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Is AppleCare extended warranty coverage worth the money?

Sections: Features, Macintosh/Apple Hardware, Opinions and Editorials, Originals

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If you got a new Apple mobile device or Mac for Christmas, and it wasn’t purchased with Apple’s optional two extra years of AppleCare warranty coverage, you still have plenty of time to decide whether AppleCare is worth the substantial added cost. You can upgrade from the standard one year of AppleCare security to three years any time during the first year of Apple device ownership.

Gizmodo’s Kyle Wagner notes that adding a few hundred more to the up-front price for AppleCare extended warranty coverage can be painful, so do you really need to pay for the longer coverage? In his estimation, it depends substantially on what Apple device you’re buying. Short answer, if you’re buying an expensive professional machine, especially one that will be used away from an office or home workstation like a MacBook Pro with Retina display, going with AppleCare is probably a no-brainer.

I pretty much agree with that assessment in theory. The newest MacBook Pros particularly are a nightmare (read: very expensive) to repair, and should a repair be required during the second or third year of ownership, you’ll thank yourself for buying extended AppleCare.

That said, I’ve never actually purchased extended AppleCare coverage myself for any of the Apple systems I’ve bought over the past 20 years—new or Certified Refurbished—and so far, I’ve never had occasion to second-guess my decision.

No major problems have ever cropped up with any of my Macs within the two-year extension of warranty coverage AppleCare provides, although I did have a suspect logic board replaced under the basic warranty on a Mac LC 520 back in the early ’90s. Not to say it couldn’t happen, but by now I’ve saved enough by not buying AppleCare that I could outright replace a failed computer and still be ahead of the game expenditure-wise. A Consumer Reports survey on the experience of readers who had purchased extended warranties on electronic equipment found that on average, consumers had paid out about as much on extended warranties by the time a product needed service or repair as the repair itself would’ve cost them.

Had I purchased AppleCare for each of the laptop Macs I’ve purchased over the past 16 years, I’d have spent something like the price of a new MacBook Pro and more, with no benefit to show for it aside from some peace of mind that might have been illusory anyway. Even if I do now someday have a major hardware meltdown outside the basic one-year warranty period that I have to pay for myself, I’m still ahead of the game having not bought AppleCare over the years.

Note also that many major credit cards will double the manufacturer’s warranty period (often capped at two years) on purchases made with their cards. However, if you use your computer for work, be sure to read the fine print, since most credit card warranty extensions don’t apply to machines used for business purposes.

Insurance is another matter, and I do keep my late-model Mac laptops insured with all-perils coverage using a personal articles rider on my homeowner’s insurance policy.

In an insurance context, there is an AppleCare option unique to iPhones called AppleCare+ that merits serious consideration. For an optional $100 extra, Apple will cover two incidents of accidental damage with a $50 deductible apiece, which could pay off big time if, say, you drop your iPhone in a swamp, like your editor’s daughter recently did hers.

Back in the warranty context, for lower-priced Apple products, AppleCare coverage can represent a sizeable percentage of the overall purchase cost, and especially if you upgrade to new systems frequently, the odds of benefiting from an extended warranty are not high.

If your Mac survives the initial 12 month warranty period with no repairs needed (as is most likely), or is repaired during the first year, the probability of it needing repairs during the subsequent two years is relatively low (although it could still happen, of course). Most computer hardware defect problems or major failures due to inherent manufacturing faults will usually show up in the first year of basic warranty coverage anyway.

The only two serious hardware failures I’ve ever experienced in Mac laptops—a burned-out processor in a WallStreet PowerBook and a failed logic board (presumably) in a G3 iBook—happened at the 3.6 year and 6.2 year marks respectively, so neither would’ve been covered by AppleCare. Your mileage may vary of course.

Viewed historically, computers are relatively cheap these days—even Apple laptops—and spending two or three hundred dollars on extended warranty coverage now represents a substantial percentage of the cost of a brand-new or Certified Refurbished replacement computer with a fresh warranty, more power and probably a better feature set than your present machine. It was different back in the day when you could spend $5,000 or more on a high-end PowerBook.

It partly boils down to how much risk you’re prepared to assume, balanced against the certain expenditure of paying AppleCare premiums. You can’t put a price tag on peace of mind.

However, there’s also the extended telephone technical support aspect of AppleCare. Personally, I’m tech-savvy enough that I don’t have a lot of interest in extended Apple tech support. I haven’t phoned Apple tech support for help since back in the early ’90s. But Apple’s standard phone tech support on new machines expires after 90 days, so for some users AppleCare’s extended tech support lifeline might be helpful.

So, if you’ll sleep better knowing you have AppleCare coverage, don’t let me persuade you otherwise. The degree of risk one is comfortable assuming is a personal judgement call with no right or wrong conclusions, and statistical probabilities notwithstanding, with any mass-produced product there will always be a percentage of lemon units. So, if you do decide to roll the dice, be aware and prepared that once in a while they turn up snake-eyes.

For more information about Apple’s AppleCare Protection Plan, visit apple.com.

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