Is AppleCare worth the cost?

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

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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.

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  • Peter

    I've always had PowerMacs and I've never gotten AppleCare. Because of the expandability, if something goes wrong with a component on the motherboard, I can find an add-in card that will give me back the functionality.

    My old Blue & White G3 had a problem with the ethernet port. Apple wanted $900 to replace the motherboard. I picked up a 10Mbit ethernet card (perfectly acceptable for my cable modem) for $10. Worked fine. When my G5 had some video issues, I took it as an excuse to go buy a new Radeon graphics card. Worked even better than the stock.

    Of course, now I'm dragging myself kicking and screaming into the late 20th century with a MacBook Pro. I made sure that it had a PCMCIA slot–just in case–but I have a feeling I'll never use it.

  • David Marcais

    I think AppleCare is worth every penny and then some. Three years ago I purchased (2) 24 inch imacs, one was outright completely replaced at n/c and the other has had the mother board replaced, optical drive replace, hard drive replaced over a 3 year period, and several phone calls with excellent help from Apple, all for $119.00 each education price for Apple Care. I use the computer 7 days a week 10-12 hours per day, Apple Care has paid for itself, and have kept my computers running fine. I have purchase Apple Computers since the apple 2e, and they have served me well. This is the first year I have had this many problems, but I do use my computers a lot with intensive photo files, and apple does take care of the computers well… I will be buying the new imac large screen when they come out latter this month or early next month.

  • mhikl

    I, too, have purchased AppleCare and it worked out in my favour over most of my equipment. My Pismo had to have some expensive piece replaced and the DVD player in its third year. My Molar all-in-one had no difficulty but My MacBook has had three HDs changed, DVD replaced (never worked), keyboard pad changed four times. I'm told that even though it is now off warranty, the casing and keyboard will continue to be fixed as it is an issue with the version of MacBook.

    As well, my colour iPod had to be replaced 3 times and still it never worked right because it was always replaced with a recon. My first iPot touch went down round the third month and was replaced. I had no problems with it and it was stolen so I bought another, got warranty and it hasn't had a prob so far.

    I met someone taking their computer in to the Apple Store for some repairs but it was still on warrant from Future Shop. Not sure of all the particulars but this was a replacement for the one that couldn't be repaired. FS's warranty was cheaper than Apples which is where I might go next time when I buy my MacBook Air, though I may not get a warranty on it as it has no moving parts and if it survives the year, might be OK.

    Insurance is what it is meant to be. I ran a computer lab of Macs and we never insured them. The two 6400s (I believe that was their number) never worked properly and I re-installed them numerous times and the Apple dealer (way before Apple Store) repaired? but still the problem persisted. I suspect they were part of a lemon series of Apple junk from the time, pre Jobs2.

    I understand what those against the getting of a warranty are coming from, but if you purchase a computer only once ever five years, maybe it is worth getting the warranty.

  • Charles Moore

    Hi mhiki;

    That's a run of bad luck you've had with Apple hardware. I don't quarrel with your choice to buy AppleCare.

    However, I've had excellent service from the last four machines i've purchased from Apple — all Certified Refurbished, two laptops and two iPods — all cosmetically perfect and flawless performers. I'm a convinced fan of ACR discounts.


  • MacBookUser

    If you buy a MacBook, you should always get AppleCare. I have had 8 Apple laptops in 10 years, each with AppleCare and it has paid for itself twice over for every one. All but one are still running! Screens, keyboards, harddrives, logic boards, power supplies and multiple cases all replaced for free!