Extended Warranties: When They’re NOT Worth Buying

Ryan Ong



Manufacturers and retailers are firmly convinced we’re idiots. I’m not kidding. Have you seen that laptop ad where a monkey tries to trash the computer? Think about it: To cater to the end user, they felt they had to design a laptop which couldn’t be broken by a deranged descendant of King Kong. That’s their opinion of us right there. It totally explains the extended warranty offers, which electronics stores keep trying to sell. In this article, I look at why those warranties may be  unnecessary:

You might want to skimp on warranties for the following:

  • Laptops and desktops
  • Plasma TVs (Yes, really)
  • External hard drives
  • Any product from small stores

In addition, some warranties carry terms that negate their worth.


1. Laptops and Desktops


Ancient painting with superimposed laptop
“These laptops last for ages. There’s historical proof of that.”


I’ll break these into two categories:


Consumer research by sites like CNet show only 43% of laptops need servicing beyond 3 – 4 years. Since most extended warranties last three years, there’s a high chance you’re paying extra for nothing.

And even if the warranty extends to five years, its still a bad deal. Have you seen the laptops from five years ago? Some of them can be used as brickwork in a prison wall. No one’s rushing to get their warranties on any of those babies. And in five years, you won’t care about your laptop warranty anyway; because it’ll run fewer programs than there are unicorns in Tampines.


Ancient desktop
“We have a problem. Your predecessor gave this guy a life warranty…30 years ago.”



Note if the desktop has on-site warranty. If it doesn’t, you’re signing up for a gym routine. You’ll be lugging the desktop to and from the store, in the fervent hope that each time, the problem is finally resolved. Most desktop owners end up foregoing the warranty, and call their own repairman to the door.

With on-site warranty, you’ll have to wait for the manufacturer’s repair people to turn up. Good luck; they’re less organized than a juvenile delinquent’s schoolbag.

Oh, and desktops break only down 31% of the time (in a 3 – 4 year period). You’re even less likely to need the warranty than with a laptop.


2. Plasma TVs

People usually freak out because of Plasma TV’s “limited lifespan”. They’re worried that the screen will burn out in a few years, and they’ll need that warranty.

In truth, almost all Plasma TVs are rated to run at full brightness for 60,000 continuous hours. If you watch TV for 60,000 continuous hours, you won’t need a warranty; you’ll need a corneal transplant. Because 60,000 hours is ten freaking years. Even the extended warranty only goes up to five years.


Giant plasma TV on display
And after that fateful day, Mike was never seen outside his living room again.


A Plasma TV usually comes with a manufacturer’s warranty for up to one year. This is more than sufficient to spot any major defects. There are only two situations when you want extended warranty for a plasma TV:

  1. There is no manufacturer’s warranty (Good idea, buy something expensive from China)
  2. The warranty specifically includes “wear and tear”, so it’s valid even if you crack the screen or kick it over.


3. External Hard Drives

Most external hard drives last more than five years, and already have manufacturer’s warranties. But here’s the catch: most warranties say nothing about data retrieval.


External hard drive
“Can I claim the warranty on this? My memory isn’t getting any better. I barely remembered where your store is.”


For most users, the data in the hard drive matters more than the drive itself. So if the drive sputters and dies, odds are you’ll pay someone to retrieve that precious data. But to do that, they might have to crack open the casing. Guess what? That means breaking the seal, which means voiding the warranty. So you can either retrieve your data and waste the warranty, or lose your data and get a new hard drive.

If you’ve got two terabytes of downloaded movies and music, it’s pretty obvious which option you’ll want.


4. Any Product From Small Stores

Getting a warranty from a small store is a gamble. Remember there’s a difference between a manufacturer’s warranty and a retailer’s (extended) warranty. The extended warranty is processed by the store, not by the manufacturer of the product. If the store closes, your extended warranty is worthless.


Electronics dump
“Wait. Did you say he gave you an extended warranty in exchange for…a door?”


Small stores, such as the ones on the first three floors of Sim Lim, are notorious for taking advantage of this. Every two or three years, they close and open under a new name. This removes their obligation to fulfil an extended warranty (and probably dodges other lawsuits).

Small stores also tend to replace rather than repair; so if you’re dealing with a computer or MP 3 player, you might lose your data. Ask the retailer beforehand how their warranty works. If it’s just a simple replacement, and you have reason to prefer repair, forget the warranty. Save it for the servicing.


5. Terms May Make The Warranty Worthless

Ensure that the warranty covers wear and tear. In addition, question the sales staff on what happens if you drop or soak the product.

Warranties that don’t apply if you drop a product aren’t worth it; statistically, this is how the majority of electronics get damaged. Water damage comes a close second. As for manufacturing defects, these are few and far between; and what are the odds you won’t spot them before the manufacturer’s 90 day warranty?


Warranty cards
“Good news. I found the warranty cards while looking for a replacement camera. You know, the ones you didn’t bother to send off?”


For bulky items like TVs and dishwashers, be wary of limited service calls. Some warranties limit the number of times you can call the repairman (usually 10). Ask what happens if, after the service calls run out, the problem still isn’t fixed. If the answer isn’t “You get a new one”, the warranty isn’t worth it.

Image Credits:
Blako ManoloMike Licht, ajmexico, AZAdam, miss karenÇP, salimfadhley, andrew_cosand

Do you believe in extended warranties? Comment and tell us why!

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.