Insuring your laptop

Most computer retailers will attempt to sell you a high-profit extended warranty with your laptop, scaring you with a bunch of FUD about dropping it, spilling liquids on it, running it over with your car, stepping on it, and a full assortment of other improbable but fatal conditions. The cost of these plans is prohibitively high, usually at $200-300 for two years' coverage on a moderately priced laptop.

The incredible rip-off here is not just the price. The salespeople, and usually their managers as well, haven't actually read the warranty's details. They're just repeating a sales pitch taught to them by their superiors. These "plans" often don't, in fact, cover accidental damage. Read the fine print next time you're offered one. You'll be surprised how often the salespeople are simply wrong.

What can you do if you actually want that coverage? A single impact in the wrong spot can crack the screen's LCD. That's bad. $1000 bad. And if you spill coffee or soda into the keyboard, it goes right into all of the critical components, corrodes their circuit boards, and kills your computer. That's also around $1000 bad.

What if you live in a place with a lot of winter snow and ice, and you're afraid of slipping while carrying your laptop bag? What if you move your computer many times per day and you're scared of dropping it? What if you frequently drink coffee near your computer? What if you're simply uncoordinated?

Don't buy the stupid Best Buy "protection plan" that may not protect you during the next 2 years for $300. Instead, call your insurance company.

It doesn't matter which insurance company, really, but it makes things a lot easier if you have car insurance and homeowner's or renter's insurance from the same one. (By the way, I strongly recommend getting these. Because State Farm offers discounts if you have multiple policies, I added renter's insurance to my existing car insurance policy for about $7 more per month.)

Ask your insurance agent for a personal computer policy. These generally cover everything except individual component failures under normal usage, which are conveniently covered by most manufacturer's warranties for at least a year. I got a $2500 policy on my Powerbook for about $58 per year - that's less than half the cost of most store warranties. And it covers almost any possible event: accidental dropping, spilling, falling, running over... getting stolen, getting flooded, getting set on fire... and any of these things happening in my apartment, in my car, at work, on vacation, or wherever I happen to use my laptop within the country. (So I can't run it over with someone else's car in Paris.)

Store warranties can't compete with that.

If you have a laptop, call your insurance agent and see what's available. There's certainly nothing bad about retailers losing a high-pressure, annoying extended warranty sale.