Benefits and pitfalls of prepaid car maintenance plans

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by KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on September 23, 2011 at 8:12 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 23 at 10:33 PM

It's a question you may be asked the next time you buy a car: do you want a "pre-paid maintenance plan"? It's not an extended warranty but a way to cover the cost of routine maintenance.

The idea is simple, pay ahead for oil changes, tire rotations and other basic car maintenance and don't worry about the bills.

"I thought the idea of a pre paid maintenance plan, where I didn't have to worry whether or not I had money on my credit card, would be a great idea," said Denise Karl

Karl bought two pre-paid plans for two different cars. The first cost $1,500, and was folded into the cost of her lease.  She believes she saved about $600 on maintenance.

"It definitely was a money saver to have it pre-paid,” she said.

But the new car was different. That plan cost $800 and it turns out it only covered oil changes - nothing else.

"I was very disappointed," said Karl.

What each plan covers varies, but usually you can pre-pay for the scheduled maintenance that's listed in your owner’s manual. These are things not covered by the manufacturer's warranty.

Some may even offer these prepaid repairs at a discount from the regular rate. The plans are a hot item for dealers to offer at closing, but the Better Business Bureau warns don't let the pressure persuade you.

The Better Business Bureau says complaints are up.

"These kinds of plans are relatively new, so we've received about 100 over the past couple of years, we've certainly seen an uptick in the numbers,” said Rodney Davis of the BBB.

Some dealerships offer prepaid repairs at a discount as a selling point. Auto experts at Edmunds.com say they give upfront cash to a dealer or a repair shop.

"These prepaid maintenance plans are a source of profit for the dealership so they're really going to try to steer you toward that," said Ron Montoya, Edmunds.com

Some of the BBB complaints include people claiming:

  • Maintenance plans were added to their closing paperwork without their approval.
  • They dropped off their cars off for maintenance but the work  was not done.
  • Repair shops went out of business and the car owner was out the money they paid

The auto experts at Edmunds remind you, when you sign up for one, you're literally fronting dealers and repair shops your cash, so be careful.

The right plan can save cash. Also, some shops work extra hard to impress customers so they come back for more than just routine maintenance.

How to get the best deal?

  • Make sure you know what the plan covers and how long it lasts.
  • Make sure you trust the dealer or repair shop...because the plans are tied to them.
  • And remember, you can negotiate.

"We've been told dealers mark them up-- up to 50 percent so you know try out offering half the price and then they may counter the offer and you can meet somewhere in between,” said Montoya.

In the end, if you're not sure if it's a deal worth taking, Edmonds.com offers a free maintenance cost calculator you can play with to get some comparative numbers for the car you're interested in.

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