If you’re going to buy a warranty, shop around

I’m writing this post on my brand new MacBook, which I just purchased yesterday. I can honestly say I’ve never been less excited to buy a computer.

The reason for my ambivalence is that I already bought this laptop four months ago, replacing a seven-year-old “little iBook that could.” But two weeks ago a water bottle (that I thought was closed) toppled over, splashing water on the MacBook. At first, it seemed like I was in the clear. All systems were go. Later that day, however, the MacBook started randomly “typing” characters on its own, and after two failed reboots, it died. Rest in peace, MacBook. You were too young.

Warranties and “Protection” Plans

I had purchased additional coverage through the AppleCare Protection Plan, so I figured I could get it repaired easily enough. Unfortunately, I didn’t read the fine print. It turns out that while Apple was happy to fix the defective motherboard on my iBook four years ago, accidents such as water spills weren’t covered, and in fact, voided my warranty altogether. I got that sinking feeling in my stomach. Unwilling to put even a few hundred dollars into a machine that was no longer under warranty and could continue to have problems, I decided to bite the bullet and buy another laptop, hoping to sell the damaged one for parts.

It took me a couple of weeks to suck it up and buy another one. I decided to go to Best Buy, mainly because it was on my way home. I asked for a MacBook and followed the salesman to the register to buy my second laptop in four months. He started to explain Best Buy’s extended warranty program, called Geek Squad Black Tie Protection, and when I asked about the difference between that and AppleCare, he said Geek Squad covers more, including accidents and repairing normal wear and tear.

He had me at “accidents”.

Why Bother With a Warranty?

I typically pass on extended warranties. Laptops, however, are where I make an exception. According to an article in PC World, David Heim, Consumer Reports‘ managing editor, agrees:

We’ve refined our point of view over the years. For certain kinds of products it makes sense: if it’s expensive to buy, might be trouble-prone, and could be expensive to fix. In other words, a laptop.

Laptops, by their nature, are prone to damage. We buy them so we can take them on trips, to Starbucks, or anywhere the day might take us. The more we pack them up and move them around, the more likely it is that an accident will occur. Added protection makes sense, but as I found, all warranties are not the same.

The AppleCare Plan

All Apple computers come with a one-year limited warranty and 90 days of complimentary telephone technical support. For $249 AppleCare extends that to three years (from purchase date, so service overlaps with the one-year warranty).

I was happy with the customer service I received from AppleCare, which I used twice with the iBook. The AppleCare plan includes the following for laptops:

  • Direct access to Apple experts
  • Global repair coverage
  • Mail- or carry-in repair for portable computers

The plan covers defects, but does not cover damage caused by “accident, abuse, neglect, misuse (including faulty installation, repair, or maintenance by anyone other than Apple), unauthorized modification, extreme environment (including extreme temperature or humidity), extreme physical or electrical stress or interference, fluctuation or surges of electrical power, lightning, static electricity, fire, acts of God or other external causes.” It also does not cover wear and tear or battery replacement, unless Apple determines the failure was due to a defect in materials or workmanship.

The Geek Squad Protection Plan

Geek Squad Black Tie Protection offers several plans; the three-year plan for the MacBook is $329. Like AppleCare, Geek Squad covers standard repairs, but you don’t get the phone-in access (something I’ve never used). During the first year after purchase, Geek Squad defers repairs to Apple, which offers the one-year limited warranty. But Geek Squad provides certain additional benefits, even during Apple’s warranty term, such as coverage for the following:

  • Normal wear and tear. This includes defects in materials or workmanship and failures due to dust, internal heat, and humidity.
  • Accidental damage from handling. From Geek Squad’s terms: “It happens sometimes. If you drop or spill on your laptop in the course of normal use, we’ll cover the cost of your repair.”
  • Battery replacement.
  • No lemon policy. If the product requires four qualified repairs, you receive a replacement.
  • Power surge repair.
  • Good maintenance rewards. If the protection plan is unused, you get double or triple Reward Zone program points on the original plan purchase price. (This only translates to about $20, though, provided program terms don’t change.)

For me, this is was an easy decision to make. Had I known that a warranty existed that covered wear and tear and accidental damage, I would have bought it when I bought the first MacBook. It’s worth it to me to pay an additional $80 for peace of mind.

So, readers, learn from my mistake. In most cases, I still believe extended warranties aren’t worth it. If you’re purchasing something with a high repair rate and do decide to buy a warranty, know that they vary in length and terms.

Check with several retailers before you decide where to purchase, and read the fine print in each of their warranty terms and conditions so you can pick the product that works best for you.

J.D.’s note: As I’ve written many times in the past, I typically pass on extended warranties, too. I prefer to self-insure with something like the warranty scam-buster account. That being said, I always buy extended warranties for laptops. In fact, I’m helping my mother buy a laptop this week, and as part of the process, I plan to bite the bullet and pay the money for the service plan. Am I being overly paranoid? Maybe. But this is one case where I feel like the insurance is worth it…

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