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How to Handle Warranty Troubles

Complaint: 'We bought the extended coverage — but they refused to fix our television!'

Before you invest in that extended warranty on your next major purchase, consider all your options. It might not be worth it.

Before you invest in that extended warranty on your next major purchase, consider all your options. — John Ritter

En español | When making a large purchase, whether it's a computer or a car, you're likely to encounter an enthusiastic or aggressive sales clerk asking, "Do you want the extended warranty?" It's tempting to say yes, especially on a costly item.

But before doing so, consider what happened to AARP members Debra and Bill Kerr of Clio, Michigan, who recently wrote to On Your Side.

Back in 2009 the Kerrs purchased a Samsung flat-screen plasma television for about $1,800 from ABC Warehouse, an electronics and appliance chain. The couple paid the store some $500 for extended warranties that would cover the set until 2014.

Earlier this year they noticed a ghost image on their television screen. The repairman diagnosed it as "burn-in" — the result of watching one television channel for too long. (Fox and CNN news junkies, take note!)

Burn-in is a common problem for many TVs, and the Samsung warranty did have an exclusion for it. The store declined to replace the TV. But it seemed that the Kerrs were using their television in a normal way. If watching one channel for too long caused a problem, they should have been carefully warned about exactly what that meant.

Fortunately, when we shared our concerns with the honchos at ABC Warehouse, they reversed direction and agreed to honor the extended warranty. A few days later Debra and Bill had a new TV in their living room.

While we were happy to help out the Kerrs, no doubt many other AARP members are dealing with warranty concerns of their own. The best way to protect yourself is by carefully considering any plan you purchase.

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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