Is AppleCare Coverage Worth the Price?

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Many Mac experts recommend purchasing the AppleCare Protection Plan extended warranty — particularly for laptop users, arguing there are just too many things that can go wrong and that replacing notebooks and their parts can be very expensive. But is it really worth it?

I’ve heard that same argument advocating the purchase of AppleCare for Mac portables since I bought my first PowerBook, a 5300, in 1996. I’ve never heeded the advice, and so far I’ve had exactly zero cause to regret it with the more than a half-dozen Apple laptops I’ve owned that could have qualified for AppleCare. I’ve never made a warranty claim under the basic 1 year warranties on my Apple notebooks, and I never seriously considered purchasing AppleCare with the Apple Certified Refurbished 2.0 GHz unibody MacBook I bought a couple of weeks ago.

I hasten to emphasize that my anecdotal experiences represent a statistically insignificant sampling, and many folks out there say they’re very thankful they did purchase AppleCare. I’m glad for them, but in general I remain unconvinced that extended warranties like AppleCare are a good investment.

Scientific Corroboration

Corroborating my deduction, in 1997, Consumer Reports surveyed readers who had purchased extended warranties on electronic equipment. On average, consumers paid about as much for the extended warranty, by the time the product needed service or repair, as the average repair cost for a product of that age. In most product categories, fewer than 25 percent of units surveyed required repairs within five years.

Something else to consider before purchasing an extended warranty is that many major credit cards will double the manufacturer’s warranty period (often capped at two years) on purchases made with their card. However, if you use your computer for work be sure to read the fine print, since most credit card warranty extensions don’t apply to machines used for business purposes.

Most Warranty Issues Happen in the First Year

The strongest likelihood of warranty issues manifesting is in the first year, in which case you’re covered anyway. The second two years of coverage you pay for with AppleCare are more of a dice-roll, although given the general reliability of Apple portables, 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, probability of it needing repairs during the subsequent two years is relatively low (although it could of course still happen).

From my own experiential perspective, had I purchased AppleCare for each of the five PowerBooks, one iBook and one MacBook I’ve purchased over the past 13 years, I would’ve spent something like the price of a new MacBook Pro with no benefit to show for it, which is the philosophical equation that has dissuaded me from buying AppleCare.

Telephone Tech Support Also Extended

However I’m tech-savvy enough that I don’t have much interest in extended Apple tech support (Apple’s standard phone tech support on new machines expires after 90 days.). Over the years, I think I phoned them once or twice about the 5300, but I was a lot newer to Apple laptops then. On the other hand, for some users the tech support lifeline could be vital.

Purchasers of the AppleCare Protection Plan also receive a CD containing TechTool Deluxe software from Micromat — a full-featured computer diagnostic and repair utility, which adds some value to the package.

The AppleCare Protection Plan can only be purchased while your computer is still under its original one-year warranty. All covered systems and covered Apple peripherals must either be new or newly refurbished by Apple (Apple Certified Refurbished), or still under Apple’s limited warranty to qualify for Protection Plan coverage.

Don’t Buy Until the Deadline

Note that even if you are interested in the AppleCare Protection Plan, it’s in your best interest to wait until the 12th month of ownership before purchasing, rather than buying the coverage when you purchase your computer, unless you really need or want one of the enhanced services or the TechTool utility right away. Doing so will delay the extra expense, and thus delay the ding on your pocketbook.

Despite my skepticism about AppleCare’s value, if you buy an expensive machine like a 17″ MacBook Pro and the big screen or the logic board fails after the first year, you’ll thank yourself for having ponied up for AppleCare. However, with at $999 MacBook, AppleCare coverage costs $250, adding a whopping 25 percent to the cost of the computer. If you’ll sleep better under the AppleCare umbrella, don’t let me dissuade you. Risk tolerance is a personal decision, and with any mass-produced product there will always be a percentage of lemon units, so if you decide to roll the dice, be prepared to accept that once in a while they will turn up snake-eyes.

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