Risky business

Risky business

Will escalating costs drive third-party plans?
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Jun 01, 2006

Saturday morning, Springfield, USA



Dr. Marty Malone briskly walked between the array of SUVs and onto the sidewalk. He then looked up at the short parade of young people exiting the electronics store. He smiled a bit and slipped inside. He quickly glided past the obligatory greeters and peered at the signs from the ceiling. Marty saw the blue sign hanging near the back of the store. It read: "Computers and Laptops". His pulse quickened in anticipation. Saliva moved freely.

Marty's own laptop crashed a few days ago. Since then, when not seeing patients alongside his partner Dr. Sandra Ashton in their growing small animal practice, he was thinking of little else other than purchasing the "latest and greatest" iteration offered by the computer industry.

He eyeballed the line of analytical super engines beckoning with video graphics swirling away in a manner suggestive of a late-evening walk in the old part of Las Vegas. It was pitiful how these machines seemed to mesmerize customers milling along in an altered reality that only computers seem to impart. Marty was no different. Armed with a copy of Consumer Reports and vague recommendations from friends and well-meaning geeks masquerading as sales staff at the store, he soon found his ideal computer.

A few short minutes later, a box appeared. It had the usual English titling in large fonts along with a significant amount of Japanese cryptography in predictable places. Marty's salivary glands were by now somewhat exhausted. With his stomach seeming to be within the vicinity of his voice box, he clamored with suppressed glee to the checkout counter.

The salesperson searched frantically for the bar code at the counter. After a few minutes, she finally found it "hiding" on top of the box. Marty impatiently moved his feet back and forth preparing to dash from the store. Taking no notice, she methodically explained the rebate program and the in-store promos and several other convoluted issues. She finally said, "Mr. Malone would you like to purchase our 'super-duper' extended warrantee, which virtually guarantees that we will fix your computer for another 36 months past the manufacturers warrantee of one year."

Marty knew what this meant. It meant that the store clerk was eyeing the few extra bucks if he bit on dropping the extra dough that would easily be loaded onto his credit card. He thought about it a few moments. The warranted was an extra $180, and he already was over budget on this little beauty.

In exasperation at the crazy decisions that seem to dominate his life, he simply blurted out that he wasn't interested. He would simply take the risk.

Meanwhile across town

Dr. Sandra Ashton looked down at the paperwork. Randy Johnson waited on the other side of the small desk in the dealership. Sandra noted a small memento. It was a second-place trophy given for a gold scramble in 1999. On the wall was a picture of Randy, his girlfriend at the time and a local senator, all looking like lifelong buddies. Sandra thought to herself that Randy had likely waited in line to have the snapshot taken. She bit her lip and tried to remind herself not to be so cynical. It was a defense mechanism built up over the years having to deal with salespeople and a spattering of devious veterinary clients.

Randy coughed.

Sandra examined the pile. Among the tax documents, trade-in allowance documents and various waivers and other mind-boggling minutia was an agreement for a warrantee extension that started with the totally unoriginal title of "bumper-to-bumper 60-month extension plan". This plan was another $2,700 layer of icing added to the fabulous package already put together by Randy and his sales boss near the Pepsi machine on the other side of Randy's cubicle.

"Doesn't the car come with some sort of warrantee already?" Sandra pleaded to no one in particular.