My aversion to extended warranties is as intense as my aversion to freestyle aerobics – and believe me when I say I've got no time whatsoever for freestyle aerobics. I derive a strange sensory pleasure from buying a gadget that's shiny, new and, at least in theory, in perfect working order; immediately having to ponder what might happen if it malfunctions 18 months down the line not only spoils that blissful moment, but I never budget for a warranty in any case. Does anyone?
The pros and cons of extended warranties have long been debated in consumer magazines; essentially the manufacturer or retail outlet wouldn't be trying so hard to flog them to you if there wasn't substantial profit in it for them, and this fact alone will always make us wary. But as far as the individual consumer is concerned, it comes down to a simple question: is this item likely to stop working between 12 and 36 months after we bought it? Most manufacturing flaws, we're told, become apparent in the first three months, but you have as much chance of assessing what might happen beyond that point as a tabloid astrologer, ie none.
But last week the release of an American study of the longevity of portable computers suggests that extended warranties on laptops might be a better deal than cynical consumers imagine – although your cynicism may instantly reappear when I tell you that the study was done by a company that sells extended warranties. Anyway, out of 30,000 laptops surveyed, 20.4 per cent of them failed in the first three years. Asus and Toshiba came out best, with around 15 per cent, Hewlett Packard nearer 25 per cent, with Apple and Dell nestling somewhere in between. While it looks like a shocking statistic on paper, you have to consider the general abuse meted out to portable gadgets in comparison to stuff that doesn't leave the home. They generate a lot of heat, they get slung in rucksacks, the casing isn't always that sturdy – in fact, it's perhaps surprising that more of them don't give up the ghost.
But is it worth taking the warranty gamble this Christmas? If 20 per cent of laptops do indeed fail over three years, you'd hope to pay 20 per cent of the value of the laptop for a three-year warranty; a £1,300 Macbook Pro costs £273 to cover for 3 years (21 per cent) while covering a £1,200 Dell laptop for a similar time costs £299 (25 per cent – but that does cover accidental damage, too). So maybe yes. On the other hand, think of all the lovely things you could buy for £273.
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