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Laptop Limbo

Q: I live in the Virgin Islands. On a visit to Puerto Rico in 2005, I bought a Sony laptop at a Sony retail store. For $419 I also bought a four-year extended warranty. The laptop recently stopped working, but when I called customer service to have it repaired, I was told the warranty had been canceled by the store, which didn't keep warranty records and told me to call Sony's extended-warranty service line. The folks there said they couldn’t help either.  As you can see, I'm getting the runaround and my laptop's still broken.
–Ramesh, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

A: In your time of need, you discovered the little-known downside of extended service plans: Many aren't backed by the item's manufacturer or retailer but by a third party. Once Sony's warranty expired, your laptop was protected by a company called Service Net.   

My call to Service Net got me to a supervisor named Jacob who insisted he couldn't tell me anything about your situation because I was not you. He even refused to give me the phone number for the Service Net corporate offices (happily, it was listed on the company's Web site).
While calling, I found some common sense when I was connected with Suzanne Nelson of Service Net Consumer Relations. After a little research, she was able to pin down why your plan had been canceled: The service agreement did not cover the Virgin Islands. (In other words, Sony should have never sold you the contract.) Nelson also said that a credit had been issued to your credit card when Service Net canceled the agreement. You say you have no record of such a credit.

The telephone conversation left me not knowing whether you had a substantial complaint. However, I believe strongly that a company has an obligation to make sure its business partners treat their mutual customers fairly. In this case, the retail store and Service Net didn't properly inform you of the limitations of the agreement.
With that lack of good service in mind, I dove into my contacts file and retrieved the number for Nancy Shiver, call center manager for Sony's retail sales arm, Sony Style. I had dealt with Nancy before and found her to be one of the best customer-service reps in any company. I was confident she could straighten this out for you. And she did. For all your trouble, Sony is going to replace your broken laptop, and toss in some extra RAM memory to boot.

Glad we could help.

Extended-Service Plan Tips

1. Choose between "repair" or "replace." Some extended-service plans will only repair problems, some will immediately replace broken products, and many offer a combination of the two options. "Repair" contracts are usually cheaper but can leave you waiting for weeks for results. "Replacement" contracts cost more, but you can get a new unit shipped to you right away.

2. Read the entire extended-service contract. Something as simple as the wrong home address can result in the cancelation of your service contract without notice.

3. Assess the warranty's value. It might actually be a better deal to buy a used replacement than to spend money up front on a warranty.

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