The Truth About Powertrain Warranties


There are a variety of warranties that are included or purchased when you buy your car, and the most basic usually last for three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first. Obviously, it depends on the dealership and vehicle, but those first few years with your car can fly, leaving you feeling anxious about where to take your car when it starts making a spooky squeal. Without a warranty, a trip to the dealership could cost a couple of month’s rent, while an afternoon at a standard Kwicky Oilz could mean leaving with double the problems. If you are ignoring weird sounds or movements  in an effort to avoid crazy maintenance bills (which we would never do), remember that your chariot may be covered past its initial general warranty.

Hark: the powertrain warranty! This type of warranty comes from the car manufacturer, not the dealership, so it’s more standard, lasting upwards of 10 years, 50,000 miles, or more. If you bought your car used or you’ve had since the Model-T era, it’s easy to forget that your powertrain warranty exists.

Okay, but what is a powertrain? Good question! This can vary between manufacturers, but plain and simple, a powertrain is what makes a car move. It’s the system that creates power for the transmission, which transfers energy to the wheels—if something funky is going on with this system, it’s powertrain warranty to the rescue.

Recently, my little Ford Fiesta developed a stutter. It hobbled at stoplights and, a few times, stalled like a petulant child who wants sugary cereal in a grocery store. I visited a repair chain near my house, ready to hear the worst—it’s the brakes, gas tank, its possessed by the Devil. The 19-year-old who checked under the hood insisted it was an easy fix; my battery. I was out of there within an hour.

And then back the next day. My car turned off at an intersection! It was now emitting a shriek worse than a black cat on Halloween every time I pressed the brakes. A specialist was called—why, I wondered, hadn’t a specialist checked my car in the first place? I left my poor car overnight, and, long story short, got hit with a diagnosis that would cost well over a number that rhymes with “fousand.” Before reverting to Plan B, which involved digging up the family heirlooms I buried in my backyard and selling them on Ebay, I called a Ford dealership. After I described the problem, the kind woman on the phone told me that my powertrain warranty wouldn’t expire for another 10,000 miles (new Fords currently come with a five-year, 60,000 mile powertrain warranty). If the sputter was being caused by my powertrain, the dealership would fix it for free. As in, zero clams. No dollars. Nada.

My Ford Fiesta lucked out—its transmission had car-bola and was leaking oil. If I’d stayed at Kwicky Oilz, their team would have replaced one teeny tiny trap door in the transmission, and it might not have solved the problem. The dealership gave my Fiesta a transmission transplant, essentially, preventing the sputter from returning. Thanks to that once-forgotten powertrain warranty, the entire experience cost a day’s rental car: $40. Compared to the handful of my grandmother’s pearls I was going to spend at Kwicky Oilz, I think I got a pretty good deal.

So, don’t ignore your car’s wheezing and sneezing. Before writing off a visit to the dealership, check the status of your warranties, especially for your powertrain.