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Tech 101 | Do It

Know the Return Policy Before You Open the Box

March 22, 2001|JEFF LEVY |

When you buy a house, your transaction goes through an escrow company, and a title company does a search to make sure the seller has legal title to the property. But most people don't do much research when they buy a new computer. That could mean big trouble if the box starts having problems.

The most important thing to know about where you buy your PC is the company's return-and-replacement policy. A 30-day money-back guarantee with no questions asked is your best bet. Most PC sellers let you return a bad system within 30 days. But it might be difficult, so be patient and be persistent.

The company probably will ask you to attempt to fix a problem by telephone with a tech-support person. If your tech-support phone calls stretch out over several days, be careful not to let that vital 30-day period lapse.

If you buy a computer from an Internet vendor, you'll probably have to deal with the manufacturer if the system goes bad. You'll want to know whether the manufacturer is exempt from the Web site's standard return-and-exchange policy. Find out who pays the shipping in case the system has to go back. Insist that the computer maker pay shipping at least one way.

If you purchase a computer from a major computer store such as CompUSA or Office Depot, you might be looking at a 14-day return-and-exchange policy. Some stores require you to pay a restocking fee of 15% or more once you have opened the original box the computer was shipped in.

Of course, you won't know there is a problem with your new system until you open the box, set it up and turn it on. So why is it so difficult to return or replace a bad computer system? Computers tend to become obsolete fast. In addition, computer makers don't want to take back a PC unless it's really defective--and not just acting up because you installed software the company won't support.

There are several steps you should take to protect yourself in case you get a defective system.

First, keep the boxes and the packing material for at least the first 30 days. If you have to ship the computer or monitor back, do so in the original box. Otherwise, you run the risk that the vendor will refuse to accept the package and send it back to you.

Next, document everything in writing. If a problem develops during that critical 30-day period, make a written note of it. Every time you call regarding any problems with the new system, ask for the name of the person you speak with, that person's job title and a phone number and extension in case you have to call back.

The essentials: Know in advance the vendor's return, exchange and restocking-fee policies. If you buy from a retail store, get it in writing. If from an online seller, print out the pages detailing the vendor's policies. And then be persistent and insist they honor the policy.


Jeff Levy hosts the "On Computers" radio talk show from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on KFI-AM (640).

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