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by Jeff Wilkin

Type A To Z

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Features reporter Jeff Wilkin on pop culture

By Extension

I was shopping in Radio Shack last week — had to pick up a new gizmo that allows me to tape telephone conversations.

In the newspaper business, such technology comes in handy. Especially when just about everyone talks 10 miles a minute in these United States, much faster than I can type.

Anyway, found the required part and coughed up $30 for the wires, plugs and small plastic box. Then the sales guy — who was actually pretty helpful — had to spoil the experience by pitching the extended warranty. For $8, I’m insured against defects or breakdown for two years. I’m supposed to consider this, when my last phone gizmo lasted about five or six years.

I hear this more and more. Bought a new car in 2011, and the sales manager preached a sermon about the brilliance of an extended warranty. I had just picked up a Hyundai Elantra, which comes with a 60,000-mile manufacturer’s warranty. I had to ask the guy: “Are my wheels going to fall off at 60,001? And don’t you people have any faith in the longevity of your products?” It really kind of annoyed me — something like $1,800 for a few more years tacked on to the factory deal. And you might never even need the extra coverage, so it’s really like gambling.

After about an hour’s worth of debate, I turned the guy down.

I went through the same routine when I bought my Damn Big television set in 2012, one of these 52-inch plasma screens that just about puts me in the seats at Yankee Stadium or right in Bogart’s detective agency during “The Maltese Falcon.” Only $100, the guy said.

In February, I replaced my 22-year-old refrigerator with a modern Kenmore model, big, tall and white. For $87, I could have secured extra repairs, extra parts and extra check-ups with the extended warranty.

The smart guys in consumer magazines and web sites say extended warranties are always bad investments. Their top reason — just about every product on the market today comes with a standard manufacturer’s warranty, generally good for one year. The majority of minor malfunctions happen during this first year, they say, while major problems are more apt to occur much later. And “much later” generally means beyond the reach of an extended warranty’s term.

Other economists say these warranties are really just money-makers for the local business. They must love it when the sign up a new sucker.

I like to play dumb with some of these sales people — not a stretch for me — by innocently asking, “Gee, do most people buy these refrigerator warranties?” I always get the same answer — a hearty, confident “Why yes, of course, they’re great deals, great peace of mind.” I’ll answer with, “But what does it say about the quality of this new refrigerator? It’s not going to last two years without trouble, where my last fridge hung in there for 22 years?” They generally don’t have a comeback for that one.

If I was buying a used car, I might bite. But if that’s the new American way — insure your new purchase because it could break down on you within a few years — I think it’s time for a new, improved American way.

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