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.