Hardmac’s Lionel says that over the past decade he’s installed probably several hundreds of Macs, and until now, he’s never felt the need to purchase an accompanying AppleCare extended warranty contract. He notes that based on volume, his choice to eschew AppleCare has been statistically sound, with most problems encountered having been minor and relatively cheap to fix. In only two cases, involving actual motherboard failure, would AppleCare have provided net benefit.
However, Lionel says that this week—for the first time ever—he bought an AppleCare contract for a machine that he bought nearly a year ago—an iMac 21.5″ whose screen is displaying spots all over its surface. However, he notes that even in this instance, it would’ve been possible to arrange a warranty repair before the end of basic 12 month warranty period is up, but because the machine is being used five days out of seven and too many anecdotal reports that the screen spots have a tendency to return, he figured signing up for AppleCare was the better part of prudence in this instance.
Lionel’s customary policy on AppleCare coverage squares with mine. In 19 years of buying and using Macs, I’ve never purchased AppleCare (or any other product’s extended warranty), and have never regretted it, having experienced no major problems with any of my Macs that manifested within the two-year extension of warranty coverage that AppleCare provides. That’s 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 have purchased extended warranties on electronic equipment found that on average, consumers have paid about as much on extended warranties by the time a product needed service or repair as the repair itself would have cost them.
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 happen). Most computer hardware defect problems show up early on, and the likelihood is that your “repair fund” money can remain invested until you upgrade to a new system, at which time you could put it toward the new computer purchase or keep it socked away against potential out-of-warranty repairs on the new machine, adding the amount you would’ve had to pay for AppleCare on the new machine, with the attendant dollar cost averaging, and so forth.
On the other hand in the particular set of circumstances Lionel describes, I think he’s made a wise decision, especially since the AppleCare premium for the iMac is relatively inexpensive compared with, say, laptop coverage. In the U.S., AppleCare coverage for the iMac is a modest $169.00. But for the MacBook, MacBook Air, and 13″ MacBook Pro, it’s $249.00, and for the 15″ and 17″ MacBook Pros, it’s $349.00.
It’s partly a matter of 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. There are instances when the logic board or the display—the most expensive components of laptops, especially—will fail. But my philosophy on that—still holding true, subjectively—is that 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 have been covered by AppleCare. Your mileage may vary, of course.
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 (Apple’s standard phone tech support on new machines expires after 90 days). But for for some users, AppleCare’s 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.