In the olden days, when you bought an appliance, it lasted forever.
The hideous Caloric oven that came with my house was forty years old when it finally baked its last challah and went up to that big scrap heap in the sky. My twenty-year-old refrigerator, while not the most energy efficient model, was working just fine when we redid our kitchen and replaced it with a newer model. My old washer and dryer weren’t particularly glamorous looking when we replaced them during the aforementioned home renovation, but you know what? They did their jobs and never once gave me any aggravation.
Okay, maybe I’m waxing a little nostalgic. The older appliances didn’t last forever. But they certainly had a life expectancy that was longer than that of the average firefly, which is more than I can say for today’s models. Call me crazy, but I want appliances that are reliable. I don’t want my oven to tell me what time it is and I don’t need to know the precise temperature inside my refrigerator. I promise you I am a huge fan of computers, but not inside my appliances where they break on a regular basis and drive up the cost of repairs a zillion-fold.
Is anyone else alarmed by the way extended warranties are sold on just about anything and everything? It means one of two things – either someone has found a great way of getting consumers to part with more of their hard earned dollars or manufacturers have no faith in their own products. Neither of those options is particularly heartwarming.
Presumably we have all done our homework when we buy major home appliances and I can tell you that when we recently replaced most of ours at Chez Eller we were confident that with carefully chosen, all new appliances, it would be a long time until we next spent quality time with our favorite repairman.
Our refrigerator broke a few months after we installed it. And that was just the first time.
Given that we were still covered under the manufacturer’s warranty, that repair didn’t cost us anything, although the repairman did manage to leave behind a calling card that we would rather not have had – a gouge mark in one of our new kitchen cabinets. Six weeks later, it died again and this time we insisted on a different service person to fix the problem. Not only didn’t this one damage our house, but unlike the first one, he actually fixed the problem.
It was several months later when the icemaker died and two years until we started having dishwasher problems. Remember how for years we were told not to rinse the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher? Apparently that advice is now passé since newer dishwashers no longer have food choppers. What is the point in having a dishwasher if I have to remove any particles that won’t fit through the mesh screen buried deep inside my dishwasher?
But worse yet was our washing machine. Highly recommended by a local retailer, just one year later, the same saleslady warned my daughter away from that model. From day one, the washer sounded like an airplane taking off in my house but after almost three years it took on a new persona – that of a monster crunching loudly on gravel and clocking in on my decibel meter app at almost 100 decibels. My friendly repairman broke the news to me gently: the machine was notoriously unreliable, structurally defective, about to break and not worth fixing.
Call me crazy. But having to replace both a two and a half year old washing machine and its matching pedestal was just not okay. Despite warnings that it was a lost cause, I called Whirlpool, determined to rattle some cages until someone agreed to fix my washer.
It took several lengthy phone calls for me to work my way up the chain of command, but you’d be surprised how responsive large corporations can be when you tell them you write a consumer column for a newspaper with a circulation in the tens of thousands. A repairman was in my house checking out the problem just days later and once the requisite parts arrived, my newly rebuilt washing machine not only washes clothes, but my house no longer sounds like a JFK runway on laundry day, and the light fixtures no longer shake during the spin cycle. While I’m guessing that most of you don’t have that particular weapon in your arsenal when dealing with problematic appliances, feel free to use any truthful means at your disposal when dealing with large companies that try to minimize bad publicity and avoid class action lawsuits when dealing with appliances that fall well below their usual standards.
Given the planned obsolescence that seems to be incorporated into the design of today’s appliances, the $64,000 question is this: should you buy extended warranties for these big-ticket items? As the jury still seems to be out on this one, I don’t have a solid answer but I do have some suggestions.
1) Before you buy: Check your credit cards to see if any offer some type of additional protection or warranty and if yes, be sure to use that one when purchasing major appliances. Also it goes without saying, buy from reputable manufacturers who have track records of putting out reliable products.
2) Start Googling and see if anyone else is reporting a similar problem. You might get lucky and find out that it is a known problem with a hopefully quick, and inexpensive, fix or that the manufacturer is already dealing with the problem.
3) Shop around for extended warranties. You may find some that are less expensive and offer better coverage than the one being sold by the retailer, although obviously you should only buy coverage from a reliable source. If you do buy an extended warranty in store, ask to see a copy of the contract and find out if it has to be purchased on the spot or if you have a few days leeway before you commit.
4) Read the details of any warranty you are planning to buy very, very carefully and check the fine print so that you know its length and what is and isn’t covered. Is labor and shipping included? House calls? Does the warranty cover full repair and replacement of all components or are there limitations?
5) Make sure that the cost of the warranty is appropriate. Consumer Reports recommends never paying more than 20 percent of the cost of an appliance for an extended warranty.
6) When it comes to purchasing both appliances and extended warranties, feel free to solicit your local repairman for some free advice. Ask him which brands he recommends and which ones you are better off avoiding.
7) Instead of purchasing an extended warranty, set up an extended warranty fund of your own. Either set aside the cost of a warranty you might have purchased or a set amount of money per week so that should the need ever arise, the money for your repair will already be in place.
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