PC laptops and accidental damage: Best and worst warranties 2014

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.

TOPICS: PCs, Hardware, Laptops

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.


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

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


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience 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.

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  • Regarding Surface Pro ADC coverage

    OK, sales rep. I have a question for you. I bought a Surface Pro at Best Buy. Although I didn't buy it at a Microsoft store (nearest one to me is 400 miles away in Chicago), I read that if I take my computer in to a Microsoft Store, I could get the ADC 2 year insurance package after it had been inspected. I'm not quite sure of the time frame after my initial purchase date when this opportunity expires.

    Could you save me a phone call and supply me with some particulars regarding this issue or is this simply an urban myth?
    • No idea

      Best bet would be to call the Chicago store directly.

      Also, Best Buy has a pretty liberal returns policy.
      • Returns policy at Best Buy

        Great article, Jason. I had no idea the MS store sold anything other than MS hardware. Interesting resource. You mentioned SquareTable. What's their story?

        Best Buy used to have a very restrictive return policy with nasty restocking fees. As a result, I very rarely bought from them. But a few years ago, right around the time CompUSA and CircuitCity failed, the Best Buy return policy became more reasonable. I guess they realized they had to compete with the likes of online resellers.

        I still don't like shopping there, but that's because I don't like shopping, not because Best Buy's policy is as bad as it once was (although you still have to keep an eye out on Best Buy's accessory prices for things like cables -- some of their prices are shockingly out of reason).

        David Gewirtz
        • Caveat on the BB returns policy...

          The reason that they all of a sudden became more liberal on accepting returns without restocking fees, is that they did this in conjunction with partnering up with The Retail Equation. TRE is a company who's sole reason for existence is to monitor returns from all of the major retailers it works with.

          As a result, BB now tracks returns based on ID (you can actually get around it if you have multiple IDs) and *even* price matches can be counted toward your returns "quota". If TRE throws up a red flag based on any number of criteria, you will be banned from returning anything for 90 days from the point of the ban. After that you will be put on a lean diet of returns equalling no more than 3 in a 90 day period.

          While I understand the need to monitor returns from a standpoint of mitigating loss, the TRE program is a bit draconian and punishes those of us who return items frequently for varying reasons, but *still* manage to spend thousands of dollars with BB as a whole. In my case, I purchase open items almost exclusively so the items I do end up returning weren't even products I cracked the seal on myself anyway.

          Just a word of caution that it's not all rainbows and butterflies with the return policy at BB (and Amazon, to be fair, has their own methods of returns tracking and return abuse monitoring).
          • Well there's always the Credit Card companies

            When all else fails and I find the vendor being unreasonable, I'll call the credit card company and dispute the charge. That usually gets a retailer's attention.
          • And why should Best Buy be your borrowing library?

            If you're the type of person who sees frequent returns (other than for legitimate warranty or misrepresentation reasons) as your right or your hobby then why on earth should Best Buy or anyone else lose money paying for your habit?
            This is why they partner with TRE, so they can stop the abuse of a returns policy which is intended to create business for best Buy by offering a safety zone for those customers who may genuinely find that they are not satisfied with a good faith purchase.
            If you go to Best Buy to purchase something then the onus is on you to have done enough research to support your decision. If you rely on the salesperson's advice then it's buyer beware unless a misrepresentation is made.
            Personally I think a 90-day ban and a good behaviour "bond" is getting off lightly.
    • if you bought Microsoft Complete then you could ship freely to Microsoft

      and get it fixed or new one or whatever, right? Or you could take it back to authorized retailer with your Microsoft Complete for Surface http://www.microsoftstore.com/store/msstore/html/pbpage.MicrosoftComplete_Surface_Terms_Conditions
      Ram U
    • 45 days

      You have 45 days from date of purchase
  • Jason

    thanks a lot. It is very informative.
    Ram U
  • Luckily fr my M15x

    Almost everything(except for the chassis, base board, battery and keyboard) can be easily replaced with off-the-shelf components using only a screw driver.
    • Indeed. Old Aliens are the best...

      Although the layers of hardware can initially be a bit daunting, especially the first time you open it.
  • these prices are around half the cost of a new computer anyway

    and unless you're working on a construction site or something, chances are nothing's going to happen to your machine.

    IMO it's much better for your wallet to put that money towards your next system, and just sell your broken machine for parts if it does happen to break.
    • Absolutely. Shop Around

      I had a Toshiba laptop with an LCD screen. I cracked it and was told because I had a warranty, they'd fix it, I just had to buy the packaging from them (which was way higher than FedEx or UPS). When my computer finally made it there, I was told the repair was an out of warranty expense and I needed $400 to get it repaired! My computer was only $500!!! I then shopped around repair places and found a guy who fixed screens for less than two thirds than they wanted. And it's been absolutely holding up ever since.
      • Toshiba

        Toshiba does not honor it's warranty. Buyer beware.
    • The same idea applies due to multiple devices.

      If you purchase ADC coverage for every PC and mobile device you own you could buy a replacement device should you damage or lose one. And you wouldn't have to worry about your "claim" being denied.

      I faced this same problem after moving into my new home. All the appliance carried a one year warranty. At the end of the first year I received warranty extensions for all of them. Adding up the cost and I could replace two of the items for the cost of all the extensions. Twleve years later and I've had to repair one of the appliances twice...at a cost of $350 total. Well below the cost of the three year warranty extensions.

      Unless you need the priority phone support my opinion is to forego ADC.
  • Decided to self-insure

    Like theoilman, I decided not to renew my Safeware policy on my MBP 17". I decided the price was simply too high for the amount of protection it offered. If I didn't take care of my machine then I would pay the price - and buy a new Mac. If my past history is any prediction of future events, I'll have this machine for a good 5 years before even wanting to replace it.
    • my current laptop is 6 years old

      and the only reason I'm starting to think about replacing it is because I want something lighter, not because it has any problems
      • and it doesn't even sit in one place

        I throw it in my bag every day and take the bus
        • I'm the same way

          My old Acer has been working fine for the past 5 years. I only recently upgraded and bought myself the Samsung Slate 7 (the I5 one, not those Atom processors) because i wanted something thinner and lighter. And i saw a lightening deal on a used onw for 355 instead of the insane 500-600. or 900-1200 brand new!

          Sadly these are not as easy to service but i'll take my chances. I haven't bought an ADC in years. Never could justify that cost.
  • ASUS Won't Honor Their Warranty

    Even though I provided proof from their own website and from the retailer, they said their records didn't show it.

    I recommend not buying from ASUS. Go to the ASUS sucks website for more.