Is AppleCare worth it for your MacBook?

Wondering if the extra $249 - $349 for AppleCare is worth it for your MacBook? Here's my take

I've had my 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro for about a year and three months; three months longer than the standard Apple warranty. So when it started to develop problems with the trackpad recently, I was doubly grateful that AppleCare was part of the original purchase.

MacBooks are great, but at least in my house, they get used and moved around a lot. I take them outside constantly — with me to appointments, to meetings, to Starbucks. And things wear down, just in general. And as long as it's not user-inflicted damage or what Apple considers a "wearable" part (like a battery, for example), AppleCare can be very useful to get stuff fixed.

Well loved

A few weeks ago my MacBook Pro developed a problem: The trackpad stopped working correctly. Sometimes I couldn't press the trackpad button. Other times if I held the MacBook Pro by the right side, it would cause the button to depress. There were no obvious signs of damage — the case was straight, I hadn't dumped a soda on the keyboard or anything.

But I use my MacBook Pro. I use it a lot. Enough that I'd etched straight through the lettering of the A and the S keys on the keyboard (some other keys showed signs of wear, too, but none as bad as those).

Fortunately, that's exactly the sort of thing that AppleCare covers. And cover it did. In order to fix the trackpad, the entire top case had to be replaced. Coincidentally, that took care of my etched keys and gave me a new battery to boot (they're all part of one integrated part).

Apple's design of MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros has gotten slimmer and lighter over the years. Their design has also gotten markedly more complex over the years, making it harder and harder for even experienced Mac owners like me to get inside and actually do anything to them.

While I lament a little the reduced DIY access for these machines, I'd argue that the same phenomenon is another reason to consider getting AppleCare for a new Mac laptop. Between parts and labor, you'll make your money back on the first repair.

That is, assuming you have a first repair. I'll be the first to admit that my experience is purely anecdotal. Not everyone who buys AppleCare ends up using it (that's the risk you run buying any sort of insurance — that you're paying for something you may never actually need).

Not for everyone

I don't always get AppleCare on my new Apple gear. I didn't get it for most of the desktop Macs I've purchased over the years (a Mac Pro, an iMac, a couple of Mac minis), and I haven't really regretted skipping it on those systems. Though I did for one system — my older son's — and I'm glad I did, because we had to use it (not through any fault of his — it had a bum hard drive). I've been an iPhone owner since 2007 but I never got AppleCare Plus for one until I got my iPhone 5S last fall. And I haven't needed to use it. Just figured better safe than sorry.

But for laptops I consider AppleCare an essential purchase. That's partly because of how I use my Macs. My laptops are daily drivers — they're the machines I use for work, all the time. I can't afford to be without one for very long, so having a bit of extra insurance guarantees me that if my laptop breaks, I can get it fixed without too much headache or without having to shell out too much cash.

Of course, I'm an American, which factors into my decision too. I'm aware that consumer protection laws vary widely from country to country, and at least some of the benefit of AppleCare may be superfluous if the consumer protection laws in your country are stronger than mine. You may also be able to use other insurance coverage like some credit card companies offer to extend coverage on your Mac.

Support from Apple

There's another, often overlooked aspect to AppleCare that's tremendously helpful: Apple's toll-free tech support. AppleCare doesn't just extend out the warranty of your Mac from 12 to 36 months. It also extends out the amount of toll-free tech support you get from Apple from 90 days from the original purchase date to three years.

I've used Macs since 1985; I've written about the professionally for 15 years. I still have reason to call AppleCare for help every so often. I did just a month ago because I started running into a software problem that I couldn't make sense of.

AppleCare's support staff are really smart and on the ball, and they're not afraid to escalate calls to senior staff when they don't know the answers or can't help. They did finally sort the problem I was having. But if I hadn't had AppleCare, I would have had to pay an incident fee for the privilege.

The Bottom Line

You should decide for yourself whether AppleCare is worth it to you or not, and you certainly aren't in any rush — Apple gives you until the one-year anniversary of your purchase to get it.

But that first year can lull you into a false sense of security about how well your Mac is working, and it's easy to let the date slip by, only to find out you really could have used it a few months down the road. That's why I almost always get AppleCare when I get my Mac — that way, I don't have to thin about it after the fact.

What about you? Do you factor AppleCare into the purchase of a new Mac? Or do you think it's a waste of money?