The 12 Days of Retail Christmas: Extended Warranties

I'm pretty good at servicing my own stuff.  I don't need
your silly warranty.  
You dread that moment.  You've finally decided on that big purchase: maybe you researched models online, or studied environmental impact ratings, or decided that it looked the prettiest, and then the sales associate has the nerve to ask for more money.  "For only 8 dollars a month, you can protect your investment for the next five years.  We can guarantee that every feature of your lawn-mower/ dishwasher/ beta max player/ AK-47 will opporate effectively, and you will never be charged a single dollar for any repairs or parts."

Only 8 dollars, that's not so bad?  Maybe some of you are saying that, but I don't even like to donate a dollar to whatever cause the local grocery store is fundraising on behalf of.  I'm not heartless, I just don't like surprises at the register.  One time I won a reward for being the 100,000 customer, and it was so shocking, I refused the gift.  Okay, that didn't happen.  Maybe I'm just cheap.

But for seven years, I was forced to sell these add-on warranties for everything from HEPA air cleaners to Craftsman sliding compound saws.  And no matter how well the customer and I were getting along before that moment, everything changed the instant I said "service contract."

Their faces contorted, their attitudes went through instant bipolar emotions, and I was recognized for who I really was: Beelzebub.  Don't get me wrong, certain extended warranties have some value.  But the prices my store Sears was asking were along the lines of soul selling.  I was often tempted to say, "or I can just challenge you to a fiddle playing contest?"
Some of the most common reactions to when I tried to get a person to buy a service contract:

"So you're telling me this item is going to break as soon as the warranty is over."  ---Yes.  It was designed with an internal clock to die the moment it is no longer protected by the manufacturer.  We have to keep the economy going, so nothing lasts forever...

32K of RAM and two floppy drives!  Do you know how
many foreign governments I can cripple with this bad boy?  
"Back in my day [oh Lord, I hate this intro] products were designed to last 15 years!"  Yeah, they were.  But surprisingly, the manufacture has figured out how to cut 15 times its costs on that same product today, plus give you more features, most of which are fragile, like LED displays.  How's your $2,200 dollar Apple II computer doing today anyways?  Cause it's worth about $2 in scrap lead today.  (potentially more to an Apple fanboy).

"Give me your honest answer, do I need this warranty?"  I honestly don't know.  Some people use their microwave to make popcorn.  Some use it to make bacon out of hotdogs.  Some use it to test bomb making materials.  Only you know how hard you are on certain items.  How many have you bought in the last few years?

"That's just a ploy for stores to make pure profit."  Well, I can tell you, there are certain customers who use the service contract on all their products...and it isn't free to send a tech out, or to put replacement parts in.  In fact, if not for Sears, there may not even be a replacement part system in place.  Companies don't want you to fix their products, they want you to replace them.

"Well, such and such model has a five year warranty as standard on it."  Yeah it does.  And it's twice the price of this product with our optional five year warranty.  If you want the best, you pay for it.

"Every time I buy one of these, I never use it before it expires."  Yeah, I feel the same every time I buy milk, cheese, sliced deli meat, prophylactics, etc.

I only throw my iPhone in the toilet when
James Taylor comes on my Pandora station. 
My advice, rather than strong arming someone is this:  If you're hard on a certain type product, then buy it.  My parents historically never bought service contracts, yet my father breaks a lawn mower every other year.  They also have extremely hard water, and the iron destroys anything that uses plumbing.  I finally convinced them to get a contract on their dishwasher, and Sears has put over $800 dollars in parts and labor into his $188 dollar basic dishwasher in five years.  You have to know how hard you use an item.  Do you have a history of dropping your cell phone into toilets?  Well, better read the fine print and see if it's covered under the warranty (NEVER trust the salesperson.  They have to sell this junk, and they routinely LIE, or state OUTDATED service coverage material).

Almost never buy a contract that is sent out through a secondary service company.  If you have to package it up, ship it away at your expense, and wait for their "decision" you probably aren't going to do it.  Some stores have a drop off service (good), some have in-store service (better), and some have instant replacement of product with almost no questions (best).

Always read the fine print.  If you don't like the sound of it, you usually have 14 days to get your money back.  Odds are, that employee who said he'd take care of you, is not going to be there when you have a if it isn't in writing on a form, you're only as good as your ability to make a huge scene.

What do you mean Volkswagen will not cover my
blown engine? I know I removed the radiator, but I
needed room for the turtle head.  
Almost no warranties cover your stupidity.  You shot a hole through your television?  You need help-not a service contract.  You dropped your phone?  Make sure that's covered.  You were using your oven as a reptile habitat?  Yeah, no.  Don't go waltzing into the store you bought it from expecting them to honor a warranty on a treadmill that you modified to use as a gold mining sifting machine.

The reality is, stores are tightening their return policies, and products are being built cheaper to stay under certain price points.  Most of the items you use today will not last five years, and lucky if they make it to ten years (or even be relevant), and many stores will not even accept a return after 30 days.  You have to ask yourself, is it worth spending 20% more on a product to keep it working like new for the next 3-5 years?

Other things to consider:  Is this product so cheap and off-brand that I can buy the extra warranty and still be under the next model up?  Might not be a bad move.  I've never had luck with Coby electronics, or Westinghouse appliances, or any of the new brands that show up on Black Friday, so an extra two or three dollars isn't a bad investment.  (Or maybe you should just buy a better brand).

And if you don't want the warranty, just say "no."  Don't waffle or come up with lame excuses or get argumentative with the store clerk, they are trained to deal with these reactions.  But two or three firm "no's"  is impossible to combat.

Last thing to consider:  is a longer warranty on an item better than the extra features on the next model up?  We Americans love stupid gimmicky features.  But newsflash, if the product won't even work for basic functions, those extra features are useless too (and you never even used them).  Some times, peace of mind is the best feature; it keeps me from worrying that my high end microwave won't last from all the kiln drying projects I use it for.  Gotta go, it just beeped.  My next batch of hardened clay customized chia pets is done.


  1. I never buy the extended warranty on anything for me. About 4 years ago my wife talked me into it when I bought a used pick up truck. She ended up saving us close to 5 grand. That success has turned me into a waffler. BTW just curious, why is it bad to "waffle", I love waffles.

    1. Yeah, I've saved some money a few times, and lost money some times. Overall, the item has to be important to you, and be used often, (like my current computer) to warrant the investment.

      I agree about waffles. Maybe something like croissanting, or pastrying, (breakfast foods that are just, meh, or average) would be more appropriate.

  2. I've never been sure about those extended warranties. I usually pass them up, at least for the last two decades. Pretty much any warranty would be worthless to me when I take the gadget out of the country. You're right, I wouldn't take the time or expense to pack it up and ship it back to the States.

    You give some great points to consider for people who actually live where an extended warranty might be useful. Thanks.

    1. That's a good point. I liked it when customers told me that as well, as I could put a code in the computer that wouldn't hurt my numbers (as we were required to sell a certain percentage of these added warranties). Out-of-nation customers were automatically excluded from these numbers.