December 07, 2006


A lot of electronics will be purchased this holiday season. For those of you that will find yourself in this situation, the inevitable question awaits … “Would you like to purchase our extended warranty?” What do you do …?

What do the experts say … Consumer groups [and common sense] will normally tell you to turn down the urge to accept the offer. A fast-growing $15 billion dollar industry has been built on the likelihood, however, that you’ll succumb to the impulse to say yes. Millions of people each year pay anywhere from 10% to 50% of a product’s original purchase price to extend a warranty. The decision to buy the extended warranty defies the recommendations of most economists, consumer advocates, and product quality experts who warn that the plans rarely benefit consumers and are almost always a waste of money.

What are they … Extended warranties were first introduced as a high-pressure sales tool by large electronics stores in the late 1980s. Now, they are a core product sold by all kinds of retailers and cover a wide range of products. The warranties are technically insurance products where the premium is paid in a lump sum at the time of purchase. Extended warranties generally lengthen the coverage provided by the manufacturer’s warranty on a product. While terms vary dramatically, the plans typically add from one to three years of protection.

How do they work … In terms of service, most warranty providers use third-party contractors to repair broken items, and consumers don’t get to choose who performs a covered repair. Many policies won’t cover accidents or normal wear and tear (the most common causes of breakdowns in common household goods). Most importantly, however, is the fact that the vast majority of extended warranties are never used.

One distinct disadvantage for consumers is its vast difference versus selecting other “insurance-type” products. When buying auto insurance, for example, it’s relatively easy to make an informed purchasing decision by comparing terms and prices among different providers. It’s not nearly as simple a process to comparison shop for an extended warranty at the checkout counter. Not all salespersons are provided a commission for selling the product but be certain that they’re trained to make sure you know about the warranty and its benefits.

By the numbers … Warranty Week, an industry publication, last year estimated that of the $15 billion in premiums charged to consumers in 2004, $7.5 billion went straight into the pockets of the stores that sell warranties. Of the remaining $7.5 billion, it was estimated that only $3 billion was paid in claims by the insurance companies that back the plans (20% payout ratio). Contrast that with the auto insurance industry that paid out $66 in claims for every $100 in premiums during the same year (Insurance Information Institute).

Bottom line … Consumer Reports almost never recommends buying an extended warranty, especially on automobiles. But even Consumer Reports makes exceptions to the rule. Last year, for the first time, they discovered that repairs on some products (namely laptop PCs, treadmills, and plasma TV sets) were common enough and expensive enough that a decently priced extended warranty would make sense. So what does that mean for you? More times than not, an extended warranty is an unnecessary, expensive option – think twice about it when making that purchase this holiday season.

(SOURCE – Washington Post, October 2006)

- Extended Warranties & Service Contracts (Univ of FL)

- Extended Warranties: Are They Worth Buying? (Univ of KY)

- Take a Hard Look at Extended Warranties (CUNA)