only items I've ever purchased an extended warranty on.

And on cars, I don't have one on the 2007. But I also have no intention of keeping it beyond 4 years which is well within it's powertrain coverage. Any repairs would be minimal. Although I know of a dealership or two that I can buy a full 6/100 from at cost if I ever really want it. :D

Oh, and for my fellow Floridians - Florida's laws on extended warranties suck. The State sets what dealerships must charge for the warranty, so there is no way to find a "better deal" on one unless you're working with a dealership out of state. Most of the dealers I work with charge far less for the same warranty.
 

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