Respect for front-load washer goes down the drain

Geoff Meeker
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I first reviewed my Whirlpool Duet washer and dryer combo back in January 2012, when it was brand new. I was impressed with how both units saved energy, cleaned larger loads and operated so quietly.

After just two years of use, this Whirlpool front-loading washer suffered a catastrophic failure.
— Photo by Geoff Meeker/Special to The Telegram

There was a learning curve along the way — we used too much detergent at first, and sometimes the laundry loads were too small — but the machine settled in quite nicely and worked wonderfully.

Until recently, that is. For me, that washer’s credibility has gone right down the drain.

A few months back, the normally quiet washer started making more noise. One of the ways it saves energy is through a superfast drain cycle that spins the drum at a mind-numbing 1200 rotations per minute (rpm). That’s 20 rotations in a second. The centrifugal force drains almost all moisture from the clothes, requiring much less dryer time (where the savings really kick in).

However, the washer suddenly started making loud bumping sounds when it tried to enter the spin cycle, so we shut it down and called the service people.

The appliance comes with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty but the salesperson at Smith’s Furniture — bless his heart — strongly recommended that we get the five-year extended warranty, pointing out that the machine, with its fast-spinning motor and more fragile electronics, was more prone to breakdowns than other appliances.

Here’s how things went down.

I contacted the warranty company, Phoenix AMD, on April 14. It took a few days for the claim to be approved and the service technician showed up on April 19.

The news was not good. The bearing that enables that 1200 rpm spin was gone. We would need a new drum assembly and related equipment. The repair was serious enough that they raised the possibility of replacing it with a new machine — something we were fine with — but a day later they decided to order the parts and perform repairs.

Whatever. Just get it done. The clothes were already piling up.

It’s difficult to make a long story short, because that story was so nerve-wracking and irritating, characterized by back orders, apparent lost shipments, calls to the local repair company, Phoenix AMD and even Whirlpool. Oh, and a lot of waiting, punctuated with numerous trips to the laundromat to keep ourselves in clothes.

It wasn’t until May 20 that the parts arrived and we were able to schedule the technician’s visit. The next day, a full five weeks after making contact with the warranty company, I watched as the repairman started up the washer, stood back and watched it spin. It ran smooth, quiet and with barely a trace of vibration, even at 1200 rpm.

So, putting aside the five-week wait for repairs, I should be happy, right?

Not at all. The machine works fine, at long last. But I was lucky to have purchased the extended warranty — this appliance would have been too expensive to fix without it. I’d be left with a shiny new piece of junk in the basement.

What’s going on, when a washer barely two years old breaks down with problems as serious as this? In April of 2012, I wrote a column about this subject, angered when my newish refrigerator broke and was not repairable. When I asked Facebook friends if they’d had similar experiences, I received a groundswell of responses.

The upshot? We used to expect a 20- to 30-year lifespan from our appliances, but manufacturers have quietly reduced that to five to seven years — sometimes a little more or less. The sad fact is, they just don’t make them like they used to.

I asked the service technician if this was a common problem with Whirlpool. He said it wasn’t limited to one manufacturer — all front-loading washers are having problems — but it’s unusual to see a failure after just two years.

A search online for “Whirlpool reviews” yielded loads of dirty laundry, much of it on the Duet combo (yes, these posts need to be taken with a grain of salt, but a theme did emerge). The problem boils down to this: the front-load washers are a great idea but the technology is not robust enough to endure the rigours of its own high performance.

I sent a message to Whirlpool Canada’s public relations people, explaining my experience and asking how common this situation is. I received a fairly generic reply just before press time that emphasized the company’s commitment to quality and service, but did not address my question specifically.

Have you had an experience with a new appliance that suffered a major failure too soon in its life cycle? If so, please send a message to geoffmeeker(at)bellaliant.net. I’m going to keep following this one.

Geographic location: Phoenix

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Recent comments

  • Nancy
    May 28, 2014 - 10:53

    Last week I sent a four year old Kenmore fridge to the dump. When I called a repairman, he asked the age and commented "Wow, one time we weren't getting these calls until it was at least 10 years old." I have a 38 year old Maytag washer that has survived 8 moves in three provinces and has never had a service call! (Knock on wood!!!) I gave up a 37 year old fridge last year which was running fine. They absolutely don't build them like they used to.

  • Tami Hynes
    May 27, 2014 - 22:41

    Regarding your comment that "front-load washers are a great idea but the technology is not robust enough" ... Are you not aware that front load washers have been used in Europe and in North American landromats for decades? At a university residence in the UK years ago, many students stuffed the front load (and notably smaller) washers and they ran beautifully each and every time. This contradicts your argument that washer performance is due to a lack of robust technology since clearly such technology is established and proven. Rather, it is perhaps washer part quality issues such as bearings inadequate for the larger drum size & laundry loads we have in Canada and the US. Unlike in Europe where washers are in the kitchen and used for frequent smaller loads, we tend to pile up our front loaders with 2 week's worth of jeans. Next time you might want to do a wee bit of research before you make unfounded statements - particularly given that front load washers reduce use of our limited energy and water resources and therefore are in the public interest. As consumers we need to make value versus price-based purchases and leave the "too good to be true" deals on the retailer floor.

  • Lori Long
    May 27, 2014 - 06:34

    I had a 1 year old Maytag propane range that stopped igniting the oven, after fighting with maytag aka whirlpool and bombarding their facebook page did I get any service... after 4 months I finally got it fixed as there are apparently not many propane service providers here in NL , they did cover the cost even tho I no longer had warrenty and guess what.. not a year later I am having the same issue happening again.

  • Rose
    May 27, 2014 - 03:45

    I'm on my second set within the last 10 years. The first washer had to be replaced and they didn't have one that was the same size as the dryer so I had to replace the set. I've had the repairman in twice for my second washer and once for the dryer. I purchased the extended warranty for both sets. The salesman told me that the machines don't last much longer than the life of the warranty.... this he told me when my first washer had to be replaced. Plus my dealings with Whirlpool's service tech were nightmarish. Needless to say no more Whirlpool appliances coming to my house

  • Barbara
    May 26, 2014 - 18:22

    It was interesting reading your article, as my husband was getting ready to truck my 6-year-old Whirlpool Duet "Piece of Junk" to the dump. It gave up the ghost last week because of the same problem you encountered. I have gone back to the top loader, which the sales person said many people are doing, but it definitely isn't a Whirlpool!!!!

  • Bob Thatcher
    May 26, 2014 - 09:27

    We have owned a Whirlpool duet front load washer & dryer for 5 and a half years now and have never had any problems (knock on wood). I bought the extended 5 year warranty but that is up now. We have 4 children and the thing is going almost every day! Maybe we are lucky so far???

    • Thomas
      May 26, 2014 - 12:13

      Even though we have been through a number of dryers due to our own misuse we have had the same Whirlpool washer for 20 years without a single service call. I believe it is a case of they don't make them like they used to.

  • A buyer
    May 26, 2014 - 06:20

    I think the responsibly should be on the seller to stock items with local warranty if possible.We should never have to wait for a part from the US.I also bought a sofa set from Smith,s with a lifetime warranty on the material.I know nothing last a lifetime but when you put an extra couple of thousand onto something then you expect it to be upheld.Again after a few years my sofa started to wear funny.After many calls to the Us,placed on hold,transferred to other departments lots of long distance calls and money later still there was nothing done.Called Smiths sorry nothing we ca do.The way it should go is if you buy something with a warranty the seller is the one that should take care of there business.just like my car if something goes wrong and it's under warranty then they reorder the parts.I don't shop Smiths anymore and I bought most of my furniture there.They were no help with my warranty.