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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Joe
Joe
10 years ago

Careful who you buy protection plans from. I have heard from many friends that Best Buy isn’t the BEST with servicing computers. I don’t think I would ever trust them with my mac.

I have an emergency fund for my computer and go here instead:
http://www.ifixit.com/

Bridd
Bridd
7 years ago
Reply to  Joe

Not sure if things have changed since this was written or its just different in Canada but Best Buy do not cover for accidents !! You drop it or spill on it you get nothing !

Chett @5k5k.org
Chett @5k5k.org
10 years ago

Great writing and voice in your post.

I’m confused. Was the warranty $80 or $329 for three years? If it’s the latter wouldn’t it be almost the same as buying another Mac Book?

Kate
Kate
10 years ago

I am really surprised by this!

AppleCare has always been great to me- resurrecting a computer that wasn’t plugged into a surge-protector and got fried, replacing my sister’s computer when she spilled Coke all over it…

And they did it FAST, unlike the Dell service I had previously, which forced me to ship my laptop away during exam time for an “evaluation” (minimum time: 6 weeks) and then determined I had dropped it (I hadn’t), and therefore refused to fix it.

I wonder if the rules are different depending on what country you buy your Mac in?

Beth
Beth
10 years ago

Wow, I didn’t know this! My PC laptop is about to die, so this information is very timely for me! Incidentally, the reason I’m still using my PC laptop is because I purchased the extended warranty. The company replaced a $700 part that died right before the warranty was up. In addition to coming out ahead in this deal, the warranty bought me another two and a half years of use. That means more time for me to save up for a new one, and more time for prices to come down! @ Kate — Just out of curiosity, what… Read more »

Edward - Entry Level Dilemma
Edward - Entry Level Dilemma
10 years ago

When I bought my first cell phone, I added insurance to my plan. Then, I promptly dropped it into a bowl of water. When Verizon realized it was water damaged, they basically told me tough luck. Ever since then, I’ve turned down every extended warranty I’ve been offered. Because I know that anything that breaks down around me is probably my fault in the first place. Dell seems to be universally considered the worst service on the planet. HP is also pretty bad, from my experience. During the warranty period, my brother sent his laptop in 6 times because of… Read more »

Eric
Eric
10 years ago

Did you use a credit card to buy your first Macbook? Lots of credit cards give you protection if you accidentally damage your product after first buying it. American Express, for example, says the following: “When you charge a covered purchase with your Card, the Purchase Protection1 protects that item if it is stolen or accidentally damaged, including vandalism. You are covered up to $1,000 per Occurrence, up to $50,000 per Card account per policy year. The Purchase Protection is in EXCESS of other sources of indemnity.” That said, it is only good for the first three months (with my… Read more »

Brandon Schmid
Brandon Schmid
10 years ago

Hey all,

It’s funny the amount of things that they can hide in legal copy.

It’s like home insurance. You may be covered for the tornado, earthquake or fire, but then a simple flood happens and you find out that you are not covered.

I guess that’s why they have strong legal copywriters on their team lol.

Cheers

Brandon

Four Pillars
Four Pillars
10 years ago

I tend to buy cheaper laptops – I think my last one was about $650 all in and replace them frequently. If something happens and I have to get a new one then it’s not a big deal.

andyg8180
andyg8180
10 years ago

When i worked on Geek Squad, you wouldnt believe the stupid mistakes people made with their laptops… those that had the accidental warranty walked away with brand new laptops… Ive seen people drop their lappys and shatter the screen, spill milk from their cereal (smelled!), and our manager approved someone who accidentally ran it over with their car lol… We also found out that “acts of war” were considered ok for the return policy, so ifyou went to iraq and caught a bullet in your laptop, it would be covered lol (that was 2 yrs ago) But its nice to… Read more »

Meghan
Meghan
10 years ago

Great post, and very timely for me. I’ve been thinking about getting a new Macbook. I bought mine 4 years ago and it has some gliches (flickering screen, dies without a power cord, etc.). I’ve been debating whether or not to get the extended warranty since I never used it for my current computer. But I’m definitely going to go for the extended warranty, and shop around. I live in Canada though, so there is no Best Buy, but perhaps one of the other box stores might have a similar deal. Hmmm…

Steve
Steve
10 years ago

Another option is a computer rider on your renters/homeowner’s insurance. I added it to my USAA insurance before going to Iraq in ’06, and have utilized it twice since. First time was when a cup of tea found it’s way into my laptop. All I had to do was take it to a repair shop (any shop) and get a quote. If it is more than replacing, and this time it was, you get a replacement check. They even paid the fee for the shop to look at it. Second time was just a bad power plug on a laptop… Read more »

Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell
10 years ago

This is such smart advice, April. The day that I began my blog, my three-year-old laptop (a high-quality one which cost well over $1,500 when I initially purchased it) died from a faulty fan, which also fried the video card in the process. I was smart enough to buy an extended warranty three years ago and the company not only replaced the fan, but also parts that were somewhat worn but not broken (such as the keyboard and palm rests). The repairs probably cost more than the computer was worth, but because I spent $250 on the warranty before, all… Read more »

ami | 40daystochange
ami | 40daystochange
10 years ago

I had heard stories similar to Kate’s #3 – that the Apple Care people seemed to go above and beyond what the legal language of their plan require, even *suggesting* that a laptop be replaced with a new one when the same issue repeated. So while it wouldn’t help you with your old computer, I’d try Apple for any glitches on the new computer – even if they seem to be outside the language of the plan. The company has excellent customer service. That being said- I think the extended warranty and coverage you obtained from Geek Squad sounds like… Read more »

Gus&Otto
Gus&Otto
10 years ago

Best Buy’s extended warranty program is my best friend. I’ve never bought a laptop without an extended warranty and I’ve used the warranty to get a replacement laptop with each purchase. With my first two laptops, they had such significant issues (Compaq and Sony) that they were replaced on the first repair. My current laptop, a Gateway, has been in 3 times already and I have 1 year left on the extended warranty. I read somewhere years ago that the average lifespan of a laptop was 3 years, so this extra coverage always made sense to me. I’m not buying… Read more »

UnderstatementJones
UnderstatementJones
10 years ago

Renter’s insurance is the way to go.

Sarah Grace
Sarah Grace
10 years ago

I had the same experience- it seem like the Geniuses have a little room go above and beyond apple care if they want to. I dropped my laptop and it was damage. ( the screen was coming apart from the plastic of the computer). They said they weren’t supposed to cover it but they would. I know it helps I am a cute blond but I have had great service from them! I don’t know if I would trust my mac to anyone but apple, but the spilling thing definitely tempts me. That’s happened with iPhones and we’ve had to… Read more »

Beth
Beth
10 years ago

@ Meghan — we have Best Buy in Canada. I live near one, but it’s only been around for a couple of years. They’re not as common as Future Shop, which is owned by the same parent company (I think). I wonder if their programs are the same? I should look into that too.

Kate
Kate
10 years ago

I’m in Canada, but after reading this article, I went to Apple Canada site and foudn the same legal line as April did. So in theory, no country difference?

I think I’m going to follow up a bit with this, because I’m in the market for a new laptop (this Mac has lasted me 7 years now, power surge and all), and the great service I’ve gotten from AppleCare is one of the major reasons I’m considering getting another Mac.

jay
jay
10 years ago

“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”

Not wise. Apples retain their resell value and are easier to fix than most think. Ifixit.com gives you step by step repair instructions for ANY apple product and a place to buy the parts you need.

Tamara
Tamara
10 years ago

I’ve always gotten great service from AppleCare and the Genius Bar at Apple stores. It is true, though, that as far as I know, it only extends the manufacturer’s warranty, and is not an insurance plan covering accidental damage and the like. Although I love AppleCare, a plan like that is tempting. I do not think that I would trust GeekSquad with my MacBook Pro, though. Maybe something like SquareTrade, although I’d have to do more research on how things are serviced through these sorts of plans. I wonder if Kate’s experiences are just examples of someone being generous. They… Read more »

Tamara
Tamara
10 years ago

Also, if anyone does go with AppleCare, you don’t have to get it from Apple, you can find it cheaper elsewhere online. As long as you get the version listing your type of computer, you can apply the code online.

Sierra Black
10 years ago

FWIW, AppleCare has repaired my laptop three times, replaced it twice and given me probably a dozen hours of phone support over the years. I have definitely gotten my money’s worth out of it. Couldn’t agree more: laptops are worth a warranty.

Naomi
Naomi
10 years ago

Costco offers a free 2nd year warranty and technical support on TVs and computers.

E West
E West
10 years ago

I’m sorry you had trouble. Did you take it in to an Apple Store to make sure?

I dont have an Apple computer and don’t know what that is like, but the AppleCare on my iPhone has been amazing.

They gave me a replacement phone when they couldn’t fix one under warranty. And when I had a different problem with the replacement phone, they gave me another replacement (even though it was past the warranty at that time). Heck, I didn’t complain. I was amazed at the treatment I got. Good luck in the future!

Bryan Sr
Bryan Sr
10 years ago

Extended warranties are a great thing to have as long as you know what you are buying. I also have typically only bought them for vehicles and laptops. I have come out on the good side so far and feel I have definitely received my money’s worth in return if not more. Please be careful and don’t just buy without looking into the offer first. For my laptop I also jumped all over the water damage coverage. Spills do happen. 🙂

April
April
10 years ago

Just wanted to chime in and say that, like many of you, I have had great customer service experiences with AppleCare.

Unfortunately, they just don’t cover everything I’d like to have covered in a laptop protection plan.

Andy
Andy
10 years ago

I cover my electronics (laptops & iPhones) with a special policy from State Farm. It covers pretty much everything – from drops & spills to theft, loss, and even virus infections – all for under $5 per month.

Kim
Kim
10 years ago

I got a few drops of water on my daughter’s brand new iPod. It wasn’t covered by AppleCare. Apple even put some type of liquid detection device in it. It would be nice if they put more efforts into making them more water resistant. We replaced it with an ipod through Costco who covers “accidents”. BTW I have had excellent support for my Dell laptop. I renew my extended warranty every year. This is final year it will be offered due to the age of my computer. As a business owner, it has been worth every penny of it. I’m… Read more »

Chickybeth
Chickybeth
10 years ago

I’d be weary of using “Peek Squad”. There have been numerous reports of some pretty unscrupulous behavior with their techs. Never invite them into your home or let your computer leave your sight.

I used to have a Dell and their phone service was pretty bad, but the in-person tech was great and quick. Maybe the quality of service for Dell is area-specific.

Jamison
Jamison
10 years ago

ifixit.com also shows you with huge photos how to repair an ipod 🙂 And sells you the parts and tools needed for the job. More economical than you’d think and at least you could have sold the old one after you repaired it. I had never worked on an apple in my life and thanks to fixit.com I had my macbook in about 50 pieces and fixed my broken screen hinge… and upgraded the memory while i was there. 4 years old and works better than it did when it was new.

Nancy L.
Nancy L.
10 years ago

Based on what I’ve read on Consumerist, I wouldn’t rush out to purchase *any* extended warranty plan from Geek Squad. Just because they claim to cover more than Apple doesn’t mean that they are particularly forthcoming with that coverage when problems actually occur. IME, the geniuses at the Apple Store are routinely willing to go well above and beyond to help customers out. I’ve had them provide me with incredible tech support for even non-Apple products that I’ve purchased there. They are also very upfront about when the Apple Care policy is a good buy–i.e. for laptops and iMacs–vs when… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1
10 years ago

I know people love their Apple gear, but I’ll never get my head around spending 2x as much for less functionality. My HP laptop (bought at Best Buy, without extended warranty) has worked great (especially since we upgraded to Windows 7). BUT it is principally used in our home or in hotel rooms, we don’t keep open containers around it while using it, we use a USB-connected cooling base, we don’t download anything but service upgrades … in other words, we’re cautious users. I think netbooks are a better choice for people who use laptops primarily for content consumption, not… Read more »

Shawn
Shawn
10 years ago

I would read the very fine print. I had a car “accident” that ruined my sub woofer, but apparently that wasn’t considered an accident, it was considered an “act of god” which wasn’t covered.

This was with Best Buy.

Tammy
Tammy
10 years ago

Geek Squad service costs a freakin’ fortune, especially if you have them come to your home. If you’re NOT covered by a warranty, make sure you shop around for repair prices before having Geek Squad fix it, or you will shell out much more money than you need to. ($100 plus diagnostic ONLY fee? $300 to actually fix it? Get real!) Take it to a reputable local computer repair person and at least check prices first.

Good computer service doesn’t always have to come in a shiny black and white VW beetle.

jeffeb3
jeffeb3
10 years ago

no, no, no. Don’t buy a warranty on anything, laptop, cell phone, nothing. “if it’s expensive to buy, might be trouble-prone, and could be expensive to fix” These are all reasons why the warranty is expensive, not why you should buy a warranty. 1) you have a manufacturer’s warranty, that usually gets doubled by american express or visa. You are throwing this away when you buy that other warranty. 2) On laptops, cell phones, etc. your product is worth a LOT LESS at the end of the manufacturer’s warranty then at the beginning. 3) These freak accidents are scary, but… Read more »

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
10 years ago

We’ve gotten very lucky so far with all our electronics purchases. I’ve passed on extended warranties for everything – our 47″ LCD TV, my digital camera, our laptop, and the GPS. So far, they are all older than the warranties I could have purchased (2 or 3 years), so I’ve come out a “winner” in that respect. Now that we aren’t living on such a tight budget though, I might look into an extended warranty on any future laptops and tv’s though. It would suck if something happened in less than a year. On the other hand, my Discover card… Read more »

Anthony K
Anthony K
10 years ago

Another cheap alternative would be is to setup a “home docking station” I have one of these setup at home so that I have a keyboard of my own with a mouse and monitor that I use for when I am at home (and the laptop gets set aside far away from any drink action) – This will at least prevent spills at home!

Kyle
Kyle
10 years ago

Best Buy does have “authorized dealers,” in most countries. However, I checked in Chile, and it’s basically a guy in his house. As much as they might say he’s good enough, I don’t trust that at all. If his house gets robbed while my computer is there, what happens? Home insurance for theft is basically non-existent here.

Apple Care has way better international plans and most of the time has an actual Apple store in most countries. I’ll go with them any time.

Todd
Todd
10 years ago

I had a Macbook that quit working after I spilled milk on it, and an ipod touch that quit working after it was dropped in a bowl of water. Both of these items were fixed or replaced under Apple’s warranty at no charge. The secret? Just don’t tell them. Often, the water indicators don’t get wet just because part of the machine does.

Dishonest? I guess by omission.

elena
elena
10 years ago

Pretty devasting to lose a laptop by any means. So much info on there.
A related note on computers and homeowner’s insurance.
For an extra $5 a month we added a rider for our computers and pretty much forgot about it. Totally worth it. Last year we were robbed and not only did the rider cover the laptops, but the digital camera and all other equipment that connected to the computer. We’re insured through USAA and obviously happy with the coverage.

amy
amy
10 years ago

I’d ask around before buying any protection plan from Best Buy. Like any chain the service at different ones varies. The store near us, for instance, was happy to take the laptop for a few weeks and then return it after fixing none of the problems that it was sent in for (such as a flickering screen that would frequently just go blank). In short their actual service was beyond terrible even though the statement on paper about what you were getting was great. I’m sure that there are Geek Squads that actually have knowledgeable people on them; they’re just… Read more »

Jamison
Jamison
10 years ago

@Todd
This is actually true. I have worked in IT for over 10 years and the best way to get what you want out of Tech Support folks is give them very little information. “It just stopped working! Huh? Me? No. I don’t drink. Literally. I only drink when I am in the shower.”

msturtz
msturtz
10 years ago

This is one of the reasons I always recommend Dell products to my friends, family, etc… Their warranty process, particularly on the business end, is awsome. …And one of the reasons I can’t become an Apple snob — Apple should offer a “complete care” type warranty.

Heather
Heather
10 years ago

I have owned five laptops in the past 10 years, always purchased at Best Buy, always with an extended warranty. I have not paid full purchase price on a laptop since my original, with the exception of the one that was stolen. Last year, I had to take my laptop in three times, partly because things weren’t fixed quite right, so the claim about Best Buy not being the best at servicing has some validity. However, my last laptop died a month after the warranty expired, and I hadn’t had the funds at the time renewal was offered to me… Read more »

Fonzy
Fonzy
10 years ago

Sometimes these warranties are good, like when Circuit city was still around they had a battery swap when you bought the warranty. Of course I always forget about these things and the warranty just expires. I would just buy at Costco, they give you a free 2 year warranty and if you use their AMEX then you get 3 years. Plus they don’t have the restocking fee if you want to return the product. I don’t like Best Buy because they always try to upsell you. I went in there once to buy a cheap laptop for my family and… Read more »

ebyt
ebyt
10 years ago

Lots of people suggest that some credit cards double the warranty – but isn’t that just manufacturer warranty? A manufacturer’s warranty certainly won’t cover things like spilling water on a laptop. Just saying. Maybe AMEX is better? I rarely buy extended warranties, but I think it might be a good idea for a laptop. Thanks for the reminder, April. When the time comes to get a new laptop, I will definitely read the fine print and figure out which warranty (if any) is the best. @Chett: Not sure what prices are like these days, but 3 years ago I paid… Read more »

ajoyfuldawn
ajoyfuldawn
10 years ago

I have to admit while reading this I cringed a lot. I work for Best Buy and we don’t even sell warranties. Best Buy through the Geek Squad sells PROTECTION PLANS. And we cover against normal wear and tear and all of the above. The reason why we offer such a service is because stuff happens! And I have to sell it to all the people above who actually think it’s a warranty when IT’s NOT!! As soon as I mention the PROTECTION PLAN every one always says NO because no matter how much I tell them it’s NOT a… Read more »

Gabe Hanohano
Gabe Hanohano
10 years ago

I have been a huge electronics nut, but I’m also a totally clumsy too. (Not a good combo). And I will swear by Squaretrade.com. A good example is the Apple iPhone; one of the greatest inventions but somehow they seem so darn fragile! Long story short – I’ve been through SEVEN of them, yes I’m talking seven iPhones. All of which SquareTrade gave me a new one or reimbursed me. Apple kept brushing me off saying my iPhones had “water damage” or some other reason. They made me feel like I dunked my iPhones for the fun of it. SquareTrade… Read more »

Stephanie
Stephanie
10 years ago

1. Some credit cards extend the manufacturers warranty or add provisions to the existing warranty.

2. Replacing damaged parts could have been cheaper than buying an entirely new computer.

Doesn’t seem like someone is going to “Get Rich Slowly” by hastily “biting bullets”.

julius
julius
10 years ago

Yes! jeffeb3 is correct.

“1) you have a manufacturer’s warranty, that usually gets doubled by american express or visa. You are throwing this away when you buy that other warranty.”

the picture on my $2000 samsung lcd stopped working after 18 months. the manufacturer warranty ended 6 months prior. visa offered another year of warranty for free and reimbursed me for a $500+ repair bill.

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