This week, I was the unhappy driver of a car that died in the middle of a busy four-lane avenue. After 20-plus miles on the highway, I’d gotten off my exit on the way to work and was motoring along a city street when suddenly the car didn’t want to “go” anymore. Even though my foot was on the gas, it sputtered and complained for 1/4 mile before finally crapping out at a red light.
The only lucky thing was that I was right across the street from the local mechanic that many of my co-workers use, and the auto guys were able to push my car into the driveway of the shop during a break in traffic. I was embarrassed, but it could have been worse: I could have gotten stranded in the middle of the major 5-lane interstate that makes up the bulk of my commute.
The verdict? A dearly-departed fuel pump, which is a difficult job and a fairly-expensive part. $600 later, it’s fixed, but I’m not happy about it — even though there was nothing I could do.
My car is “only” 6 1/2 years old, but it’s 3 years past the roadside assistance and 36-month warranty that were included when I purchased the car new. That meant that once they expired, I had to decide whether I still needed roadside assistance and/or warranty coverage.
Here are my thoughts on getting roadside assistance and extended warranties for your vehicle:
YES. As a car gets older, the potential for breakdowns or damage to your car increases. The moving parts continue to wear down, to the point where eventually, something will break at an inopportune time — like your fuel pump. Or the battery dies, the alternator goes, or a tire blows out.
As soon as my 3 years of GM Roadside Assistance expired, I immediately signed up for AAA. I’ve only had to use them twice, but being stranded on the highway at 3 in the morning and knowing there was a tow truck on the way was comforting (it was after a late shift at work; I was on my way home). A year of AAA Plus membership (which covers tows up to 100 miles) costs me $92, but I know it covers towing, fuel delivery (in case you run out of gas), jump-starts, tire changes and lockouts. And since I can barely lift a gallon of milk, nevermind take lug nuts off a rim, I need to know I can get someone else to do it for me if I’m on the road. It also covers any vehicle I’m in that breaks down.
I use AAA because it’s the largest roadside auto club in the country, but there are other choices, such as Allstate Motor Club and the National Motor Club. And nowadays, you can even sign up for roadside assistance plans through your credit card provider, car insurer or organizations such as the AARP.
NO. An extended warranty for your vehicle is generally considered a poor choice, especially if you have a car with a quickly-depreciating book value. A 2008 Consumer Reports survey agrees, calling an extended warranty a “high-priced gamble.”
An extended warranty allegedly either extends your vehicle’s coverage after the manufacturer’s warranty expires or covers repairs that don’t fall under the manufacturer’s warranty. If you buy a reliable car, chances are that you’ll have minimal problems. You’ll be doing routine maintenance on it — brakes, tires, oil changes — which aren’t covered by any warranty out there. General wear-and-tear isn’t covered, either. Many of these extended warranties also have a lot of exceptions, so there’s no guarantee the repair will be covered. That’s a lot of stuff that’s not covered!
If your car is always breaking down, you could buy another used car in decent shape for the price of the extended warranty. And if you get into an accident, the repairs will be covered by your car insurance if you have comprehensive coverage on your policy.
Instead of paying $1,000 for the warranty, take that money and put it in an interest-bearing account earmarked for car repairs. That way, you’ll have the money there in case something major happens — like replacing the fuel pump, which is costing me 600 beans.