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Product Reviews

Warranties for new electronics may not be cost effective

Consumer Reports

When you’re shopping for electronics, appliances, and other items, be prepared for the inevitable pitch to add a service plan, or extended warranty, to your purchase.

Salespeople will say a service plan covers any repairs needed after the manufacturer’s warranty expires. What they won’t tell you is that stores keep 50 percent or more of what they charge for plans —more than they can make selling actual products. Other reasons you almost never need one include:

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Products last a long time. Consumer Reports’ recent reader surveys show that many consumer products are reliable, making a service contract unnecessary. If products don’t break while the manufacturer’s warranty is in effect, they probably won’t during the service-plan period.

Contracts can be expensive. A service plan can increase an item’s price by a third or more, and on average it costs not much less than what you’d pay for a typical repair. You can self-insure by putting the cost of contracts into a dedicated bank account for repairs and replacements.

Coverage may come up short. Because of commissions or corporate pressure to sell warranties, salespeople might exaggerate the extent of the coverage or fail to point out the fine-print limitations. Consumer Reports found plenty of contract-related consumer complaints on online message boards. Some of those who tried making a claim reported having to wait on hold for long periods only to be told that there was no repair shop near them or no record of their contract.

Companies want satisfied customers. Even if the written, or “express,” warranty or return period has expired, the manufacturer or retailer might help if you have a problem with a product. Companies often have customer goodwill programs that offer a repair, replacement, upgrade, or refund if your request is reasonable. If your first attempt to get help from the company doesn’t work, try going higher up or posting your complaint on the company’s website or social-media page.

Your credit card may cover it. Many credit cards automatically extend a manufacturer’s warranty by up to a year when you use the card to pay for the entire purchase.

To use these programs, you typically must have copies of the written warranty and your receipt. If available, register the purchase with the credit card warranty program.

You have other warranty rights. For most purchases, state law gives consumers the right to receive a product that does what it’s supposed to do, is free of substantial defects, and lasts a reasonable amount of time. This so-called implied warranty of merchantability can expand your rights beyond any written warranty. Retailers in all but a handful of states are allowed to “disclaim” this protection by using terms like “as is” or “with all faults,” though it’s uncommon in walk-in stores. But those disclaimers are often in online retailers’ fine print and in manufacturers’ written warranties.

It may be an easy fix. Searching the Web using your model and a brief description of the problem may turn up advice on a quick, low-cost fix that you may be able to do yourself. In some cases, something you think is broken may only require a tweak or advice on its proper use.

Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.
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