Buying a car Reading the small print

We spent several rather lengthy days examining the finer details of used-car warranties. And what we discovered were numerous exclusions that could prevent you from making a claim.

Some warranties are better than others, but the list of exclusions we found ranged from electrical cover that doesn’t include batteries, wiring or fuses, to parts damaged by freezing (hardly the owner’s fault in winter).

Ignore dashboard warning lights and you could invalidate your warranty

Ignore dashboard warning lights and you could invalidate your warranty

The small print can be confusing, too. Many warranties, including those offered by Warranty Direct and Warrantywise, talk about the ‘sudden’ or ‘unexpected’ failure of a covered part – the implication being that unless your car actually breaks down at the side of the road, they won’t pay out. 

If a part is in the process of failing – perhaps indicated by a warning light – and you take your car to a garage, you may not be covered. Yet if you ignore a warning light and allow the part to physically break, with some warranties this could invalidate your claim or mean you only get some of the repair costs
covered: a potential catch 22.

‘Wear and tear’ is also open to interpretation. Warrantywise prides itself on being ‘unlike all other warranties’ by covering this. But, in smaller type, it makes a distinction between wear and tear (parts that fail earlier than expected) and ‘worn out parts’, which are ‘at the end of their operating life’ and not covered.
Such protection is often no better than that afforded by the Sale Of Goods Act.

Visit the Which? Consumer Rights website to find out more about the Sale of Goods Act

Should you buy a used car warranty?

Pricey premiums and endless exclusions mean we can’t recommend any used-car warranties. All cost more than average annual repair bills for the cars we checked and, far from offering peace of mind, the odds are stacked against car owners who try to claim.

Choosing a reliable car like the Honda Jazz cuts your chance of big repair bills

Choosing a reliable car like the Honda Jazz cuts your chance of big repair bills

We think you’re better off putting money aside in savings each year to cover any possible repair costs. However, if you do want a longer warranty, consider paying for one upfront when you buy a car, as manufacturer-backed extended warranties tend to have fewer exclusions than those from third-party providers. They can be competitive on price, too.

Among third-party warranty providers, WarrantyWise is better than most. It covers consequential damage to other parts of the car, there's no contribution for betterment and the company claims to wear and tear. However, its policies were significantly more expensive than third-party rivals in our study.

However, there may be no need to buy cover if you choose a reliable car (see the Which? Car Survey results for more details), or one that has a long manufacturer warranty from new. Most cars are warrantied for three years, but some brands, such as Hyundai and Toyota, offer five years of fully-transferable cover. And Kia’s cars come with a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty. That could save you hundreds of pounds and many hours of squabbling over the meaning of particular clauses in the policy.

More on this...


Other sections in this guide

  1. Overview
  2. Counting the costs
  3. Reading the small print
  4. The A-Z of terms and conditions

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