Are Free New Vehicle Maintenance Programs a Real Value?

In an effort to rebuild its tarnished image and boost sales, Toyota Motor Company raised its per vehicle incentive spend from around $1,003 to $2,568 according to In addition to cash on the hood, Toyota also offered a no-cost maintenance package on some of its most popular models.

As automakers scramble to increase, or just maintain, market share in tough economic times, free vehicle maintenance programs have become a popular incentive. The question for consumers is whether or not they really help them save money over the long run.

The exact coverage can vary greatly between automakers and can include anything from free tire rotation or oil change to complete scheduled maintenance for up to 48 months.

To help consumers make sense of the various offerings, recently compiled a comparison of the various free maintenance programs offered by major automakers. In addition to the maintenance services covered, Edmunds’ researchers looked at time and mileage limitations to help buyers make informed decisions about their next new car purchases.

Most automaker’s maintenance programs work just like warranties – they apply regardless of whether you buy or lease your vehicle and most are transferrable. Some, however, include time and mileage limits. Some programs, for example, require that the services be performed within 1,500 to 2,000 miles of the service intervals recommended for the specific model by the automaker.

Of all the free maintenance programs reviewed by Edmunds, the BMW’s Ultimate Service was found to be the most comprehensive. The program is in effect for four years or 50,000 miles and includes such things as brake pads and rotors and even wiper blade inserts. BMW’s subsidiary, Mini, was the only other automaker to offer coverage for such wearable parts in its maintenance program. However, Mini’s coverage is only good for three years from the purchase date.

General Motors Company’s Saab brand was the only “domestic” automaker to offer a free maintenance policy to its customers. Surprisingly, Mercedes-Benz’ free maintenance program is extremely limited. It includes a free diagnostic test during which technicians will answer customer questions about their vehicles and a free tire rotation if performed before the first 6,500 miles. Most dealerships will throw in a free tire rotation as a part of any scheduled maintenance above an oil change.

Volkswagen launched its Carefree Maintenance program beginning with model-year 2009. For most models, it includes free scheduled maintenance at 10,000 mile intervals up to 30,000 miles.

From model-year 2004 through 2007, Toyota’s Scion brand offered three free oil changes to its customers. In 2008, the automaker changed its program to include only the first two scheduled maintenance service visits. What may appear, at first glance, to be a reduction in value actually turns out to be a better deal for the consumer. In addition to oil changes, the two scheduled maintenance visits also include tire rotations and full brake and suspension inspections which equal an increased value of about $54 compared with the cost of three oil changes.

Volvo offers free maintenance for the first three years of ownership. According to Edmunds, the program covers the first four required maintenance services and represents a savings of about $355.

Tata Motors’ Land Rover brand downgraded its free maintenance program in 2009. Instead of covering the first six scheduled maintenance visits, as it had in the past, the new program covers only the first scheduled maintenance visit. That’s a reduction of about $700 in the value of the program.

In the end, the question of whether or not free maintenance programs are a true value comes down to a couple of factors. Typically, the automakers offering more comprehensive coverage are also the ones with higher-priced vehicles. For example, the BMW 3 series offers $2,053 more in free maintenance services than its rival, the Audi A4. However, when you consider that the BMW’s sticker price is typically a few thousand dollars higher than the Audi, the value of the free services becomes a non-factor.

On the other hand, free maintenance plans eliminate the need to price shop and provide peace of mind that comes from knowing your vehicle will receive factory-qualified services.

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