Every Mac sold new is offered with AppleCare, Apple’s extended warranty cover which lasts three years from the date of the Mac’s purchase. If you’re offered a new Mac without AppleCare, that should raise your suspicions that the Mac has been sourced unofficially, through ‘grey’ channels.
Most purchasers who take out AppleCare do so as part of their initial purchase of that Mac. But for Macs, you can purchase AppleCare for any model up to one year after its initial purchase date: this is different from iOS devices, where you must buy AppleCare within three months of initial purchase.
Apple claims that the advantage of taking out AppleCare from the start (or, at least, within the first three months) is that it ensures that you have full phone support throughout the three years. Officially, if you don’t have AppleCare, phone support stops after three months. In practice Apple is much more flexible than that.
So if you want to defer part of the cost of purchasing a Mac for up to a year, but still want AppleCare cover, you can postpone purchasing AppleCare until later in the first year after purchase. The snag is that it then becomes more complex: you should be able to purchase AppleCare through a series of links from the About This Mac dialog, but at present these eventually take you to a completely blank page, and do not work. You can buy AppleCare as an accessory from an Apple store (including the online store), but you will then have to register that against your Mac serial number to activate it, which can also get a bit messy.
If you want to buy AppleCare through the About This Mac dialog sequence of links, the only solution at the moment is to contact Apple support, explain that the links don’t work, and ask to be put through to the team who can deal with the support agreement process (which is the bit that is currently broken). They will take details of your Mac’s serial number and your email address, and send you a message with a link which does work and completes the purchase. It is probably simpler just to take AppleCare out when you buy the Mac new!
What AppleCare offers
Statutory consumer protection varies according to where you live, and how you purchase your Mac. Currently, in the UK and the rest of the EU, Apple recognises that it provides one year of full warranty on each new Mac. The only additional cover which AppleCare provides during that year is phone support for your general macOS and other questions.
Consumer protection law in the UK (at least) requires the vendor – which will be Apple if you purchase direct – to provide two years of full warranty for consumer electrical and electronic goods (something which may change if and when the UK leaves the EU, of course). In practice Apple respects that, particularly when it comes to faults which are clearly manufacturing defects, etc.
The snag with UK law is that it applies to consumers, and not normally to businesses. If you purchase your Mac as a business, you may have to fall back on the purchase contract. I have never heard of Apple treating business purchases any different from consumer ones.
So for the second year after purchase, AppleCare provides certainty over getting repairs and support, where under consumer law you might have to be more forceful in exercising your legal rights. For the third year, consumer law gets more grey: if you can prove that the Mac was defective and therefore not worth the purchase price, you have a right to repair or redress. AppleCare spares you any such difficulties, and guarantees that you’ll get full repair and service.
Except that legal cover and AppleCare only apply where you have maintained the Mac in good condition. If it has been dropped, used in a dirty or smoky environment, or otherwise abused or neglected, you will have compromised your legal rights, and Apple may decline to pay for any necessary repair. If you do need to return your Mac for any sort of service, it is therefore important that you take steps to prepare it, which should minimise any risk of Apple trying to make you pay. Also note that its internal storage may well be erased completely: you must back it up fully if you can before sending a Mac for repair.
In practice, Apple is normally generous in its approach to Macs covered by AppleCare, and for three years you should have peace of mind that you are most unlikely to have to pay for any hardware repairs to your Mac. Unlike AppleCare+ for iOS, it does not contain a general insurance element, so if your Mac gets dropped, crushed, struck by lighting, or burned to a cinder, Apple won’t replace it for free.
Inevitably, AppleCare only covers Apple products. If you buy a build-to-order Mac from Apple, it covers all the memory and storage options; if you put your own memory or storage in, that is not covered by AppleCare. If in installing additional or replacement items you do anything which might damage your Mac, that can invalidate your AppleCare cover, and of course if you open its case up and start remodelling its innards with a soldering iron, you cannot expect Apple to make good any damage. Indeed, such actions would invalidate your AppleCare cover and protection under consumer law.
AppleCare also operates throughout the world. If your Mac dies when you are away working overseas, you will get the same local support as you would at home.
You can transfer existing AppleCare (or AppleCare+) cover to the new owner of your Mac (or iOS device) if you sell it or give it away during the period of cover: Apple explains how to do that here. That article also explains how you can transfer your cover to a new Mac, if you prefer.
What AppleCare does not cover
Most importantly, AppleCare does not provide you with a replacement Mac when yours has to go for repair, nor does it provide express on-site service. If you cannot afford to be without a Mac during repair, you will need to pay for a different service plan, such as AppleCare for Enterprise, or AppleCare Premium Service and Support. These are detailed in Apple’s Legal section, on the Sales & Support page – for the UK, here.
For most of us, retaining an older Mac, or a laptop as well as a desktop, gives us that cover.
What AppleCare costs
AppleCare is sold at five different prices, according to the Mac being covered. These range (in the UK) from £79 for a Mac mini to £329 for a MacBook Pro 15″. To keep this simple, Apple does not vary the cost according to the specification of the Mac being covered: a basic iMac costing £1049 costs £159, which is the same as an iMac of higher spec, costing £2249 or more.
AppleCare is thus relatively expensive for cheaper models in each price category, and relatively cheap for the top of the range: for iMacs, AppleCare is 15% of purchase price for the most basic, but falls to 7% of the cost of the more sophisticated.
Laptops, particularly the MacBook Air and MacBook, are relatively expensive to cover with AppleCare: for basic models, you will pay 24% or 18% of their purchase price, respectively. It is currently proportionately cheaper for MacBook Pro 15″ models, where it is 14% or less. Relative to initial cost, AppleCare is cheapest of all for the Mac Pro, where it is 8% or less of purchase price. That probably reflects the design and build quality.
All AppleCare prices are significantly cheaper than the cost of a single major repair, such as replacement of the motherboard/logicboard/main system board. By and large, cover will have paid for itself if your Mac has one or more significant problems requiring hardware repair during the three years of cover. It is also important to remember that AppleCare covers as many repairs as might be required: if that amounts to a new graphics adaptor and a motherboard, you have saved yourself a lot.
Sometimes Apple recognises that specific products or components have inherently poor maintenance records, and provides free warranty extensions to all owners. This has affected graphics adaptors in several different models, certain hard drives in iMacs, and more. Apple lists those current on its Exchange and Repair Extension Programs page.
These are usually time-limited, but Apple is often very flexible. If a particular programme has expired, it is always worth talking to Apple Support, or to the local Genius Bar, as they will often arrange free repair still.
Apple has built much of its reputation on customer care. Its after-sales service and support is usually unstinting, and among the best. When you pay for AppleCare, you buy into that, and in my experience Apple will do everything it reasonably can to ensure that you are kept happy. It is usually money well spent.