Life is full of “what-if” scenarios. If you’re the worrying type, you could entertain all kinds of catastrophes about being dumped, getting fired, or losing all your money in the stock market. But if you have the right insurance policy, you shouldn’t have to worry about unexpected car repair bills. This is where mechanical breakdown insurance comes in.
Statista reports that there were 272.48 million cars registered in the U.S. as of 2017. That works out to 1.88 vehicles per U.S. household. Many of those vehicles will experience breakdowns or parts failures that aren’t covered by standard auto insurance. Issues can range from a $150 fix when the check engine light turns on, to a transmission failure that sets you back $5,500.
[Note: we do not receive any commissions or other financial gain from companies mentioned below.]
Mechanical breakdown insurance covers repair costs
If you don’t have $6,000 sitting around just in case your engine block falls out, those surprise expenses can break the bank. Fortunately, there is a solution: mechanical breakdown insurance, or MBI. It protects you against those big, unexpected bills from your mechanic. MBI is a true insurance product, serviced by insurance carriers like Geico or Allstate. It fills a gap between what’s covered by your standard auto policy and what’s covered by your manufacturer’s warranty.
What mechanical breakdown insurance covers
The first thing to know about MBI is that policy terms can vary widely. One plan might cover a specific list of car systems and components, while another might have a more comprehensive, “bumper to bumper” style of coverage. You might even see this range of options from the same carrier. Endurance, for example, has five different plan levels. At the low end is Endurance’s Secure plan, which only covers repairs related to the drive axle, engine, transfer case, transmission, and turbocharger or supercharger.
By comparison, Endurance’s highest level of coverage, the Supreme plan, protects these parts and systems:
- Air conditioning
- Cooling system
- Drive axle
- Electrical components
- Fuel system
- Transfer case
- Turbocharger or supercharger
And if that’s not comprehensive enough, you can optionally add coverage for your car’s modified suspension and high-tech equipment, like the back-up camera and lane-departure warning systems.
Most carriers don’t offer as many plan choices as Endurance. Geico, for example, has only one coverage level, but it covers all mechanical parts of the car that aren’t covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.
What mechanical breakdown insurance does not cover
Before you get too excited about MBI, know that every policy has some standard exclusions. Mechanical breakdown policies won’t cover routine maintenance — like oil changes — or any repairs related to an accident. Repairs resulting from fire, hail, rain, windstorms, floods, and earthquakes aren’t covered either. And your carrier won’t pay for damage caused by driver error, poor maintenance, or misuse of the vehicle. In other words, you have to take care of your car to get the most value from your MBI policy.
Another standard exclusion is any pre-existing condition. The insurer enforces this by defining a waiting period, which is how long the insurance must be active before you can file a claim.
In addition to these broad exclusions, each policy will list specific parts or systems that aren’t covered, such as:
- Suspension alignment
- Wheel balancing
- Coolant and fluids
- Spark plugs
- Exhaust components
- Carpet and upholstery
- Convertible tops
- Door handles and liftgate handles
- Brake pads and linings
- Brake shoes
- Tire pressure sensors
Extra perks of mechanical breakdown coverage
Being insulated against expensive repairs is great, but your mechanical breakdown policy can save you in other ways too. Most insurers add in some perks to sweeten the deal. You might get free roadside assistance, car rental reimbursement, towing, trip protection, or no cap on claims. More comprehensive plans might also throw in identity theft protection, access to repair financing, free tire replacement, or free key fob replacement.
MBI vs. extended warranties vs. vehicle service agreements
At this point, you might be thinking that mechanical breakdown insurance sounds a lot like an extended warranty. And you’re right. MBI, extended warranties, and vehicle service agreements are all designed with the same goal: to help you manage repair costs for your car.
There are key differentiators with MBI, though, that many car owners appreciate:
- MBI is only offered by insurance companies. For that reason, MBI is subject to more consumer-protection regulation than extended warranties or vehicle service agreements.
- MBI has a more flexible structure than an extended warranty. MBI is structured like an auto insurance policy with six- or 12-month terms. Usually, you can make payments or pay in full. More importantly, you can drop the coverage at policy renewal if you don’t want it. Extended warranties and vehicle service contracts, on the other hand, have one flat fee that’s payable upfront. And, the coverage is in force for a longer period of time, say three or five years. Plus, if you purchase the extended warranty at the dealership, the cost gets rolled into your auto loan — making it even more expensive.
- MBI lets you choose your repair shop. Most MBI policies let you pick your own repair shop. Extended warranties and service contracts typically require you to use the dealership for covered repairs.
|Mechanical Breakdown Insurance||Extended Warranty|
|Helps cover costs of major repairs||YES||YES|
|Coverage tiers available||YES||YES|
|Acts as extra coverage after manufacturer’s warranty||YES||YES|
|Regulated as an insurance product||YES||NO|
|Available in short-term policy durations||YES||NO|
|Premium payable in payments||YES||NO|
|You can choose your repair shop||YES||NO|
Mechanical Breakdown Coverage FAQs
Can I get breakdown coverage on new and used cars?
You can buy mechanical breakdown coverage for both new cars and used cars, but not every car is eligible. Most policies are designed for cars that are less than 15 months old or have fewer than 15,000 miles. Breakdown insurance for vehicles older than 15 months, called high-mileage mechanical breakdown insurance, will be harder to get and more expensive.
What does MBI cost?
There are two costs associated with your mechanical breakdown coverage: your deductible and your premiums. Deductibles can range from $0 up to $500. As you might expect, a lower deductible translates to higher premiums. MBI premiums can range from $30 to several hundred dollars annually. The lowest premiums are available only to new cars that are also covered by a manufacturer’s warranty.
Is MBI worth it?
MBI is best suited for those who aren’t great about keeping an emergency fund of cash for unexpected expenses. If a surprise mechanical problem would otherwise have you reaching for your credit card or tapping into your retirement account, you’re a good candidate for mechanical breakdown insurance.
The table below shows the average cost of repairs that are likely to be covered by your breakdown policy. The potential savings assume you’ve paid an annual premium of $75 one time, plus a deductible of $100.
|Repair||Average Cost||Potential Savings (First Year of Coverage)|
|Blown Head Gasket||$1,400||$1,225|
Where do I get mechanical breakdown insurance?
You can get mechanical breakdown insurance directly from car insurance providers like Geico, Mercury Insurance, Progressive, and AAA. Other specialty insurers including Endurance, Carchex, Protect My Car, American Auto Shield, and American Auto Protect also offer similar coverage. In some cases, the plan might be a hybrid between mechanical breakdown insurance and an extended warranty.
You may also have access to mechanical breakdown insurance through your credit union or other membership-based organizations. Digital Federal Credit Union, for example, offers its members MBI through its DCU Insurance entity. And, San Mateo Credit Union in California provides its members access to three levels of MBI plans.
Lastly, your dealership might have a MBI coverage offering. Allstate, for example, relies on dealerships to sell its mechanical breakdown plan. If a dealer tries to push you into an extended warranty, ask about MBI and then compare your two options. Also know that you don’t have to purchase the warranty or the MBI on the same day you buy a car.
What’s the best mechanical breakdown insurance?
The best mechanical breakdown insurance plan balances affordable premiums, solid coverage, easy claims processing, and good customer service — all in a way that suits your needs. It’s a very personal decision, especially when you are buying the insurance mainly for peace of mind. Here are five reputable carriers to research now.
1. Geico: simple, straightforward coverage
Geico offers breakdown protection for new and leased vehicles that are less than 15 months old and have fewer than 15,000 miles. Your policy can be renewed for seven years, or until the vehicle has 100,000 miles on it, whichever happens first. If you have damage that’s covered by the policy, you pay a $250 deductible and Geico then covers the rest.
The simplicity of Geico’s plan is a strength. Many carriers list out specific parts and systems they cover, along with those they don’t. Geico, however, covers pretty much everything that isn’t maintenance, wear-and-tear, or the result of an accident.
Paying for Geico coverage is easy, too. The premium is added to your auto policy premiums and you can pay upfront or in installments.
2. Endurance: coverage tailored to your needs
Endurance provides the option of balancing cost and coverage by offering five levels of insurance:
- “Select Premier” is for high-mileage vehicles. This plan covers most major systems but excludes brakes, suspension, gaskets, and steering components.
- “Secure” has low premiums and covers only the basics, such as issues relating to the drive axle, engine, transfer case, transmission, and turbocharger, or supercharger.
- “Secure Plus” features a shorter waiting period of 30 days or 1,000 miles. The policy covers steering, electrical, and brake issues except for pads and rotors.
- “Superior” expands coverage to include hundreds of specific components in the car’s electrical, cooling, air conditioning, and fuel systems.
- “Supreme” is a type of exclusionary coverage — meaning that the policy documentation lists what isn’t covered rather than what is covered. It’s comprehensive, similar to the coverage level you’d receive in a “bumper-to-bumper” manufacturer’s warranty.
3. Mercury Insurance: affordable
Mercury specializes in affordance insurance coverage, but admittedly, the company has struggled with poor customer service reviews. The claims department is open 24/7 and Mercury guarantees any repair made by a Mercury-authorized shop. You can choose from several levels of breakdown coverage for new cars and used cars up to seven years or 100,000 miles.
Mercury operates in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia.
4. AAA: for roadside service
The Automobile Club of America, also known as AAA, brokers mechanical breakdown insurance in some regions. In Pennsylvania, for example, you can buy an MBI policy from AAA that’s serviced by Consumer Program Administrators, Inc. There’s an advantage to buying through AAA, though. You get access to the perks of AAA membership, including reliable roadside assistance, travel services, and discounts on dining, shopping, and entertainment.
5. Allstate: for great customer service
Allstate’s breakdown plan covers issues ranging from transmission failures to brake problems. You pay the deductible per incident and Allstate then covers 100% of the remaining repair costs on covered services. This coverage is sold through dealerships, but you do get access to Allstate’s Customer Care team for questions and claims.
9 Questions to Ask When Shopping for Breakdown Coverage
To ensure you get the right MBI policy, you’ll need to ask these nine questions.
1. What is the holding period?
The holding period defines how long you must wait after initiating coverage to put in a claim. Holding periods are in place because MBI won’t cover pre-existing conditions. Expect the holding period to be at least 30 days and 1,000 miles.
2. What is the cancellation policy?
At a minimum, you’d want the right to cancel without penalty at the end of the policy period — which should be no longer than 12 months. Some programs may even offer a money-back guarantee in the first 60 or 90 days, available to policyholders who don’t file a claim.
3. What repairs are covered?
Ask the carrier for a detailed list of services covered by the policy, along with specifics on parts and labor coverage. Then, use that list to:
- Comparison-shop your options and,
- Determine if the coverage is redundant to your manufacturer’s warranty.
You might also research the systems and components that most commonly fail in your vehicle’s make and model. Then you can optimize the odds by finding an MBI policy that specifically covers those items.
4. What are the exclusions?
Don’t get caught off-guard by exclusions. Read the policy documentation carefully to understand how your policy works (or doesn’t work). You may need to ask the insurer to give you specific definitions for terms like “wear and tear” and “weather-related damage.” If something isn’t crystal clear to you, then question it. The more you clarify now, the better experience you’ll have with your MBI overall.
5. What are the premium and deductibles?
Verify the premium, the policy period, and the deductible. These factors, along with the covered services and exclusions, tell you how much value a particular policy provides. Also, find out what options you have for paying the premium. Most insurers will allow for monthly or quarterly payments versus a single payment upfront.
6. Can I renew the policy? For how long?
Ideally, you want the option to keep renewing your policy for several years. Most insurers allow for renewals until the car is seven years old or has 100,000 miles.
7. How do I file a claim?
Find out what the claims process is. Ideally, the insurer will have a robust claims processing division that’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Also, ask if the claims process differs when you’re out of town on a road trip.
Verify the claims payment process as well. Does the insurer reimburse you or pay the repair shop directly? If it’s a reimbursement, you’ll want to know how long those payments take.
8. Can I go to any repair shop?
Confirm that you have the freedom to take your car to any shop for repairs. Some insurers may discount your deductible if you go to an approved service provider.
9. Is MBI coverage transferable?
When a policy is transferable, it can be reassigned to a new owner who purchases your car from you. Transferable coverage provides more than repair reimbursement — it increases the value of your car. Find out if the MBI policy is transferable and, if so, how to request a transfer.
Mechanical breakdown insurance for peace of mind
Ultimately, mechanical breakdown insurance gives you peace of mind by offering an extra safeguard against pricey auto repairs. It’s often quite affordable, which makes it a nice strategy to hedge against those worrisome “what-if” scenarios. MBI also tends to be more flexible than extended warranty coverage you’d buy from a car dealer.
Coverage and costs can vary widely, though. So, shop around and read that policy documentation! Reading the contract may sound like a terrible way to spend your time, but it’s better than paying premiums for coverage you don’t fully understand.