5 Pros and Cons of Buying a Prepaid Vehicle Maintenance Plan

Should you or shouldn’t you get a prepaid vehicle maintenance plan? Because routine maintenance is an expected expense of owning a vehicle, many buyers consider prepaying for regular upkeep a good investment. Others think it’s a waste of money compared to what they might spend at their local auto repair shop. 

So, is a prepaid vehicle maintenance plan right for you?

Vehicle maintenance technicians inspect a car
Vehicle maintenance technicians inspect a car | Julian Stratenschulte/picture alliance via Getty Images

You’ll need to consider several factors before deciding whether a prepaid vehicle maintenance plan is the right choice. Your finances, the dealer, and the vehicle create a unique combination of factors that will influence your decision. 

First, let’s look at what prepaid vehicle maintenance plans generally include. Routine maintenance typically includes brake inspections, oil changes, filter replacement, tire rotation, and topping off essential fluids. However, the maintenance plan might not match the schedule required under the vehicle’s warranty. That’s one aspect of a prepaid maintenance plan you will want to consider carefully.

Reasons to consider a prepaid vehicle maintenance plan

You’ll have the peace of mind of knowing your car will receive covered maintenance right on schedule, even if you don’t have the money for it right then. With prices constantly on the rise, you’ll pay today’s prices for a set number of miles or years down the road. Who knows how much more each successive service would cost without a vehicle maintenance plan in place?

According to J. D. Power, the biggest moneymaker for most dealerships is their service department. Because they depend heavily on the money their service departments generate, they’re often willing to discount the included services to price the plan competitively.

If the vehicle manufacturer offers the plan, you can usually get your car serviced at any dealership that sells that manufacturer’s brand, Behind the Wheel reports. That can come in very handy if you move. Also, authorized dealerships generally use factory-specified lubricants and genuine OEM parts when you take your vehicle in for service.

Why you might want to say no thanks to a prepaid plan

One major drawback to a prepaid vehicle maintenance program is you might be required to get all of the covered services done where you purchased the plan. If you already have a preferred mechanic or move far away during the plan’s lifetime, too bad. And what happens if you don’t like the service you receive at the dealership? Purchasing a plan could be an expensive mistake.

In addition, most modern cars don’t need as much routine maintenance as vehicles did in the past. Why pay for a plan if your vehicle won’t even need any maintenance until after the plan expires? You’re better off saving money for routine maintenance or unexpected breakdowns. Performing routine tasks like changing wiper blades yourself will often save you even more money over the cost of a plan.

Plus, it’s a prepaid maintenance plan — the keyword being “maintenance.” So, the program doesn’t cover repairs or anything that malfunctions, wears out, or breaks. That includes wiper blades to tires to costly auto repairs.

If the dealership offers to roll the cost of the vehicle maintenance plan in with your car payment, understand that you’ll pay interest on the plan. So, if you decide to get a prepaid maintenance plan, it’s better to pay its entire cost upfront.

If you still intend to buy a prepaid plan, ensure you’ve had every question answered, read the fine print, and know what the program covers before signing on the dotted line. That’s because many plans won’t give you a full refund if you change your mind, especially if you’ve used any part of the plan or it’s been more than 30 days since you purchased it.

RELATED: How Often Should You Check Your Tire Pressure?