Is it worth paying for car dealer add-ons?

Buying a car - whether new or used - involves much more than simply agreeing how much you're going to pay. Car dealers now offer an almost bewildering array of add-ons which often come with the promise of protecting your interests.

The brutal truth is that car dealers like making money. And these add-ons are very profitable. In addition, the products they offer aren't necessarily all they're cracked up to be. James Foxall investigates the most popular add-ons and weighs up whether drivers need them or not.

GAP insurance

What is it? The moment a car is driven away from the showroom it starts losing value. If it's written off in a crash, the insurer pays out what is known as the market or insured value. This is regularly thousands of pounds less than it would cost to replace the car with one of a similar age and specification. The best GAP policies - frequently known as 'return to invoice' cover the difference between what the motor insurer pays and buying a brand-new version of the car.

Before buying, ask yourself… What is your attitude to risk? How many cars have you had written off by insurers over your motoring life?

Who's it best for? People who buy cars using finance. The right GAP insurance policy guarantees that if your car is written off you won't be facing 'negative equity'. In other words you'll avoid paying monthly finance fees for a car you no longer have.

For: Guarantees peace of mind - if it's the right policy.

Against: There's a vast difference between GAP policies. Some policies with 'market value' and 'insured value' clauses can represent such poor value for money that they're not worth having. Others will require the insurer's agreement before they pay out.

Paintwork protection

What is it: This is claimed to form an invisible seal over the car's paint. The sales patter is that it keeps bodywork looking smart and glossy for months or years depending on the product.

Before buying, ask yourself… Who is applying the product? The way the product is applied has a direct relationship to how well it protects the paintwork and how long it lasts. Are you willing to shop around? Frequently a local product-approved operator will do a better job for less money. Or do you fancy a spot of DIY? There are products you can buy and apply yourself if you fancy an afternoon getting acquainted with your car's bodywork.

Who's it best for? People who give their car minimal love and attention but still want it to look shiny and new for months to come.

For: Provides some barrier to wear and tear.

Against: It'll only stand the test of time and be worth the money if it's applied properly. That isn't always the case. A regular wash and wax will frequently do just as well.

Scratch and dent insurance

What is it? This is cover against the scratches, scrapes, dings and dents that can be a part of everyday motoring life. It works in addition to regular motor insurance and means you shouldn't have to risk your no claims bonus or pay a pricey excess to get small damage repaired. However, policies vary dramatically. Some cover such small amounts of damage they're almost worthless; others use non-authorised repairers who may do an unsatisfactory job.

Before buying ask yourself… How old is the car? If it's a used car and you're planning to keep it forever, you probably don't need this. Are you a careful driver? Or do your cars carry battle scars?

Who's it best for? People who cover big mileages; drivers who aren't as attentive as they might be; drivers who live in cities or regularly leave their car in public car parks; people who're buying a car on finance and plan to hand it back at the end of the deal.

For: If you're likely to have costly penalties for damage imposed by a finance company at the end of your term you'll benefit, particularly if you make claims.

Against: If you're a careful driver who does low mileages and doesn't live in a city, you shouldn't really need it. And there are plenty of policies on the market that aren't worth paying for.

Tyre and wheel protection

What is it? This is another type of insurance, designed to pay for replacing or fixing damage to wheels or tyres. It covers the ravages caused by kerbing or potholes. However some policies have exclusions over certain types of wheel. And limits can rule out multiple claims from cars with big, expensive wheels.

Before buying, ask yourself… Are the wheels and tyres on your car expensive enough to warrant cover? Are you willing to swallow the price of repairing or replacing a tyre? How expensive is it to get an alloy wheel refurbished?

Who's it best for? Drivers who live in cities and park on the street. Drivers whose cars have expensive tyres and large, easy-to-damage alloy wheels.

For: Get the right policy and it'll ensure no unpleasant surprises.

Against: As with other insurance policies, it's worth weeding out ones that aren't worthwhile. Research from tyre maker Continental shows that the average driver suffers a puncture only once every five years .

Fabric protection

What is it? This is a treatment for the interior of the vehicle that is supposed to protect seats from the worst daily life can throw at them. It's frequently sold alongside paintwork protection.

Before buying, ask yourself… Do you have kids or animals? Are they the variety that appears to enjoy making their environment mucky?

Who's it best for? People who give unruly young kids food and drink on the move. Animal lovers.

For: It can offer some protection to interior fabrics.

Against: Nothing can really protect interior fabrics. Try giving kids water to drink when they're in the car: it doesn't smell or stain when spilt. And if you regularly transport a dog, buy a boot liner. It'll be cheaper.

Extended warranty

What is it? Every new car comes with a warranty, usually for three years. But you can pay to extend them if you want. It is worthwhile remembering that these don't cover what are known as wear and tear items such as clutches, brakes or tyres. Dealers should supply used cars with a warranty of three or six months. You can also extend these.

Before buying, ask yourself… If it's a new car, how long are you planning to keep it? Can you wait before extending the warranty to get a feel for how reliable the car is? What does a used car warranty guarantee? Can you be bothered to read the small print? This is important because they are frequently full of exclusions.

Who's it best for? Drivers who want the peace of mind of knowing they're covered for unexpected, potentially expensive repairs.

For: If something big and expensive goes wrong, you know you're covered. If you're selling the car, you can use the extended warranty as a sweetener.

Against: What you pay annually for some warranties would actually cover the cost of a fairly major repair.

As with all insurance products, make sure you fully appreciate the cover you're buying. Even if you agree to take out one of these policies, the dealer should give you a cooling-off period for you to read the literature and pull out without penalty if you change your mind.

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