The 5 best warranties are the best ever

Hand signing auto loan papers with car keys and license plate

Many 2008 cars and trucks are backed with the best warranties we've ever seen. That doesn't mean they'll never break. Or that they'll break less often than competing models with less generous guarantees. It just means the automaker will pay to fix them if they do.

But the reduced wear and tear on your wallet still makes a good warranty worth considering when you're shopping for the right car and the best deal.

There are two basic types of warranties to ask about and compare: 

(Note: These are factory warranties that are included in the base price of the car or truck. They're not the extended warranties that dealers sell and you should almost never buy.)

Here are our choices for the best guarantees in the business:

General Motors Corp. starts Chevrolet, Saturn, GMC and Pontiac buyers off with a three-year, 36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty.Cadillac, Saab, Buick and Hummer buyers have four-year, 50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper protection (a typical guarantee for pricier, luxury vehicles.)

When that expires, a five-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty picks up. That coverage is transferable, which should boost the value of your car or truck if you sell before it runs out.

And as long as any part of the warranty is good, you've got free roadside assistance.

That's not a trivial perk. Just call GM's 800-number and it dispatches a service truck that can tow you to the nearest dealer, change a flat, open the doors if you're locked out, or provide a splash of gas if you're empty. You won't need to pay for AAA or other roadside programs if you have this.

Hyundai advertises that it has "America's best warranty." Kia isn't as brash, but offers almost identical protection.

Buyers are initially covered by the longest bumper-to-bumper warranty you'll find -- five-years or 60,000 miles. You can't get that kind of protection on a Mercedes-Benz or Lexus.

The South Korean carmakers follow that with a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty that only covers the original purchaser. So if the vehicle is sold, it's over.

Roadside assistance is part of the deal for the first five years or 60,000 miles if it's a Kia, or five years with unlimited mileage if it's a Hyundai.

Mitsubishi now matches the Hyundai warranty, including the five-year, unlimited mileage roadside assistance.

BMW has a four-year, 50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty with no additional powertrain coverage. Roadside maintenance is provided for four years regardless of mileage.

That's good, but not great. So what makes the German luxury brand's warranty special?

It covers all factory-recommended maintenance, everything from oil changes to worn out brake pads. BMW buyers can just sit back and allow their dealer to maintain their high-performance rides in impeccable working order.

Chrysler LLC provides Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep buyers with a standard three-year, 36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and roadside assistance.

Then the new lifetime powertrain warranty picks up for as long as you own the car or truck -- the first time any automaker has offered an open-ended guarantee.

Unfortunately it's not transferable, doesn't include roadside assistance and requires the vehicle to be inspected at a Chrysler dealer within 60 days of every five year anniversary of the purchase date.

But the inspections are free and unlike the seven-year, 70,000-mile powertrain warranty it replaces, there's no insurance-like deductible when repairs are needed.