What is a Powertrain Warranty and Why Does it Matter?

Let’s face it - cars aren’t an investment. When you buy a car, it costs you money. When you register and insure it, you spend more. You take out your wallet to put gas in the tank and get routine maintenance performed. Vehicles are an expense from every angle and you’re going to want any assistance you can get with those expenses.

Whether you’ve bought a new car, a used car with remaining warranty, or you’re in the market for a replacement vehicle, there’s no question that you’re going to consider the car’s warranty. After your car-buying experience, you want the assurance that there won’t be any major expenses for some time after you fork over your cash.

Warranties aren’t as straightforward as they may initially seem. While the car you are looking at is advertised to have warranty, do you know what that actually covers? It could include:

  • Accessory coverage
  • Audio component warranty
  • Battery coverage
  • Comprehensive warranty (often referred to as new car warranty or “bumper-to-bumper”)
  • Emissions warranty
  • Powertrain warranty
  • Roadside assistance
  • Rust warranty

We’re going to focus on the powertrain warranty as it’s often advertised as the warranty term with the longest coverage. Also, if it’s a used car you are buying or have bought, it’s most likely that you’ve got powertrain warranty still in effect.

What is Powertrain?

To understand your coverage, you need to know what is included in your vehicle’s powertrain. In short, the parts that mechanically propel your vehicle make up your powertrain. It includes your:

  • Axles (on most vehicles)
  • Differentials
  • Drive shafts
  • Engine
  • Transfer case (on all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive vehicles)
  • Transmission

Aside from these parts, each vehicle manufacturer has parts that they include or exclude from their individual powertrain warranties as they see fit. That may be wheel bearings or hubs, axle shafts, exhaust manifolds, and more. Let’s focus on the major components and how powertrain warranty applies to each.

The Engine

Your vehicle’s engine is a very important piece of the powertrain puzzle. It burns fuel and air to generate power that is used to move your vehicle. The engine itself, as it applies to your powertrain warranty, is the engine block and its internal components. Sometimes it includes the occasional sensor, hose, or bolt-on component, but not always.

You need to keep your engine maintained properly with regular oil changes in order to ensure your powertrain warranty is valid. Neglected maintenance, modifications, as well as physical damage are all going to result in a warranty claim on your engine being rejected.

The Transmission

Your transmission gets input from the rotating crankshaft in your engine and manipulates it to smoothly shift gears and change direction from forward to reverse. Like the engine, its case and internal parts are part of your powertrain warranty. Sensors and wiring on the transmission typically aren’t covered.

Transmissions require very infrequent maintenance, yet it must be performed on time for your powertrain warranty to remain in effect.

The Transfer Case

Only vehicles with four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive have a transfer case. Its function is to transfer power to the appropriate set of wheels, front or rear, according to the input it receives from the vehicle’s settings. The transfer case attaches to the transmission and sends that rotational power to the respective front or rear differential via drive shafts.

If your vehicle has a transfer case, the fluid needs to be changed according to the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance. Failures due to abuse or lack of maintenance are likely to be denied.

Your Differentials

On a front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicle, the front differential is almost always included internally in the transmission. On rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive vehicles, it’s external, as is a rear differential on an all-wheel drive vehicle.

The differential takes rotational movement from the longitudinal axis (front to rear on your vehicle) and changes it to rotational movement on the latitudinal axis (side-to-side), so your wheels will turn. A differential uses gears that mesh together to make this happen.

If the differential is inside your transmission, its maintenance is performed at the same time as your transmission service. If it’s external, the fluid needs to be changed at its regular interval, otherwise your powertrain warranty could be denied.

Axle Shafts and Housings

From your differential, the rotational power needs to get to the wheels. That’s achieved with axle shafts, a solid metal rod that fastens on either end. Some axle shafts are external and use CV joints while others are contained inside an axle housing.

There’s not much that goes wrong with axles typically, aside from worn out bearings or CV joints. If the axle shaft physically snaps, you can be sure you’ll be under scrutiny for abuse which could result in your powertrain warranty claim being denied.

Why Does Powertrain Warranty Matter?

Powertrain warranty is a matter of dollars and cents. Of all the listed components above, you won’t find one that has an inexpensive repair. Whether you have a simple bearing noise in the differential, an oil leak from the transmission front pump seal, or low compression on one or more of your engine’s cylinders, you’re looking at hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

Powertrain warranty also shows the manufacturer’s commitment to quality products. If one manufacturer only warranties their vehicle’s powertrain for three years while another offers a five-year powertrain warranty, what impression would you have about vehicle quality?

Most powertrain warranties are longer than the comprehensive vehicle warranty. Most commonly, powertrain warranties are five years or 60,000 miles from the vehicle’s original in-service date, whichever comes first. Some performance vehicles may have shorter powertrain warranties while some manufacturers offer 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranties to emphasize their product quality and customer satisfaction.

When you’re buying a car, consider its powertrain warranty. Can you afford the high costs of powertrain problems should they occur? Can you place your trust in a manufacturer who backs their vehicle for only a few years?

Whatever vehicle you choose, most powertrain problems can be avoided through regular maintenance according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. If you have questions about what maintenance your vehicle requires or if your car needs engine repairs or transmission repairs, YourMechanic can help.


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