A powertrain is defined by most manufacturers to be the engine and power transfer equipment that enables the wheels to propel the vehicle. Included in that long list are systems like the transmission, transfer case, and differentials.
The powertrain warranty that the vehicle manufacturer provides with a new vehicle is an actual warranty, protecting you against defects in the powertrain in the car that you just paid an average of $40,000 to purchase.
The “powertrain warranty” pitched to you by third party vendors is a service contract, not a warranty against defects. In these contracts, you’re essentially pre-paying for service that your powertrain may or may not need AFTER the original manufacturer warranty has expired.
If you’d like more information on what a powertrain is, check out Popular Mechanic’s overview.
|Parts Typically Included In A Powertrain Warranty||Approximate Repair Costs|
*Our chart above is what GMC includes and excludes in its Powertrain Warranty.
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Each manufacturer provides its vehicle owners with a detailed listing of what is included in the powertrain warranty. The single best source of information on coverage for your vehicle is that listing. It can be found online or in an owner’s manual supplement.
The engine or motor of the vehicle is the starting point for the powertrain listing. Where the “engine” begins and ends is defined carefully by the manufacturer. For example, the engine block, pistons, valves, connecting rods, and crankshaft are parts of the engine.
Next is the transmission. It connects to things like transfer cases and differentials, which are part of the powertrain and included in most warranties. Finally, the systems that the transmission connects to are also part of the powertrain.
The items not covered in a powertrain warranty may surprise you. You can’t start up your powertrain without a working starter, but it is usually excluded. You cannot operate a conventional engine without an alternator, but it is excluded. None of the engine or transmission parts will work without the engine control module or transmission control module, but they are not part of your powertrain warranty. You cannot use a transmission without a clutch (if it is a manual), but guess what automakers exclude from your powertrain warranty? The clutch.
A drivetrain warranty is like your powertrain warranty but without the engine being included. Car Talks cautions shoppers not to purchase just an aftermarket drivetrain warranty. It is very limited, and is unlikely to protect you from the most common failures.
A bumper-to-bumper warranty is a comprehensive new car warranty. It covers everything that is included in the powertrain warranty and much more. This is the best one to have if you are shopping for an aftermarket warranty. Also, most manufacturers will sell you an extension to your car’s bumper-to-bumper, but you need to buy it before the one the car came with expires.
|Manufacturer||Powertrain Warranty Duration Period**|
A powertrain warranty’s duration is usually a number of months and miles, and the first to occur results in the ending. For example, five years or 60,000 miles. Each automaker or third-party warranty company sets the span. They can vary widely. Also, many automakers such as Acura, BMW, and Tesla only offer one warranty, not a Basic and separate Powertrain warranty.
**In our chart above, we have shown the single warranty for the companies that have just the one warranty.
The longest powertrain warranty offered in America we could find is Mitsubishi’s 10-Year / 100,000-Mile Powertrain warranty. The second best is Hyundai / Kia / Genesis’ warranty for the same duration, but only for the original buyer and that buyer’s immediate family members. The warranty drops to the more standard five-years / 60,000-mile warranty for any other subsequent owners. The bulk of new cars in America come with a five-year, 60K-mile warranty. As noted above, against all logic, luxury and premium brands have the shortest powertrain coverage.
The powertrain warranty that comes with the purchase of a new car doesn’t cost anything, other than the purchase of the vehicle itself. A powertrain warranty is one of the main aspects of value when it comes to a new or used vehicle. A powertrain warranty has great value, particularly for those buyers who take ownership of a pre-owned vehicle. Just imagine if you were buying a used car. Which would you opt for if all other things were equal; A car with no warranty or one that had a manufacturer’s warranty on the entire powertrain?
When buying aftermarket warranties, the answer is less clear cut. Sure, any warranty has some value. However, if you are shopping for a third-party (not from the manufacturer) extended warranty on an older car, what leads you to believe the powertrain will be your biggest problem? A recent quality survey of vehicle owners by J.D. Power revealed, “Almost one-fourth of all problems cited by new-vehicle owners relate to infotainment. Top complaints include built-in voice recognition; Android Auto/Apple CarPlay connectivity; touchscreens; built-in navigation systems; and Bluetooth connectivity.” A study done by J.D. Power of three-year-old vehicles revealed that infotainment systems, “...account for more problems than any other category in the study.” The most commonly-reported problems in modern vehicles are not related to the powertrain.
If you have ever taken a glance at the reviews owners of third-party warranties post about the product they purchased, you will notice one thing very quickly. The reviews on a scale of one to five are generally either a one (horrible), or a five (fantastic). The reason for this is simple. If the warranty covers the needed repairs, the reviewer posts a five along with a happy-gram. If it did not, regardless of what the owner’s policy says, it gets a rating of one and some nasty commentary. Remember what we said about alternators, starters, wheel bearings, and AC compressors? All not covered by a powertrain warranty. Yet, if one fails, the car won’t work.
It is hard for Car Talk to recommend that a person purchase an aftermarket warranty that excludes a majority of items that can fail. It just seems like a recipe for unhappiness. And you don’t get to sleep any better at night knowing that only part of the car is covered by the pricey warranty you now pay for every month along with the car payment.
Electric vehicles and hybrids such as the top-selling Tesla Model 3, Tesla Model Y, Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and RAV4 Prime, and Toyota Prius and Prius Prime have powertrains that are not easily defined using the old terms. Electric motors are now replacing engines. Electric motors that power plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles like the RAV4 Prime and Prius Prime are integral to the “transmission.” Most manufacturers now offer separate, additional warranties on the hybrid and electric parts of these powertrains. Those who shop for vehicles with partial or full electric drive systems should take the time to look closely at how these systems are covered by warranties. Typically, they are longer in duration than traditional powertrain warranties, and they augment the vehicle’s powertrain warranty.
The only powertrain warranty available to consumers is one that comes with a new vehicle. Your manufacturer will use original parts and its own trained mechanics to fix your vehicle if something goes sideways.
In addition to the company that built your vehicle, there are companies that will sell you a service contract when the powertrain warranty your vehicle came with runs out. If you have a cell phone or mailbox, you have surely seen the sales pitches for them. Some are low-rated, questionable companies and others are highly-rated reputable companies. There are two notable ones that earned a spot on Car Talk’s list of the Five Best Aftermarket Vehicle Extended Warranties list.
The first is Endurance. This company is a direct provider, meaning that they not only sell the plan, but they also administer it. Endurance offers four levels of coverage: Select Premiere, Secure, Superior, and Supreme. The difference in those plans is which parts of the vehicle the plan is going to cover. The Endurance Secure plan most closely mimics the traditional Powertrain Warranty.
CARCHEX is another highly-rated aftermarket service contract provider. CARCHEX offers service plans for all brands, both new and used. The company has also earned an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau, meaning that they respond to whatever complaints they get, and they’re probably not hounding you on the phone late at night. CARCHEX can tailor a plan to meet whatever you wish to be covered and can provide you with one that closely matches the Powertrain Warranty your vehicle came with.
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The powertrain is anything that makes the car go: engine, transmission, and power delivery components.
Engine failure, transmission failure, and problems with these systems are the most common powertrain repairs. See our complete list above for more details.
No. Components and systems like the alternator, starter, and throttle body are not covered under traditional powertrain warranties.
No. The powertrain warranty is the warranty that came from the original manufacturer of your vehicle, protecting you against defects in any component related to driving the vehicle down the road. A “drivetrain warranty” is a service contract where you prepay for service related to drivetrain components like the transmission, center differential and drive axles.
A powertrain warranty doesn’t have a cost. It’s the warranty that came with your car when it was new. A “powertrain warranty” provided by a third party is a service contract. A service contract protecting the powertrain can be valuable if the engine, transmission, transfer case or center differential fails while you’ve been paying for the contract. It has little value if those components don’t fail.
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