It's one of the worst-kept secrets in the auto industry that maintenance on high end luxury cars such as those built by Cadillac and Lincoln can be far more expensive than repair jobs performed on run of the mill vehicles. Parts costs, even for wear items can be much higher than what most people are prepared to pay, and the additional complexity of premium cars and trucks can cause some buyers to be hesitant about plunking down their cash to buy new or used.
Over the past 12 months, a number of luxury car companies have attempted to bridge this gap between customer suspicion and economic reality by offering free maintenance programs designed to last at least as long as the manufacturer's warranty. BMW and Jaguar are two noteworthy examples of high end brands which now provide competitive and free maintenance plans on all of their vehicles. Given the fact that customer experience ranks highly as one of the reasons why those who spend top dollar on an automobile choose a specific manufacturer, it made sense that domestic car companies Cadillac and Lincoln would both jump onboard this growing trend and market their own free maintenance programs.
The Cadillac initiative is called Cadillac Premium Care Maintenance, and it is being offered on all 2011 vehicles regardless of model. The program lasts for 4 years or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first, and it covers a wide range of different items. 2011 Cadillac owners will not have to pay for their own oil or engine air filters, climate control air filters, tire rotations or any scheduled vehicle inspections or oil changes. While laudable, the maintenance program does not go quite as far as BMW or Jaguar, as each of those companies also provide free replacements for expensive items such as brake pads as well as other assorted odds and ends including windshield wiper blades.
Lincoln's free maintenance program is much more limited in scope in terms of which vehicles qualify to participate. Only those automobiles sold between now and Labor Day (September 7, 2010) can benefit from this offer. Lincoln has not given any special name to its free scheduled maintenance, but it has revealed that the terms of the offer describe a three year period or 45,000 miles of driving - again, shorter than that provided by Cadillac. Despite these two strikes, the Lincoln program gains significant credibility due to the fact that it is much more comprehensive than the one offered by its cross-town rival. Free maintenance according to Lincoln's definition encompasses all of the items covered by Cadillac but also adds engine belts and hoses to the list, as well as brake pads and windshield wiper blades like its European competitors.
There is no question that free maintenance can add significant value to a potential vehicle purchase in the minds of new car buyers. Comparing the Cadillac and Lincoln offerings tilts the scales in favor of Ford's premium division. While it might knock a year and 5,000 miles off of the total term - as well as feature a qualifying period so short it could more accurately be considered a sales incentive - the coverage it provides is much more comprehensive and touches on items that truly do wear down and require replacement.
A final caveat to those who would give too much weight to these types of free maintenance promises, be they from European or domestic luxury car companies: make sure that you are fully aware of the value of the service being offered. These types of plans typically cover schedule maintenance only, which means if you roast your brake pads at the drag strip you can't expect a fresh set every month. Technicians will be happy to replace wear items and change engine oil as long as it occurs at specified intervals that match the expect service windows of the vehicle in question. Make sure to ask how many free inspections, brake pads, wiper blades or oil changes you can expect to get from a program prior to letting it influence your purchase decision.