Take a look around. Chances are, within your line of vision somewhere is something that can be plugged in (or filled with batteries) and turned on, and magically pulls sounds and pictures out of thin air (or off magnetic tape or special discs).

We live in an amazing world of consumer electronics: stereos, compact disc players, videotape recorders, big-screen televisions, tiny-screen televisions, camcorders, radios, tape recorders.

Questions to ask about warranty service:

--When does the warranty expire?But as these products get more sophisticated, they also get trickier to maintain and repair. Which brings up the

questions of warranties, service contracts and repair service.

When you buy any of these consumer electronic products you will probably be offered a service contract or an extended-care warranty. Because of the complexity of these products, do-it-yourself repairs are rarely a good idea. But does that mean locking yourself into a service contract will be beneficial?

Maybe. Maybe not, advises the Electronic Industries Association/Consumer Electronic Group, a trade group of electronics manufacturers, dealers and other associates.

The key is knowing what you are getting, both in terms of warranty and service contract.

Let's start with a few definitions:

A warranty is assurance of product integrity that provides for repair and/or replacement of defective parts for a specified period of time. A manufacturer's warranty is provided as part of the purchase price of new consumer electronic products.

A service contract (sometimes called an extended warranty) provides repair and/or maintenance for a product for a certain length of time. It is sold separately from the product, and is, in fact, a kind of insurance against high repair bills, and may have deductibles. It may or may not cover such things as labor charges, parts or transportation.

A manufacturer's service contract may be for sale when you buy a new product or may be offered to you by mail or telephone just before the new product warranty expires.

Usually, you do not have to decide whether you want the service contract on the day that you buy a new product. Ask the salesperson for time to study the contract before you make up your mind. Walk away from high pressure tactics.

Read the service contract carefully. You may find that:

-It duplicates or overlaps your new product warranty.

-It pays for labor only or parts only.

-It does not pay for every part.

-It limits the number of repairs.

-It does not provide for in-home service.

-The service center is not authorized by the product manufacturer.

-Service center technicians have not been trained to service your brand.

-It will not be honored if you move.

-It is not transferable if you give or sell your product to someone else.

A service contract is a binding contract. You cannot change it after you have purchased it. If you get a bad contract, all you can do it learn from your mistakes.

Weigh the cost of the service contract against maintenance and repair bills you might face later. Watch out for deductibles. If you have to pay an up-front fee for each service call, you may be better off without the contract.

On the other hand, a service contract that does not duplicate warranty coverage and that provides the care and service you want can be beneficial. Generally, the more complex the product, the more you may want to consider

buying a service contract.

Some service contracts are renewable and some are not. That, too, is something you should know before you buy. Since your product is more likely to need service as it gets older, renewability is important. But be sure you find out how much more you will pay for the second and third contract before you buy the first one.

If you choose not to go with a service contract, you should know what to do if problems develop after the warranty expires. When you buy the product, ask the dealer whom to call if problems develop.

The dealer or the manufacturer may refer you to the nearest authorized service center (approved by the manufacturer to service specific products) or factory service center (owned and staffed by the manufacturer).

When you contact a repair center, find out if there is a charge for diagnosis and estimate. Find out if the labor charge is by the hour or a flat rate.

If the technician is making a house call, ask: does the repair person come and inspect the product, if necessary take it away or have it picked up to fix, and return it - all for one fee?

Find out what happens if the product is not repaired right the first time. Will it be repaired free the second time.

When you are face-to-face with the service technician, don't forget to:

-Ask for a written estimate.

-Ask for a claim check.

-Be sure the claim check shows the dealer's name, address and phone number, and name of technician.

-Be sure it describes the product with brand, model and serial numbers.

-Be sure the technician signs it.

-If the product is under warranty, be sure no charge is written on the receipt.

-Always try the serviced product before you leave the service center or the technician leaves your home.

-Be sure the receipt itemizes the work performed.

-Ask about a warranty on repairs.

Warranties and service contracts

--Does it apply to the whole product or just some of its parts?

--Does it cover labor charges?

--Does it cover a house call or do you have to take or send it in for repair?

--Who makes warranty repairs? The dealer? An authorized repair service center?

Questions you should ask before buying a service contract:

--Do I need a service contract on this product?

--How long does it last?

--Does it cover both parts and labor? All parts?

--Is it transferable to second and third owners?

--Is it renewable? What is the renewal cost?

--Does it begin when my product warranty ends so I do not pay twice for coverage?

--How does the service contract coverage differ from new product warranty coverage?

--Is the service contract offered by the product manufacturer, retail dealer or a third party? If a third party, what is known about its record?

--Will the product be serviced at manufacturer authorized service facilities? Where? Or will it be serviced only by the dealer? Or will it be serviced only by the service contract company?

--Does the contract give me any routine maintenance service for the product (especially good for products that need regular service)?

--What if I move?

--How much time (days? weeks? until my new product warranty expires?) do I have to decide if I want a service contract?