Column: Is an extended warranty for a computer worth it?

Q: Are extended warranties worth buying on my computer?

A: Extended warranties have long been sold as an “insurance policy” in case something goes wrong with your computer (or any product, for that matter).

As with any type of pseudo-insurance, you have to weigh the risks against the cost of coverage to make an informed decision.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, because it depends on your circumstances, who’s using the computer and what kind of computer it is.

What’s Actually Covered?

Focusing on what’s actually covered and what isn’t will generally help you make your decision. In most cases, an extended warranty on a computer focuses primarily on repairing hardware, or resetting the system back to the way it was when you bought it.

The problem with this type of coverage is that the vast majority of problems experienced by computer users are software-related, not hardware-related, so they won’t be covered.

Even if problems such as virus infections or operating system corruption are covered, the only option you’ll have is to wipe everything out and start over.

What’s Not Covered?

This means all your data, programs, settings, favorites, music, pictures, contacts, emails — anything else that makes it “your computer” — will be removed, leaving you with the arduous task of reinstalling all your programs, reconfiguring your printer and network setting and restoring all your data to the proper locations (and even that is assuming you have all your installation disks and a current backup).

For further perspective, the five most common issues we see in our shops are:

  1. Virus/malware infections
  2. Windows or Mac OS operating system errors/corruption
  3. Slow startup and sluggish performance issues
  4. Software updating issues (like when updating to Windows 10)
  5. Hardware upgrades (more RAM, faster hard drives, etc.)

None of these very common issues are covered by extended warranties, other than in some cases to wipe everything out, leaving you to start over again. None of the standard programs cover any problems with lost data either, which can be one of the most expensive services should you be faced with a data recovery situation.

Understanding the Business Model

In our experience, the very best outcome for any service process is to have your computer look and work like it did before the service was performed. But this is not the focus for service providers that are paid very little to perform services under extended warranties. They simply can’t afford to spend the time.

Their focus will be to do the least amount of work necessary, which generally leaves you with something that no longer resembles your computer.

Hardware failure issues are relatively rare, which is why so many of the ‘coverage programs’ that you’ll be offered primarily focus on hardware failures or accidental damage and not the real-world problems that you’ll deal with.

You and everyone you know has dealt with virus/malware issues, slow performance, etc., much more often than having to replace the motherboard or hard drive on their computer, so in most cases, a hardware-focused plan isn’t a good deal.

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on the Data Doctors’ Facebook page or via Twitter.

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