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$499 extended warranty on laptop doesn't pay off

Q: In April 2005, we bought our daughter a $1,600 Toshiba Tablet PC from CompUSA's Niagara Falls Boulevard store as a college graduation gift. Knowing how temperamental and expensive laptops can be to repair, we purchased a 3-year extended warranty for $499.

Upon normal use, the monitor became more difficult to open in the last two months. Finally, while opening the monitor up, its casing started to separate from the back. We brought the laptop to the store and were told the warranty did not cover the casing. We tried to explain that it was the internal monitor controls that were defective, causing the casing to separate.

Everything we said fell on deaf ears, so we left very disgruntled and felt like we made a mistake by buying the extended warranty.

A few days later, we called CompUSA's headquarters. They gave us a number for the district manager and we were instructed to take the laptop to the store. When we brought the laptop back to the store two months ago, we were then told that they weren't taking in any more warranty work because the store is closing.

The next day, we called headquarters again and were told we could request a refund and receive a check within a few weeks. We faxed the request to them, only to receive a form letter in the mail saying that requests in New York State must be made within 21 days of purchase.

We again contacted corporate and they gave us a phone number for depot repair. The repair center told us a prepaid shipping box would arrive within a week. Instead of receiving a box, we received an e-mail saying that the warranty did not cover casings. We had explained to them what we felt caused the problem.

We feel we've exhausted all of our options with CompUSA to honor the extended warranty.

-- Jim McFarland, Lockport.

A: Once again, that sticky issue of expensive extended warranties plays into the big picture as it does in so many consumer purchases. As many people find out, it's imperative to closely read the fine print of the warranties and then carefully weigh whether it's worth buying into one of them. In most cases, it is not.

Unfortunately, without your having a copy of the warranty's terms, we have little to go on other than CompUSA's words. An original manufacturer warranty would have expired by now, also.

CompUSA held firm in its position on your case when we contacted them and referenced a section of the warranty that specifies they're not responsible for "external" product issues.

"It sounds like a manufacturer issue," said Jessica Nunez, a CompUSA spokeswoman. "The extended warranty does not cover cosmetic or structural items. If it's an external issue, it's not covered by warranty because it doesn't affect the internal operation of the computer."

CompUSA contacted you to explain their position, as they told us they would. They then recommended you contact Toshiba USA to see if there has been any recall on any parts of the computer.

We called Toshiba on your behalf. The next day, we received a message from a company spokeswoman saying they would contact you and have you send them the laptop so they could look it over and document its condition. They are sending you a pre-paid box to send the computer back to them.

Hopefully, Toshiba will be able to resolve the problem for you. Stay tuned.

Have a consumer problem? Send a letter summarizing your problem to News Power, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y., 14240. Attention: Karen Robinson. Or e-mail:

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