A shopper looking at Mac laptops in an Apple Store

Weighing the cost benefits of an extended warranty is never easy, especially when you're buying laptops for your children.

Sasha McGinn Sweeney of Hilton Head, S.C., recently purchased two new models for her sons: a MacBook Air for her 13-year-old and a Lenovo Yoga for her 12-year-old.

“We bought the extended warranty at Best Buy on the Lenovo," she says, "because it has a touch screen that folds all the way back, and my younger son isn’t as careful with his things.”

The contract cost Sweeney $189 for three years and included an accident plan in case her son drops the computer and damages it.

More on Laptops

According to a recent Consumer Reports survey, however, consumers are generally better off saving their money, because CR members with extended warranties and service contracts for laptops rarely use them for repairs.

"More to the point," says Martin Lachter, a senior research associate in CR's survey department, "the median cost of an extended warranty or service contract is about the same as the median cost of a single repair.”

Inside the Numbers

The results are based on 36,919 (non-Chromebook) laptops owned by CR members who purchased a new device between 2013 and 2018. Among the PC owners who sprang for the extra coverage, only 15 percent used it to pay for repairs.

For the Apple owners with extra coverage, the figure is just 7 percent.

Here's what the survey numbers are really saying. For the PC laptop owners, the median cost of a repair paid for completely out of pocket was $118. That's only $3 more than the median cost of the extended coverage.

For Apple laptop owners, the extended warranty made even less sense. The median cost for an out-of-pocket repair was $165, which is less than the $177 median cost for an AppleCare plan.

In other words, if you're not prone to dropping or tripping over your laptop, you're better off taking the money you'd spend on an extended warranty and putting it in the bank. Odds are good you'll have that full sum—plus interest—in your account three years later.

For peace of mind, CR members can also consult the predicted reliability column in our laptop ratings when choosing a new model. Those marks are based on estimated problem rates by the end of the third year of ownership. Apple earns an Excellent reliability mark, for example. The marks for PC brands range from Good to Very Good.

That reliability explains why Sweeney decided against purchasing AppleCare for the MacBook Air she bought. “I didn’t get the extended AppleCare because we have always bought Apple computers and have never had a problem with them,” she says.

More Extended Warranty Tips

If you're still inclined to purchase extended coverage, follow this advice:

Review the manufacturer's warranty before making a purchase. Federal law requires that you have access to the manufacturer's warranty before you decide to buy. When you read it, note how long the warranty lasts, what it covers, and whether the company will repair or replace the item or refund your money.

Some manufacturers will repair a product after the warranty has ended simply because it’s good customer service, so it’s worth contacting the company should a problem arise. Keep in mind that some extended warranties simply duplicate the coverage already offered by the manufacturer's plan.

Check to see whether you already have extended coverage through a credit card. Many credit card companies extend the warranty by one year or more when you use their card to buy a product. If you’re not sure whether your card provides such a perk, call customer service. Or use an app like Sift, which lets you know before you make a purchase with a specific card how long the warranty will last.

Read the fine print. Extended warranty coverage may not be as comprehensive as you think. It often has lots of exclusions that make the service less useful. For example, coverage may not include accidental damage. And some companies might deny a claim if you haven’t followed their routine maintenance instructions, according to the Federal Trade Commission.