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August 20, 2022  |  Education

How to make the most out of your product warranty

A warranty can provide peace of mind and protect your investment in the long term, but it can also be tough to take advantage of. It can even be difficult to parse exactly what kind of damage or defects each warranty covers. There are some important tips to keep in mind when deciding just how much value an advertised warranty adds.

What a warranty is and is not for

It’s not exactly an insurance plan

Warranties exist to provide the consumer with the peace of mind that the product will last for a certain length of time without failing due to manufacturing defects. A warranty rarely covers accidental damage such as physically breaking a device or dropping it in water. For the most part, any damage or malfunction caused by the user won’t be covered under warranty.

It may take a while to process

In most cases, processing a warranty takes from days to weeks (or more in the case of hard-to-find electronics such as graphics cards). Keep the practicality of the process in mind when deciding whether a manufacturer’s warranty is worth it.

How to make sure your purchase will be covered

Read the terms and conditions closely

Ultimately, you’re looking for the warranty’s exclusions — the things the warranty doesn’t cover. As the saying goes, this is where they get you. You might spend two years at ease that your laptop’s three-year warranty covers anything that could go wrong, but discover after a rainstorm that water damage isn’t eligible for repair.

Since all warranties are different, the only way to stay on top of exclusions is to do your homework. Research what’s most likely to go wrong with the device in question. Then, make absolutely certain of what the warranty does and doesn’t cover before you decide to invest. Also note that companies usually have different warranty conditions for separate types of products, so make sure you’re looking at the right documents.

Follow all warranty rules and restrictions

The most common example is an automotive manufacturer’s warranty that requires you to have the oil changed exclusively by licensed technicians at one of that manufacturer’s dealerships. If you change it yourself or take it to a third-party mechanic, you can void part or all of your warranty.

Pay attention to the warranty period

While you’ll see the term “lifetime warranty” on plenty of marketing materials, this doesn’t usually mean for the owner’s lifetime, but the product’s lifetime. Different types of products and their manufacturers have varying definitions of a product’s lifespan.

Is it transferable?

Some high-value items such as gaming graphics cards have impressive multiyear warranties, and a few manufacturers let you take advantage even if you bought the card used. Some luxury car companies also offer transferable warranties. In those cases, make sure to get all the documentation from the original owner.

Keep all your documentation

Archive every piece of evidence that you bought the item. This includes the order confirmation, all receipts, and any communications with the company. If you buy a lot of expensive products, it’s advisable to keep all your purchasing and warranty information in one place.

Avoid most extended warranties

There are some situations where a third-party extended warranty makes sense, but they’re extremely rare. Third-party warranty providers such as SquareTrade have shockingly restrictive terms and are notorious for refusing reasonable repair and replacement requests. It’s not just limited to small electronics, either.

Manufacturers’ warranties and professional repair service contracts are always a better option. AppleCare+ is one such example. While you still have to do your due diligence, manufacturer’s warranties and even third-party service contracts tend to be more up-front and accepting of repair claims. For many service contracts, expect to pay a monthly fee for as long as you want coverage.

Some notes on car warranties: Car warranties typically last for three years or 36,000 miles, and most drivers reach the mileage limit first. Many automakers also offer extended warranty options. If you’re hoping to keep a new car in perfect condition for a decade or more, an extended warranty can make sense.

In all cases, however, general wear and tear to many parts won’t be covered. The definition of wear and tear changes for each manufacturer. All manufacturers will do whatever they can to avoid paying for repairs during an extended warranty period. Rarely is it hassle-free to fix a part during a seven-year extended warranty, even if that part shouldn’t need repair yet.

With that said, they’re not all bad. Mercedes, for example, has a reasonable list of exclusions plus an explicit set of warranty-covered inclusions, giving them one of the best extended warranty packages in the automotive market. In fact, Mercedes lets you transfer an extended warranty to the next owner.

What you should always avoid at any cost is a third-party car warranty. There’s so little chance that important issues and commonly broken parts will be fixed that you’re basically burning money.

Extended warranties on smartphones: Smartphone warranties are exploding in popularity as the devices themselves reach higher prices than ever. Most phone carriers such as Verizon and AT&T offer in-house extended warranties through a company called Asurion.

It’s crucial to closely review the plan details to ensure the most common issues are covered. Asurion tailors their warranty services to each carrier’s request, and plans differ greatly between companies. If a warranty covers common problems like water damage and cracked screens, it may be worth it to protect a $1,000 phone.

Check your credit card’s warranty extension program

Many popular credit cards offer integrated manufacturer’s warranty extension programs. Some offer as much as a doubling or tripling of the original warranty’s length. In fact, some include post-purchase service contracts such as AppleCare+. This is the most effective way to make sure your premium laptop is protected for years to come.

Beware of warranty scams

You’ve probably heard of them before, and you may have gotten a phone call like this yourself. Whatever you do, don’t fall for unsolicited calls, text messages, or emails offering to renew or set up an extended warranty for a product you may or may not own. These kinds of communication are always scams and could lead to fraud and identity theft.

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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.