Are Free Vehicle Maintenance Programs Worth It?
It's a Nice Bonus, but It May Not Always Save You Money
An increasing number of automakers have begun to 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 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 Volkswagen GTI and Volvo C30 are similar cars. Although the Volvo costs a bit more, its free maintenance coverage lasts two years longer than the Volkswagen'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 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 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 maintenance be performed within 1,500-2,000 miles of the recommended service intervals.
Audi, Land Rover and Lexus have programs that mostly focus on the first few services that the car requires. These aren't really touted as free maintenance programs and should be looked at simply as a bonus for purchasing the vehicle. These services can vary from Audi and Land Rover, which throw in the first scheduled maintenance for free, to Lexus' two scheduled maintenances. Among these brands, the average savings ranges from $75-$154 — hardly enough to make you choose one brand over another.
Unlike rival German brands, 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' gratis tire shuffle in our chart.
Instead of free 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.
Cadillac, Lincoln, Scion, Toyota and Volkswagen 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's Carefree Maintenance program covers the maintenance visits at 10,000, 20,000 and 30,000 miles in most of its models. For the Volkswagen Routan, the free maintenance will cover up to six services, due to the Routan's shorter maintenance intervals. Cadillac's Premium Care Maintenance program debuted on the 2011 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. It's difficult to tell how many service visits this will cover, since all GM vehicles have oil-life monitors that indicate when service is needed. A safe assumption would be that owners will get at least one scheduled maintenance per year.
Lincoln and Toyota both had 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 and offers four years or 50,000 miles of coverage. Toyota and Scion's coverage is significantly 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 warranty.
BMW, Jaguar, Mini and Volvo are the 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 concerns 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. Volvo meanwhile, has surpassed BMW by offering the same service but with an additional year: five years or 50,000 miles.
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. For lease customers, the coverage is limited to the term of the lease — up to a five-year/50,000-mile lease.
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.
The Devil's in the Details
A word of advice: There's more to maintenance programs than just the dollar savings you'll see in our chart. Here's an example: Jaguar and BMW offer the same coverage on their vehicles, but our data team has found that Jaguar's average savings is about $2,600 less than BMW's. This is due in part to Jaguar's maintenance schedule. Newer Jaguars need service every 15,000 miles, which means the first three services are covered. Though BMWs have oil life monitors, we estimate that they need service roughly every 12,000 miles, which would cover about four services. Also, BMW typically replaces the brake rotors when the brake pads are changed. This isn't really a common procedure and it has the effect of driving up BMW's estimated maintenance costs. In general, BMW and Jaguar have comprehensive programs and in both situations, the car owner is covered for 50,000 miles, so it would be wrong to assume that you'd be missing out on $2,600 worth of maintenance if you bought a Jaguar.
A more important number to look at is the vehicle's True Cost to Own (TCO)®. This takes into account a number of variables, including maintenance, insurance, fuel and registration fees over a five-year period. TCO is a better indicator of the cost differential between two vehicles because it takes into account all the costs associated with ownership.
Lastly, try not to get too carried away with the free maintenance savings and 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.