Data Doctors: Are extended warranties on computers worth it?

Q: Are computer extended warranties worth buying?

A: No matter what tech device you buy, practically any retailer will likely try to get you to pay a little extra for a “protection plan” that goes above and beyond the standard factory warranty.

In some cases, it seems like such a small amount of money that you may think, “Why not get the extra coverage?”

But the credit card you made the purchase with may already provide basic protection.

Many of the electronic devices you’ll buy today don’t have the moving parts that would commonly wear out in the past, making the “protection” even less likely to pay off.

In the vast majority of cases, you’re simply improving the profitability of the sale for the retailer — which is why you’re seeing it virtually everywhere.

It’s not covered

When it comes to computers, there are a variety of reasons that buying “extra protection” up front can be a waste of money.

First and foremost, these protection plans generally only cover hardware components, which is rarely what causes aggravating computer problems.

In our 30-plus years of servicing computers, the vast majority of issues that we see are software- or operating system-based, which isn’t covered by most extended warranties or protection plans.

Retailers know most consumers don’t realize this, and won’t take the time to read the fine print. Even when some form of coverage includes the operating system, it means they will return the computer to the factory settings.

That means the stuff you really care about — your programs, data files, browser settings, printer drivers and desktop icons — are all going to be wiped out.

When you get your computer back from this type of “warranty” service, the burden of reloading your programs, restoring your data files (hopefully you had them backed up), reinstalling printer drivers and getting the computer to work the way it used to, is all on you.

Warranty service can also take a lot longer depending upon your device as large retailers may require the device to be shipped to a central repair facility in another state.

Maintenance plans

If you’re going to pay for extra coverage on a computer, it’s best to get a plan that covers software-based issues and includes data backup and restoration. Another thing it should address is the one that very few computer owners ever think about: maintenance.

The reason so many computer problems become complicated, time-consuming and expensive to fix is because most users tend to ignore the signs of a problem when they first appear.

They don’t reach out for help until the computer becomes unbearable to use, which means it’s likely loaded with problems by then. Imagine how expensive car repair would become if you never maintained your vehicle and waited until it broke down before taking it to a mechanic.

Addressing quirky computer issues when they occur keeps them from becoming a cascade of issues, which is where maintenance comes in.

The Apple exception

Apple has moved to computer, phone and tablet hardware platforms that are nearly impossible to repair by anyone other than Apple. The Apple Care package they sell doesn’t cover software and maintenance issues, but it’s still one of the few that you may want to consider, because their hardware is so expensive.

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