Vehicle odometer reading
Vehicle odometer reading


Miles, time and cost contribute to the value of vehicle maintenance plans

One major, ongoing expense associated with vehicle ownership is its maintenance. You have limited choices: either maintain it yourself, which requires a high level of expertise and expensive, specialized equipment; or pay someone else to maintain it for you. Most people ultimately choose the latter for new vehicles – in part because they are technically complex and challenging to work on.

In conjunction with your purchase of a new vehicle, your selling dealership will probably offer you the opportunity to purchase a prepaid maintenance plan. They will justify this by explaining to you how, by paying in advance, you will save money when compared to paying for your service appointments as you go. You might think that predicting your eventual savings or deficit would simply be a matter of finding out the cost of each of the services, adding them up, and then comparing that total to what the price is for the maintenance contract that you are being offered. However, comparing costs of a maintenance plan versus paying-as-you-go is much more complicated than that, compounded by the coronavirus pandemic/COVID-19.

Maintenance plans are not only contingent upon mileage driven, but also on elapsed time. During COVID-19, many of us have sharply curtailed our driving. I am writing this in early December 2020. Since purchasing my 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime in mid-August of this year, I have only driven it a total of 726 miles. By contrast, in past years I have driven thousands of miles in the same time period.

My Toyota WARRANTY & MAINTENANCE GUIDE not only shows the mileages at which service visits are due but also when they are due by. For example, my first service is due at either 5,000 miles or six months, whichever comes first. I’ve driven my new vehicle for over three months. With the limited amount of my driving, I might not even drive 1,000 miles in my first six months of vehicle ownership. By that time, I will have to take it in for its first service.

ToyotaCare provides the first two years of scheduled maintenance — plus Roadside Assistance — at no extra charge. Additionally, due to COVID-19, Toyota has extended ToyotaCare by 3,000 miles or three months, so that customers can use the free 25,000-mile service too, even if they have not driven enough miles.

The maximum benefit of the ToyotaCare Plus Premium Prepaid Maintenance Plan would either cover my Toyota vehicle for its first 75,000 miles or by Aug. 23, 2026 (which includes a bonus grace period year to finish using the services or lose them), whichever comes first.

To best determine if a prepaid maintenance plan may save you money, you would need to make an educated guess about how many of the service visits you are likely to actually take advantage of before your maintenance plan expires. If you do not drive very much and get the services done at the maximum time intervals, you would end up losing some of your prepaid service visits. Each of the 5K, 10K, 15K, and 20K services would be done at six-month intervals, and then the 25K service could get done three months later. After that, you could start getting two of the ToyotaCare Plus prepaid maintenance plan service visits per year (30K, 35K, 40K, 45K, 50K, 55K, and 60K) until the plan expires, which would leave the 65K, 70K and 75K prepaid service visits unredeemed.

This gets even more complicated. Only “normal factory-scheduled maintenance” is included. Not covered in my RAV4 example are additional items that your dealer might recommend, nor are more frequent service visit intervals due to “Special/Severe Operating Conditions,” such as “driving on dirt roads or dusty roads,” and/or “driving while towing, using a car-top carrier, or heavy vehicle loading.”

On the plus side, my prepaid maintenance plan remains refundable — on a pro-rated basis — until my “Agreement Expiration Date” (Aug. 23, 2025). However, note that this date is a full year before the grace period for using the prepaid service visits ends.

To decide if a prepaid maintenance plan is right for you, try to get estimated prices for the service visits you’ll need during that period, read all of the fine print, and negotiate a good price for the maintenance plan.


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Jan Wagner

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