How to Prevent Problems
1. Read the fine print. Some extended warranties contain more loopholes than the federal corporate tax code. So you need to take a close look, particularly at the sections spelling out what's covered and what isn't. Do a little research about common problems with the product, and make sure they're covered in the warranty. If they aren't, walk away.
2. Shop around. You don't have to buy the extended warranty offered at point-of-purchase. Usually you can add one within 30 days or even several months. Shop online using the product name and "extended warranty" as search terms. Store warranties tend to be the most expensive. Buying from the manufacturer or a third party is often cheaper.
3. Consider the cost. The price should never exceed half of the most costly repair you're likely to face during the warranty period. (A quick call to a repair shop can get you that info.) If, say, you can replace the motor on a $600 vacuum cleaner for $100, a $150 extended warranty is overpriced.
4. Be aggressive. If you've got a problem, call customer service and show that you mean business. Be polite, firm and relentless. Dial the sales line; you're more likely to reach someone who's interested in having a happy customer. Then just keep climbing the ladder until you get what you deserve.
Consumer advocate Ron Burley writes the On Your Side column for AARP and is the author of Unscrewed: The Consumer's Guide to Getting What You Paid For.
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