Watch out for warranties

Last reviewed: July 2011

Few major retailers scored well in our survey for the checkout experience, but independent local stores had top scores in small and major appliances. Abt Electronics won the most kudos for major appliances; Amazon.com and QVC, for small. Of the latter group, Walmart and Sam's Club scored lowest for checkout.

Eighty-three percent of shoppers for major appliances in our survey said their checkout didn't conclude without at least a suggestion that they purchase an extended warranty. At some stores (see chart), notably the regional retailers P.C. Richard & Son and hhgregg, shoppers felt "strongly urged" to spring for the extra coverage. The median price paid for an extended warranty or service contract was $113 for a major appliance and $40 for a small appliance.

We don't recommend purchasing a warranty or service contract, because most repairs do not occur during the limited time period covered by the extended warranty. But some consumers told us that because of the growing complexity of major appliances and their habit of breaking, they opted for an extended warranty. If you do buy one, be sure you understand its terms, particularly how it differs from the standard warranty and which years it covers. (Some extended warranties overlap with the standard ones.)

How good retailers were at installing major appliances and hauling away the old ones drew praise all around. Shipping received kudos as well, although Sam's Club was singled out for low marks in shipping small appliances.

Returns were a different story. Best Buy and Sears had low scores for returns, refunds, and exchanges.

Warranty watch