Extended Warranties: Ripoff or Great Insurance for Flat Screen TV?

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Even as prices plummet, a large flat screen television is still a pretty hefty purchase in today’s economy. Manufacturers continue to develop economies of scale for this technology, but at its heart, it’s a pretty amazing and complicated device that brings home Monday Night Football in an almost life sized window – and it’s not easy to repair.

When any of those internal intricate components fail, you are stuck with a pretty heavy piece of glass that maybe isn’t even fully paid for! Do you give in to the sales pitch of a 3 or 5 year extended warranty that they promise will cover almost any problem imaginable? Will they really come to your house to repair it?

Bubba says, be careful. Some of the warranties sold aren’t worth the first hour on hold that you’ll spend trying to schedule a repair appointment. The fine print can be overwhelming, and there are numerous “gotchas” that may end up sending that extra couple hundred bucks down the tube.

On the other hand, the complexities of modern screens may make any repair unaffordable or even impossible if something does happen. In the days when these sets cost several thousand dollars, it was about the only “insurance” policy you might have if the set just failed.

Here are some experiences, both pro and con. A friend of mine had a set “pop” and die, most likely a power supply and attending boards. In the early days of extended warranties for these sets, he was able to get an immediate replacement. (Probably there were few repair centers that could even attempt a repair.) A couple years later, another friend of purchased a warranty. It had a “three attempts to repair” policy and then a guaranteed replacement. The language of the contract specified something to the effect of “repair trips”…. But after making the third appointment and then the fourth, the company claimed that a couple of those trips were to get parts, so they claimed the intent was three round trips.

My own personal experience is probably not unique. I bought a second generation plasma set, but image burn was still a fairly common problem. The sales “dude” sold me a pretty hefty extended warranty, promising me that image burn was completely covered. He assured me that a lot of the sales dudes bought these warranties so that they could get new sets near the end of the coverage period (citing bad picture, intentional burning in an image, etc.) In a rare moment of “falling for this stupidity”, I didn’t read the contract in the store. Later, as the set was aging and I was worried about a small technical glitch that had occurred, I read the contract carefully and of course, burn was specifically NOT covered. This was at Best Buy.

And speaking of Best Buy, their massively promoted partner, “Geek Squad” gets a few good reviews, but if you Google “Geek Squad reviews”, you will find thousands of horrible user experiences. After reading a couple hundred, the good reviews seem to reflect some well run local stores; the bad reviews are indicative of the difficulties of managing a large chain of service personnel and trying to maintain any sense of quality. You will also find many reviewers angry and put off by the relative youth and inexperience of many of the tech support “dudes” and the problems that arise with that. As of this writing, the negative reviews outweighed the positive reviews by a huge margin.

There are potential alternatives to a purchased extended warranties. Some may be the equivalent of a bad third party warranty. But if you play the game well, you can get pretty good protection free. Most stores have some kind of “bring it back” within XX days no questions asked. Sam’s Club and Costco used to have generous one year “satisfaction guaranteed for any reason” warranties, but computers and electronics were eating them up with that kind of generosity. You can still get 15 to 90 days at most reputable big box and department stores. Sometimes restocking fees might apply, and you need to save your packaging, manuals, etc. until you’re sure you’ve got a keeper. Most big name manufacturers will offer a year on parts and labor, although there are some restrictions. Some manufacturers have support and warranty hotlines. Check them out BEFORE you shop. See what the particulars are; with a massive 50 inch screen or better, you might look for a warranty that offers some form of house call. Sometimes this housecall is a truck sent from a nearby shop that just picks it up. Most warranty services from manufacturers in fact will refer you to a local, “authorized” repair center. Obviously, your results will depend on the performance of these local shops. But it’s a place to start.

Here’s the good news. Most premium service credit cards will double a manufacturer’s warranty up to an added year for electronics. American Express has done this for years, and their customer service is often quite reliable. Other premium level bank cards have similar standing offers.

Another recently discovered bonus can be found at Costco. They will also offer an added year onto a year long warranty. So if you make a purchase at Costco you would get two years manufacturer’s warranty. If you make your purchase with a premium credit card, they allow you to tack on a third year! So for zero added dollars, you’ve got a three year warranty on a set. Not a bad deal, Bubba!

SAVE YOUR RECIEPTS or you are sunk. Record your serial number BEFORE you mount that heavy sum-bitch. It wouldn’t hurt to save your bar codes from the box, (and remember, save the box until you’re sure you aren’t going to take it right back to store. Save your American Express or charge card statement, or make sure you can get to it online. It wouldn’t hurt if you printed EACH warranty and put it in an envelope with a copy of your receipts, your set warranty, the store policies, and your credit card extended warranty. Why? They change all the time and we’re used to losing paperwork today and finding that stuff online. If the terms of the warranty change in future releases, they won’t keep your particular version. (Keep ithis stuff under your TV stand or in your entertainment console.)

One last piece of advice. If you do have to begin a warranty type action, take notes of every phone call, service call, technician’s and phone rep’s instructions and names. If things ever get ugly, you will need a paper trail and some documentation to back up your claim.

If you DO have trouble enforcing your warranty, check your states consumer protection rights. Many states offer several times damages if a company will not honor their own warranty. Those notes and all that saved paperwork will come in handy.

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