Car Buying Articles
Are Free Car Maintenance Programs Worth It?
It's a Nice Bonus, but It May Not Always Save You Money
Automakers often offer free car maintenance as an added incentive to buyers. If you visit a dealership whose brand offers free maintenance, you'll hear about this coverage in the sales pitch. But do these programs save any money? In most cases no, but there are reasons why they still may be appealing to car buyers.
Not all free car maintenance programs are the same. The better free vehicle maintenance programs come from luxury car brands, which have higher-priced vehicles than their competitors. That factor typically offsets any savings from the free maintenance. The average savings from the automotive brands with less expensive vehicles and shorter coverage, like Toyota or Volkswagen, amounts to less than $500.
But for consumers on the fence between two vehicles that both offer free maintenance, the difference in coverage may be significant enough to affect the decision. For example, the BMW 320i and Volvo S60 are similar cars. Although the BMW costs a bit more, its free maintenance coverage lasts a year longer than the Volvo's and also includes replaceable items such as brake pads, brake rotors and wiper-blade inserts.
Getting your car serviced at a dealership isn't cheap, and prices can vary greatly from one dealer to the next, so for many consumers, free factory-qualified maintenance can eliminate the hassle of trying to find the lowest price. But for other people, the decision might not be one of pure dollars and cents. They may be drawn to buying a car that's covered by a free vehicle maintenance program simply because of the convenience it offers. There is a genuine appeal to knowing that all you have to do is bring your car in at the proper mileage interval and the service department will take care of the rest. Now let's get down to the specifics of the free car maintenance programs.
Types of Coverage
Coverage varies greatly from one automaker to the other and can range from a free tire rotation to full maintenance coverage for up to five years. To help you sort through the options, the Edmunds data team has compiled a detailed chart of all the automakers that offer free maintenance. It lists the services covered and includes the time or mileage limitations. We also have calculated the estimated average savings to be had from the free vehicle maintenance plans. A word of advice: Don't get too hung up on the savings figures. It's more important to look at the actual services that are covered by the free maintenance program.
Click on the link below to see a comprehensive listing of free car maintenance programs.
It's best to think of these maintenance programs as a type of warranty. The programs apply whether you buy or lease the car and are transferrable to subsequent owners. It's important to note that in some cases there are time and mileage limitations. For example, some automakers require that the free car maintenance be performed within 1,500-2,000 miles of the recommended service intervals. They are also subject to change from one year to the next.
Audi, Jaguar, Land Rover and Lexus have programs that mostly focus on the first few service visits that the car requires. These should be looked at simply as a bonus for purchasing the vehicle. Audi and Land Rover, for example, throw in the first scheduled maintenance for free. Lexus provides two scheduled maintenances. Among these brands, the average savings ranges from $76-$307 — hardly enough to make you choose one brand over another.
Unlike its rival BMW, Mercedes-Benz offers very limited free vehicle maintenance. Customers get a free diagnostic check, with technicians answering any questions owners may have about their vehicles, and they'll get a free tire rotation before 6,500 miles. Most dealerships include a free tire rotation in any scheduled service that's more than just an oil change, so we did not include the value of Mercedes' free tire shuffle in our chart.
Instead of free vehicle maintenance, Audi and Mercedes offer prepaid car maintenance plans that bundle a number of services and are sold at a discounted rate. Keep in mind that, like the car itself, the prices on the maintenance plans are negotiable.
Jaguar altered and split its coverage for 2013. In 2011, all its models had five years of comprehensive coverage. In 2012, it went down to four years of intermediate coverage.
"It was determined that our customers placed higher value on things like standard features and equipment," says Wayne Kung, a Jaguar spokesman. "Our current program is consistent and competitive within the luxury sector."
Kung says that the free car maintenance isn't really an issue with Jaguar's clientele, many of whom lease the vehicles. "With service intervals in the 10,000-15,000 mile range, this becomes less significant with lease vehicles."
Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Jaguar (XK model only), Kia, Lincoln, Scion, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo offer more services than the basic coverage, but don't include items that wear out, such as wiper-blade inserts, brake pads and brake rotors. Volkswagen and Volvo's free maintenance programs cover the maintenance visits at 10,000, 20,000 and 30,000 miles in all of their models.
Beginning with the 2014 model year, General Motors brands (Buick, Chevrolet and GMC) will get free maintenance for two years or 24,000 miles. The coverage includes up to four oil changes, tire rotation and 27-point inspection as dictated by the owner's manual and oil-life monitoring system.
Cadillac gets GM's best coverage. Premium Care Maintenance program debuted on the Cadillac CTS Coupe and is now standard on all new models. This program covers the car for four years or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first. Cadillac doesn’t specify how many services will be covered, but a safe assumption would be that owners will get at least one scheduled maintenance per year.
Kia's free vehicle maintenance only applies to its flagship Kia Cadenza sedan. Kia covers the Cadenza for 36 months or 37,500 miles. This adds up to five free service visits.
Lincoln and Toyota both have free maintenance programs that started out as promotional incentives, but were subsequently extended because of their popularity. Lincoln's Complimentary Maintenance program is similar to Cadillac's at the moment, and offers four years or 50,000 miles of coverage. However, Lincoln's coverage will change to two years or 25,000 miles, beginning with the 2014 model year. Kevin Cour, Lincoln's sales and service operations manager says that this plan is still competitive with other luxury brands.
Toyota and Scion's coverage is shorter (two years or 25,000 miles) but is notable because it includes roadside assistance. That's something Toyota had not previously offered, even though it typically comes standard with many automakers' new-car warranties.
Volvo's coverage has seen the most fluctuation since 2008 when it offered one free service, at 7,500 miles. For 2009, it extended the free maintenance for up to 36,000 miles. In 2010, it extended coverage to five years or 60,000 miles. In 2011 it changed to five years or 50,000 miles. This amounts to six scheduled maintenances and also covers the replacement of wear items such as brake pads and wipers. In 2013, Volvo reduced the coverage to three years and did not include coverage of wearable items.
"The complimentary offer was used as an incentive to customers," says Jawanza Keita, a Volvo spokesperson. "As with all new vehicle incentives, Volvo continuously monitors customer response and adjusts our offers accordingly."
Hyundai, along with BMW and its Mini brand, are the only automakers with do-it-all programs. They not only cover scheduled maintenance, but also include replacement of such items as brake pads, brake rotors and wiper-blade inserts. The biggest difference among the programs is in the duration of the coverage. BMW was the first to market with its Ultimate Service, which lasts four years or 50,000 miles. BMW owners can also choose to extend their coverage to six years or 100,000 miles for an additional fee. This service extension can also be applied to BMW's certified pre-owned vehicles.
Mini's Free Maintenance plan is comprehensive but has a shorter duration. Its coverage lasts three years or 36,000 miles.
Hyundai's "At Your Service" is an anomaly. Its five-year/60,000-mile free maintenance plan only applies to the automaker's flagship luxury model, the Hyundai Equus. At Your Service is also notable because an owner never has to set foot in the service department. Hyundai provides valet pickup and drop-off for all warranty, maintenance and service repairs to the Equus.
A More Complete Picture
Maintenance isn't the only ownership cost to consider when you're buying a car. A more comprehensive look at costs can be found in the Edmunds.com True Cost to Own (TCO)® for the vehicle. This assessment takes into account a number of variables, including maintenance, insurance, fuel and registration fees over a five-year period. If you're weighing the ongoing costs of one new car against another, TCO is a better indicator of the cost differential because it takes into account all the costs associated with ownership.
In other words, try not to get too carried away with the free car maintenance offers that you'll see when you're car shopping. Instead, focus on the price of the vehicle itself. The money you save from negotiating can always be used to pay for car maintenance in the future.