'Book Value

AppleCare Pros and Cons

Charles Moore - 2011.01.26 - Tip Jar

To AppleCare or not AppleCare? That conundrum is part of all new and Apple Certified Refurbished Mac purchases.

I've never purchased AppleCare for any of the new Macs I've purchased over the past 19 years, and I have never even made a warranty claim under the basic one-year warranties on any of my Apple notebooks, although I did have a defective (excessively noisy) cooling fan replaced on a LC 520 desktop back in the early '90s.

I simply am not convinced that AppleCare coverage is a worthwhile expenditure, given the track record I've experienced, although some users who've had catastrophic hardware failures repaired under AppleCare will no doubt argue the contrary.

I figure that at this point, had I purchased AppleCare for each of the laptop Macs I've purchased over the past 13 years, I'd have spent something like the price of a new MacBook Pro and more, with no benefit to show for it aside from some peace of mind that might have been illusory anyway, so even if I do someday have a major hardware meltdown outside the basic one-year warranty period that I have to pay for myself, I'm still ahead of the game having not bought AppleCare over the years.

Note also that that many major credit cards will double the manufacturer's warranty period (often capped at two years) on purchases made with their cards. 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.

Insurance is another matter, and I do keep my late-model Mac laptops insured with all-perils coverage using a personal articles rider on my homeowner's insurance policy, which also covered my kids' computers while they were at college.

Another thing to consider is that with the historically very modest prices of computers these days - even Apple laptops - spending two or three hundred dollars on extended warranty coverage represents a substantial fraction of the cost of a brand-new or certified refurbished replacement computer with a fresh warranty, possibly more power and a better feature set than your present machine.

It was different back in the day when you could spend $5,000 or more on a high-end PowerBook. For example, back in August 1997, the PowerBook 3400c/240 was selling for a suck-in-your-breath $5,879.02, and its lower-end sibling, the 3400c/180, went for a still-daunting $3,821.02 (MacMall ad), but with 13" MacBook Pros selling new for $1,198 (and 2.4 GHz refurbished units for $999) and 15-inchers for $1,799, the dynamics have changed substantially.

A Consumer Reports survey on the experience of readers who had purchased extended warranties on electronic equipment found that on average consumers had paid about as much on extended warranties by the time a product needed service or repair as the repair itself would have cost them.

AppleCare coverage for the iMac is a relatively modest $169, but for the MacBook, MacBook Air, and 13" MacBook Pro it's $249, and for the 15" and 17" MacBook Pros, $349.

An alternative to purchasing AppleCare is to take the money you would have spent on purchasing an extended warranty and invest it. If you do need service or repair after the original warranty runs out, you can cash in your investment to help pay for it, hopefully with some interest or growth added. However, 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, the probability of it needing repairs during the subsequent two years is relatively low (although it could happen). Most computer hardware defects show up early on, and the likelihood is that your "repair fund" money can remain invested until you upgrade to a new system, at which time you could put it toward the new computer purchase or keep it socked away against potential out-of-warranty repairs on the new machine, adding the amount you would've had to pay for AppleCare on the new machine, with the attendant dollar cost averaging and so forth.

There's also the extended telephone technical support aspect of AppleCare. Personally, I'm tech-savvy enough that I don't have a lot of interest in extended Apple tech support (Apple's standard phone tech support on new machines expires after 90 days), but for for some users AppleCare's tech support lifeline might be helpful.

Of course, as I alluded to above, it's partly a matter of how much risk you're prepared to assume, balanced against the certain expenditure of paying AppleCare premiums. You can't put a price tag on peace of mind. There are instances when the logic board or the display - the most expensive components of a laptop - will fail, but my philosophy on that, still holding true subjectively, is that major failures due to inherent manufacturing faults will usually show up in the first year of basic warranty coverage anyway.

The only two serious hardware failures I've ever experienced in Mac laptops - a burned-out processor in a WallStreet PowerBook and a failed logic board (presumably) in a G3 iBook happened at the 3.6 year and 6.2 year marks respectively, so neither would have been covered by AppleCare. Your mileage may vary of course.

However, if you'll sleep better knowing you have AppleCare coverage, don't let me persuade you otherwise. The degree of risk one is comfortable assuming is a personal judgment call, and statistical probabilities notwithstanding, with any mass-produced product there will always be a percentage of lemons, so if you do decide to roll the dice, be aware and prepared that once in a while they turn up snake-eyes.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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