car warranties: buy one or just save your money?

“Extended warranties.” “Monthly service plans.” “Repair insurance.” Should you buy some sort of warranty plan to help cover eventual repair costs on your car?

These warranties may be offered by dealers when you buy a car, or they might be offered by independent companies like CarShield or Endurance.

Our customers at lowell’s frequently ask us whether such warranty plans are worth it.

With a few specific exceptions, we think warranty plans are a waste of your money. Here’s why:

Insurance companies are like casinos: The house always wins

Warranties are a form of insurance, and insurance companies are structured like casinos. Like a casino, they’re betting that they will never pay out what you pay in for the warranty. They rig the warranty ‘game’ in their favor to help protect their profit. Based on our experience dealing with a variety of insurance companies, here’s how they rig warranties:

  • Friction. At every turn, warranty companies throw hassle and delay into the process of collecting on your claim. Long customer service wait times. Obscure phone mail menus. Unresponsive representatives. Multi-step, multi-day approval processes. By prolonging and overcomplicating the process, they hope that customers will simply give up before they ever have to pay.
  • Coverage. Warranty companies often severely limit what repairs they will actually cover. For example, they might promise to cover ‘powertrain’ repairs for the engine and transmission. But then they bury loads of exclusions – emissions, exhaust, steering, suspension, electrical components, brakes, etc. – in the fine print. And then, they classify most of the things which regularly go wrong as falling into those excluded categories.
  • Quality. When they will cover a repair, warranty companies often challenge our shop’s part recommendations. When we give them a repair estimate, they will often only pay for cheaper, lower-grade parts. As a shop that prides itself on providing durable, quality repairs, this second-guessing degrades the premium service our customers have come to expect out of lowell’s.

By installing barriers, limiting what they will cover, and sacrificing quality, warranty companies maximize their profit. And they are extremely profitable. That’s how they can afford to run non-stop nationwide  television and radio ads featuring minor celebrities. At most dealers, warranty and financing activities generate more profit than they get from selling cars. (The dealer’s service department also generates more profit than it gets from selling cars. Cars account for the vast majority of overall dealer sales, but the profits on car sales are very slim.)

In their ads, the companies scare prospects with big-ticket repairs that rarely fail (like engines and transmissions). But they don’t tell you that they won’t cover the stuff that most often breaks down.

While our experience is with automotive repair warranties, we think that the same critiques apply to many home warranty plans, like large appliance warranties and HVAC system maintenance plans.

These companies are in the business of making sure you don’t get your money’s worth out of a warranty.

When does insurance make sense?

Insurance makes the most sense when you face a potentially catastrophic risk. We carry auto, health, life, and homeowner’s (or renter’s) insurance because we need to hedge against really awful (and costly) possibilities – a severe illness, a crash, a fire, or a death. (And often we carry that insurance because we are legally required to do so.)

Automotive repair warranties may make sense if there is no other safety net for your vehicle. If, for instance, driving your vehicle is central to your job, or if there is no feasible emergency option to get where you need to go, then you might reasonably consider a warranty.


Instead of purchasing an auto repair warranty, we’d recommend that you save that money in some sort of rainy day fund (where it might also accumulate some interest!). Then, you can maintain full control over those funds without a warranty company trying to restrict your access to your money.

when that brake noise probably isn’t a big problem

You slowly back out of your driveway, tap your brakes, and hear a loud grinding sound. Oh, no… Your mind starts racing. When can I get into the shop? I really don’t have time for this. They loudly grind again at the end of the street. This is embarrassing. By the time you leave your neighborhood, though, the grinding has disappeared. That was really weird. What on earth is wrong?

Later on, when you pull out of your parking space at work, the noise is back. Ugh!


Brake noises can certainly be irritating and embarrassing, but they don’t always mean that your brakes have stopped working correctly.

With your brakes, our primary concern is whether they are functioning properly: Are they safely stopping you and your vehicle? Even when they are working properly, there are a few reasons your brakes may still make noise.

The most common noise that we encounter at lowell’s is the harmless but loud phenomenon of flash rust.

Flash rust occurs when tiny rust particles form on your brake rotors. The rust particles form in small pits or grooves in your rotor. The first few times you use your brakes, they make a terrible racket as the brake pads rub against the rust. After a while, the friction from your braking rubs the rust particles away. With your pads once again meeting clean metal, the terrible racket stops.

Why does flash rust happen?

Your brake rotors are metal discs which are largely exposed to the elements. Wet road conditions or high humidity can help trigger flash rust. The rust has more chance to grow when the car sits overnight or over a weekend. In the winter, road salts also contribute to faster rusting.

How can you tell when you have flash rust? Here are some things to look for:

  • The brake noises occur a few times and then fade away.
  • The noise itself can be squealing, grinding, or groaning. It can be wake-up-the-neighbors loud or fairly quiet.
  • You usually hear the noises after the car has been sitting for a few hours (first thing in the morning, after a weekend, or after work, for example)
  • You tend to hear it more when it has been raining or snowing a lot. (Especially when the roads are slushy.)

If most of these symptoms match what is happening with you car, you likely have a flash rust issue. Your brakes are probably functioning properly despite the noise. If your noise is just intolerable, sometimes it can help to have us resurface your rotors. Resurfacing leaves fewer pits and grooves for the rust to form in and cling to.

If the noises you are hearing don’t go away or if you notice that your braking has gotten worse, that may be a sign of something wrong, and you should probably have your brakes checked over. Just call the shop, and we can schedule you for a brake inspection.

how a loaner vehicle can make your visit easier

We know that visiting a mechanic can involve a lot of complicated logistics. With all that you have going on, coordinating getting to and from the shop can be a major hassle.

  • How do you coax your grumpy relative out of bed to pick you up at the shop and take you to work?
  • Where do you wait if the waiting room is closed?
  • How do you get all of your errands completed?
  • How do you get back to the shop when your vehicle is ready? Uber? Work friend? That grumpy relative?

Not an actual loaner.

A lot of customers don’t know that we’ve offered a different option for more than 15 years: a small fleet of free and easy-to-use loaner vehicles. Instead of depending on the kindness and availability of others, we figure that it is much easier for you to just drive yourself wherever you need to go.

Here’s a brief overview of our loaner program:

  • Our loaner vehicles are well-used and decidedly un-fancy (the oldest just turned 30). But they will get you where you need to go.
  • Loaners are popular and not always available, so make sure to reserve a loaner vehicle in advance when you make your appointment. That way, we can make sure to keep one for you.
  • Here’s the elaborate process for taking a loaner: When you drop off your car, we’ll give you the keys to your reserved loaner vehicle. No paperwork. No charge.
  • If you are waiting while we service your vehicle, you can use the loaner as a kind of personal waiting room. Feel free to use the heating or air conditioning for your comfort. You can use the restroom in our lobby if needed.
  • We try to keep enough gas in the loaners for you to get around. You do not need to fill them up before returning them. (If the gas gets a little low, just put in enough to cover your personal driving needs.)
  • You can use a loaner to drive yourself home. You can take yourself to work. You can just hang out in it. Or you can use it to run errands. The main thing we ask is that you are considerate of other customers. Don’t smoke in the vehicle. If you eat in the car or run errands, make sure to clean up any resulting debris. (Just leave the vehicle like you’d like to find it.)

At lowell’s, we pride ourselves on providing a great service experience for our customers. We designed our loaner program to uncomplicate the process of getting your car fixed. Hopefully, it does just that for you!

lowells named 2021 Neighborhood Favorite by nextdoor

We are pleased and humbled that users of nextdoor have named lowell’s a Neighborhood Favorite for 2021. ( We were also a 2020 Neighborhood Favorite!)

This means that lots of different nextdoor members have recommended lowell’s to their neighbors. We really appreciate everyone who tells their friends, family, and neighbors about us, and we’ll keep working to earn your recommendations in the future. Thank you!

lowell’s wins 11th “favorite auto repair” in 2021 Readers’ Choice Awards

2021 Favorite Auto Repair

For the eleventh time, Lexington Herald-Leader readers have voted Lowell’s their “Favorite Auto Repair” in the 2021 Readers’ Choice Awards.


This Readers’ Choice Award is our 21st first-place award (11 from Herald-Leader readers, 9 more Best of Lex Awards from Ace Weekly readers (even though Ace hasn’t run the awards since 2011), and last month’s Best of 2021 Award from Preferred Mechanic.

We are humbled and honored to have the support of our wonderful, wonderful customers. We are also very grateful to have such thoughtful and skilled employees. We promise to keep improving our service to keep deserving your appreciation.

Thank you so much,
Rob, Suzanne, and your Friends at Lowell’s

lowell’s wins 2021 Readers’ Choice Award for “favorite oil change”

2021 Favorite Oil Change

lowell’s has been chosen as Lexington’s Favorite Oil Change in the 2021 Readers’ Choice Awards. Lexington Herald-Leader readers choose their favorites in a variety of categories, and Lowell’s won the oil change category.

This marks the first time that lowell’s has been selected as the best place to get an oil change! Thank you so much for your votes. We’ll do all we can to earn this award.

lowell’s selected #1 out of 370 mechanics in Lexington

#1 of 370 mechanics in Lexington!

Preferred Mechanic evaluated 370 mechanics across Lexington, and chose lowell’s as the top mechanic in town for 2021.

For their Best of 2021 awards, Preferred Mechanic ranked shops across the nation based on customer reviews, ratings, awards, and multiple other criteria. On July 1st, they named lowell’s as the #1 mechanic in Lexington!

The Best of 2021 Award makes the 20th time that lowell’s has been selected as the best mechanic in Lexington. We’ve also received 10 Readers’ Choice Awards from Herald-Leader readers, and 9 more Best of Lex Awards from Ace Weekly readers (even though Ace hasn’t run awards voting since 2011).

We’re always driving to offer the very best auto repair service. If you ever notice anything we can do better, please let us know.

pandemic policy updates

We are relieved to see that the COVID outbreak is diminishing as we enter the summer. We hope that you and your families are well.

Last March, we implemented several measures to prevent viral spread among customers, employees, and suppliers. We know that our policies have not always been convenient, but keeping everyone safe is our highest priority.

Now, we are updating some of those policies and procedures as we continue to learn more about the virus and how it is transmitted. And while many of us are now vaccinated against COVID, most still aren’t and many of us still have vulnerable family members.

With these updates, we’re attempting to balance the ongoing risks with the knowledge that spread is becoming less likely this summer.

Here’s what is changing:

  • Wipe-downs optional. We had been wiping down hard surfaces inside every vehicle with sanitary wipes when getting into and when exiting each vehicle. We had also been using seat and steering wheel covers. Because surface transmission isn’t a major vector for COVID transmission, we’re making that policy optional. Some employees like the general cleanliness of using the wipes and covers, they may continue to do so. If you’d prefer that we continue to wipe down your vehicle, just note that preference when making your appointment or dropping off your vehicle.
  • Gloves optional. We had been requiring each employee to wear latex or nitrile gloves when driving your vehicle. Again, because surface transmission risk is low, we are making that policy optional as well.

Here’s what remains the same (for now):

  • Masks are still required at lowell’s. We require that all customers, employees, and suppliers continue to wear masks inside lowell’s. If you prefer not to wear a mask, we are happy to meet you outside.
  • Customer shuttle is still suspended. If you need to get on with your day, you may drive yourself wherever you need to go in one of our courtesy loaner vehicles.
  • Waiting area is still closed. If you need a place to wait, we still offer use of our loaner vehicles as a kind of personal waiting room.

As the risks continue to fall throughout the summer, we anticipate revisiting and updating these policies, and we will update you when we do.

beyond toyota

For nearly 40 years, we’ve specialized exclusively in Toyota and Lexus. We were the first independent shop in Kentucky to do so. We built our reputation for honesty and reliability on Toyota and Lexus vehicles.

Customers always ask if we can work on their non-Toyota vehicle, and we politely decline.

Until today.

We’re now extending our award-winning service to other brands.

Toyota and Lexus will remain the foundation of our business. But we know that we can honestly and reliably service other brands of vehicles as well, and we have decided to do just that.

So we will begin taking appointments for other brands of vehicles immediately.

If you are one of the many customers over the years who always wished that lowell’s serviced other vehicles, that wish has come true!