For warranties that I've gotten my money's worth out of, each had the following charcteristics in common:
- Performance based.
- Every plan was a minimum of 3 years.
- Extended no-lemon policy with maximum of 3 repairs for the same or different problems.
- Replacement with comparable item or refund of original purchase price.
- Product could be returned to the store for service at any time during the warranty period.
- Store was nation-wide and had a computer record of the purchase and all previous repairs.
- Batteries were covered for camcorders, digital cameras, and laptops.
Each of the following is a real life example out of my experience. Though these are true examples, I have not mentioned the store names on purpose because the plans may have changed since the writing of this document. In the end, it's up to you to read the plans and decide if you can use them or not.
I knew the HP wasn't as good quality as the Sony model I was also considering, but I liked the features better and the price was a little lower. I bought it and the service plan and took it home.
After a while, it started restarting randomly while I was working on it. It only did it once every few weeks so I didn't worry about it too much and just kept a log of each time and date that it did it. I knew that sort of problem was more likely a software problem than hardware so it wouldn't be worth taking in at this point.
Fortunately, I noticed that the screen quality was starting to drop. If I had a spreadsheet up, I couldn't see the gridlines on the bottom part of the screen because it had becomme so washed out.
I waited a few months because I could still use the computer and I knew that it could take several weeks and some effort to get it taken care of. Besides, the longer I waited, the better the replacement machines got.
Anyway, I took it in almost a year after first purchasing it and after three attempts to fix the same problem (they almost never admit defeat and send it back broken hoping you won't notice), I managed to get clearance from the store to replace it.
Since my HP had a screen resolution higher than any model except ones that cost more, I got a refund of my purchase price which after a year bought me a very nice Sony. At the time (this has now changed), they didn't void the warranty on replacement so another year and a half, I sold the computer with six months warranty left on it (they're much easier to sell with a warranty on them).
I bought whichever VCR I could afford and because it was a lower-end brand, it acted up after a few years. I did the normal deal with repairs and eventually got a credit to buy a new one.
By the time I got my replacement, the same money bought one with commercial advance, auto time set, was 4 head instead of 2, and had front jacks for RCA (none none of which my previous one had).
A printer is actually a pretty hard thing to use a warranty on, but this particular model was a display that was being sold for almost $100 less than normal. Besides the great discount, it had a double-sided printer adapter that normally would have cost $90 if ordered separately. To top it off, I was still a retail employee at the time and got HP bonus rebates. In all, I think I spent about $60 for the printer, a cable, and the 3 year service plan.
The key here was the double-sided adaptor. Because it had it's own motor, electronics, and gears, there was a much higher chance that something would go wrong between it and the printer. Sure enough, the printer started crinkling the paper after a few years. After the normal fuss, I got a better model in terms of print quality and speed (though no more double-sided adapter).
HP Digital Camera
Like the printer, I used HP retail rebates to buy this camera with a service plan for only $35. The key here is that because they were rebates and not discounts, the receipt showed that the camera cost $420 (this is important later). This camera had one feature that was only present in high-end cameras and likely to remain so which was optical zoom (also important later).
Over time, I noticed that the sound quality on the video function wasn't very good and made a note of it. I didn't really care, but I wanted something for them to fix when I was ready to get it replaced.
Fortunately, I didn't have to depend on something so small since it started acting sluggish and taking blurry pictures with no color (big time repairs needed!). I took it in and they replaced it, but since it was still under manufacturer warranty, they sent it back to HP who replaced it. Normally, this would void my warranty, but since it was HP and not the store who replaced it, it just counted as a repair.
The replacement camera soon started giving me the same trouble so I sent it in two more times before asking them to replace it per their no-lemon policy. Because of the high optical zoom (that I told you to take note of), they weren't able to give me a camera of equal or lessor value and had to give me credit for the original purchase price of $420 (the price that showed on the receipt as opposed to what I actually paid).
With it, I bought I much nicer Nikon SLR digital that was being sold at discount (display item). Since the plan is 4 years long and covers batteries (the HP used standard AA, but the Nikon has a custom battery pack that is expensive to replace), I bought it on the new camera too.
If you've noticed the trend, I tend to buy high-end, but low quality brands. Low quality brands aren't likely to last for the warranty period without some degraded performance and by picking a product with a feature that's likely to only be available in high-end models even years later (it takes some experience to know what kind of features fit this trend), suitable replacements will always cost them more than just giving me back my purchase price.
Keep in mind that using service plans this way requires that you know their plan and policies as well (if not better) than they do. You have to make sure that you don't let them get away with implementing their plans incorrectly at your loss.