PC laptops and accidental damage: Best and worst warranties 2014

Summary:Whoops, I broke it again. When shopping for a new PC, laptop, or ultrabook, make sure you investigate the terms of your warranty and the optional accidental damage coverage policies available to you.

This article was originally published in February of 2013. It has been re-published to reflect updated content.

Since initially writing about the subject of PC warranty repair and accidental damage coverage back in 2009, I have received numerous emails of reader horror stories when dealing with their PC vendor and trying to get their equipment repaired after an accidental damage incident.

laptop-in-trash-620-red-620x413

Typically, the email goes like this: "My laptop LCD screen is cracked, and now my PC vendor tells me this is an out-of-warranty repair and it will cost $400 to fix it. Is there anything I can do?"

Sadly, the answer is no. If you haven't purchased additional warranty protection for your PC that covers broken screens, water damage, electrical surge, and accidental drops, you're out of luck.

Laptops used to be much more resilient pieces of equipment. But over the last five years, as PC OEMs have been competing to make them thinner and lighter, they've also become non field-repairable as well , and your only option is to send it back to the original manufacturer.

Basic PC warranties are just that: Basic. They cover faults in the electronics, typically over a one-year period. Anything outside the realm of a malfunction can be deemed as "accidental damage", which gives the OEM an escape route to charge you a lot of money on a repair.

What does a typical out-of-warranty repair cost? Well, according to Lenovo, a system board can be up to $500, a DVD drive is $200, a hard drive is $300, a "multiple part replacement at bench" can be upwards of $600, and an LCD display can be $450.

Based on informal research I have done on the internet and reading various end-user horror stories as it relates to repairs, these costs are accurate.

With the increasing trend toward ultrabooks and similar form factors, the need to purchase PC accidental damage coverage (ADC) plans has become more and more important, particularly if you are a frequent business traveller and bring your laptop back and forth with you to work.

When looking to purchase a new laptop or ultrabook, you'll want to read the fine print about what is covered under the basic warranty and what is not, and you should base your PC vendor choice on how much the additional accidental damage coverage costs, and what else is included in the policy, such as turnaround time for the repair (usually three to five days) and whether shipping costs are included.

Many ADC warranties have options for onsite service, but are not necessarily included in the base cost. Most, if not all, have some sort of "depot" option in which you can drop off the broken machine at a service center.

Other "perks" in these upgraded warranties can include premium telephone support as well as "Lojack", which is a PC location service, in the event that your computer is lost or stolen.

Much of this depends on whether you are a consumer or small business and are buying PCs piecemeal, or whether you are a large corporation and have negotiated a fleet support contact.

For the end user, I've done a bit of research of how the companies rate on ADC policies.

First, we want to define what is covered under these scenarios. Lenovo defines its ADC warranty coverage as the following:

"Accidental drops, spills, bumps, and structural failures incurred under normal operating conditions or handling, electrical surges, and damage to the integrated LCD screen."

Dell's terms are similar, but they also go into what is not covered by their policy:

"Drops, falls, and other collisions, liquid spilled on or in unit, electrical surge, damaged or broken LCD due to drop or fall. Not covered: Fire damage, intentional damage, normal wear, cosmetic damage, consumable parts, theft, and loss."

Typical repair costs

(Source: Lenovo)
Component Cost
System board up to $500
DVD drive $200
Hard drive $300
Minor tablet damage $250
Multiple part replacement $600
LCD display $450

You will want to read the coverage terms of the OEM in detail, as there are slight variations between vendors. Generally speaking, however, an ADC plan will cover repair or complete replacement of the PC under most circumstances, provided that it is proven that the damage was not intentional.

First, let's talk about the vendors that have the worst ADC policies: Apple and Google.

As you can see in the chart, neither Apple nor Google have ADC as part of their basic coverage or as a purchasable option. That $249 AppleCare+ policy on your new MacBook Air? That strictly covers phone support and priority support at an Apple store.

If you crack the LCD on your pricey Macbook Retina or have any other damage that is deemed as being accidental or "abuse", the company will almost certainly charge you to have it repaired. I've heard of people getting lucky with sympathetic Geniuses at specific stores, but generally speaking, you're on your own.

Accidental coverage policies compared

Vendor
Years ADC Cost Onsite support Premium phone support LoJack for laptops
Lenovo 3 $195-$339 Yes Yes Available
Dell 3 $349 (typical) Yes Yes Yes
HP 3 $169-$319 Available Available Available
Asus 1 Free with selected models No Yes No
Samsung 3 Business plans only N/A N/A N/A
Toshiba 3 $289 (typical) Available Available Available
Fujitsu 3 $558 (typical) Available Available Available
Microsoft Complete  for Surface 2 $99 for Surface / $149 for  Surface Pro No Yes Available
Microsoft Complete for Laptops  2 $199 No Yes Available
SquareTrade 3 $299 direct ($1,499 system cost) No No No
Costco HP Carepack 2 $80 for 2 years on selected HP Systems No Yes Yes
Costco Non-HP laptops 3 $99 for 3 years covered by SquareTrade for systems $500 and above
No No No
Apple 0 Starting at $249 N/A Yes "Find my Mac"
Google 0 Not Applicable N/A N/A N/A

*Table data updated 12/7/2013

Google's pricey Chromebook Pixel has no ADC as a purchase option, either, and there's nobody to take the machine to if it breaks, unlike Apple. So if you buy an Apple MacBook or a Google Chromebook Pixel, I suggest you go right to SquareTrade and purchase an ADC policy.

Fujitsu and Toshiba come in second to Apple and Google for lousy ADC options, by virtue of them being ridiculously expensive for what they are offering, and by nickel and diming you on the optional services.

If you are inclined to buy either of these two brands, go to SquareTrade if you are an end user. If you are negotiating a support contract with either of these two vendors as an enterprise, negotiate the best deal you can, or look elsewhere.

Samsung does not offer end-user ADC plans, since it primarily sells through enterprise support contracts and not through retail. But you can get ADC on Samsung systems sold through the Microsoft Store, which I will get to in a bit.

Let's cover the big three OEMs: Dell, Lenovo, and HP.

Dell is an all-inclusive, one-size-fits-all plan for three years of ADC, which includes priority phone support and onsite service for $349.

Both Lenovo and HP have ADC/warranty upgrades that have variable pricing depending on the options you add in (priority phone support, onsite, Lojack) as well as the term of the coverage (one year, two years, or three years) and the price and sometimes the model of the system you are buying.

In addition to selling warrantees direct, HP has negotiated a special deal with Costco in which a two-year ADC costs a whole $80 on top of any HP laptop purchase on Costco's website, and includes the 24/7 phone support, the LoJack service, as well as pickup and return shipping on all repairs.

If you can live with the limited HP selection at Costco, and a two-year ADC is sufficient for your needs, I would be inclined to take this route.

Costco also offers a $99 three-year ADC that is covered by SquareTrade for non-HP systems, which is also a very good buy.

Now let's talk about the Microsoft Store.

Yes, I work for Microsoft , and as with any article in which I talk about my employer in a competitive fashion, you should investigate all other options before you consider taking any of my advice. That being said, I would be remiss if I didn't mention its PC pricing and warranty options on its website.

All laptop systems, regardless of OEM purchased on the Microsoft Store online or at their retail locations, can have a two-year Microsoft Complete plan for an additional $199.

In addition to two years comprehensive warranty coverage and ADC, this includes Microsoft's Signature telephone support, which is separate from the OEM's own telephone support offerings, as well as two years of software support including virus protection and tune-ups.

If you purchase a Surface Pro on the Microsoft Store, that Microsoft Complete for Surface Pro two-year plan is a whole $149. LoJack for Laptops can be purchased from Microsoft at additional cost.

If you are inclined towards a Surface Pro 2, Microsoft is offering a special bundle which includes Office 365 Home Premium, the Complete for Surface 2-year ADC, a Touch Cover and Surface Pro Screen protector for $269.00, which is a $75 savings off the regular $348.97.

This is a very good deal, in my opinion.

I would also be remiss if I did not tell you that the Microsoft store pricing for many of the models that the company offers for web purchase are extremely competitive with what exists on OEM direct order websites or by resellers.

Obviously, Microsoft doesn't have every OEM model in existence offered for sale on its website, but before you pull the trigger elsewhere, and you're in the market for a new Windows PC, you should give that site a look.

Have you recently purchased an ADC policy for your new laptop computer? Talk back and let me know.

Topics: PCs, Hardware, Laptops

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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