Laptop Warranties and Accidental Damage Coverage: What You Need to Know

Summary:Hewlett-Packard, after being flogged in public, contacted me and replaced my broken laptop that they had earlier claimed was accidentally damaged and not covered by their warranty. I appreciate HP's willingness to rectify the issue, but there clearly needs to be some improvement on their part -- as well as other vendors -- in communicating what sort of items are covered under warranty and what is not.

Hewlett-Packard, after being flogged in public, contacted me and replaced my broken laptop that they had earlier claimed was accidentally damaged and not covered by their warranty. I appreciate HP's willingness to rectify the issue, but there clearly needs to be some improvement on their part -- as well as other vendors -- in communicating what sort of items are covered under warranty and what is not.

It has been a few weeks since I told my tale of woe and broken laptop screens.

In summary, for those of you who missed it, my wife contacted me on my mobile while I was out shopping and told me the screen on my 13" HP Elitebook was broken -- she had adjusted the screen while using it in bed, and through some combination of pressure or torsion due to a slipped thumb, the substrate underneath the glass ruptured and the LCD was damaged. We contacted HP technical support, sent them a digital photograph of the broken screen, and the tech in India made the call to have us send it in as it was deemed to be a warranty repair and it would be no problem.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

A week or so later, I got a voicemail from HP's national Service Center  that the broken screen was considered to be "Accidental Damage" and thus, not covered under warranty. I had the option of having the PC returned to me at my cost, $89.00, unrepaired, or I would have to pay $440.00 to have the screen replaced.

Suffice to say, this made me angry. VERY angry. I really don't like surprises like that, especially when a vendor backs off on its word to commit to repairing it at their cost and then decides to hold my laptop hostage. So I tore them a new one.

Predictably, I got quite a few emails from HP over the next 24 hours asking me what they could do to rectify the situation. I asked them to honor their initial commitment to repairing the laptop under warranty, which they were happy to do. In fact, they replaced the entire computer with a slightly different and better model of the same series, since they didn't have the replacement part in stock.

First, I would like to commend HP for owning up to their mistake, and correcting my own personal customer satisfaction issue. But there are a bunch of larger issues that I think need to be addressed. One is that people need to be aware of what they are getting into when they purchase an expensive laptop computer, and the other is clearly an issue of followup and communication that the vendors themselves need to improve, and I'm not just picking on HP here.

Over the course of this experience I got to talking with a bunch of people familiar with HP and the support policies of competing vendors -- and the answer was pretty much the same, no matter who I talked to on the subject -- they all like to classify broken screens as accidental damage and outside the realm of warranty repair, whether it was due to routine use and wear and tear, excessive/careless treatment or simply, well, an accident.

A reader who shall remain nameless was a former HP service contractor contacted me and let me know that denying regular warranty coverage is a routine practice now:

Jason,

I understand you pain and anger!!

I worked for a service provider that was HP certified for servicing HP equipment and what I read in your article, "Sitting Shiva for my Dead laptop" is typical for HP service centers.

I can honestly say that from my years experience servicing HP PC's, HP will label anything that looks like your bad display, "user damage" and not cover it under warranty. I think it's their way of "cutting costs" by looking at the display and assuming you dropped the laptop or broke it. Even working with HP, it was very frustrating to get their service depots to acknowledge a simple customer service axiom, "give the customer the benefit of the doubt "and warranty the repair (first time). They don't get the concept of customer loyalty.

For those of you at the ready who will say "But Applecare is the best!" I direct you to our own Tom Foremski's recent experience with a broken screen on his Macbook Pro.

With the slowing economy PC vendors are trying to cut their costs wherever they can. Much like health insurance companies which deal with large volumes of claims that they will routinely deny as elective procedures and such, they will deny warranty claims if they can get out of it, because equipment is no longer made like it used to be made, parts are failing much more frequently and people are subjecting their systems, particularly their notebooks and laptops, to more and more routine stresses that a desktop would normally never see or even laptops 10 years ago ever saw.

To be fair to the OEMs like HP, their customers go into Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts and spill coffee on their systems, they bang them around when they travel, they get moved around and smacked about constantly, et cetera. So it's not uncommon for expensive component items like these super-thin LCD screens to break even from routine use.

One of the folks I had a very productive conversation about this subject with at HP was their designated "Customer Advocate" at the national support center in Denver. He's the person of last resort when customers go off the deep end -- the man has to deal with a lot of extremely angry and irate people. He must be a saint or at the very least, enjoy the punishment. He'd prefer not to be named, but you can probably figure out who he his.

HP's Customer Advocate agrees that surprises are definitely a bad thing, and HP is going to try not to repeat what happened to me in the future and there will be more up-front communication to a customer about coverage and they will strive for better coordination between their US-based service and Indian call centers. I certainly hope they follow through with this because I really would not like to see what happened to me continue to happen to other HP customers.

The biggest takeaway I got with my conversation with HP's customer guy on the inside -- who honestly is one of the nicest guys in the world and has the most calming voice I have ever heard -- is that if you are going to spend serious cash on a laptop computer, you probably want to think about buying Accidental Damage Protection for it. In the case of a $1400.00 Elitebook, I was looking at around $289 for an all-inclusive policy. When a screen repair goes for $440.00, or an entire mainboard needs to be replaced due to an unexpected green tea chai latte tsunami in your cube, or the when the hulking TSA security guy-cum-gorilla at the airport mishandles your prized toy at the Rapiscan, this gives you peace of mind.

For consumer HP laptops, a 3-year Accidental Damage Protection Plan which includes spill and drop coverage is $350. You can also buy 1-year and 2-year plans. Similarly priced plans for Business/Enterprise laptops are also available.

Likewise, both Dell (see site) and Lenovo (see site) have similar coverage plans.

[EDIT: thanks readers for clarification] Apple (see site) has Applecare plans which extend coverage beyond regular warranty terms into additional years, but apparently they do not offer Accidental Damage coverage to the extent of the other two Tier 1 PC vendors.

Does your laptop have Accidental Damage Protection? Have you ever made use of it? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Hewlett-Packard, Mobility

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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