After my recent columns about shoddy appliances, the feedback kept coming in. There’s been so much that I could easily compose another column or two, but today I will focus on a startling admission from Sears, about how appliances just don’t last the way they should, plus a new issue with extended warranties.
After reading my column, Phil Kirby wrote about his own experience with Sears Kenmore appliances.
“I bought a fridge, stove, dishwasher and microwave from Sears about five years ago,” Kirby wrote. “The dishwasher had some minor problems, the microwave is OK but the fridge and stove are definitely poor quality. I contacted Sears about the problem — the response is included at the end my email.”
Kirby went into detail about the minor and major issues that plagued his appliances — it has a telling ring of familiarity to it — but most telling is the response he received from Kristine at Sears Home Services, who wrote:
“I am sorry to hear that you are experiencing repair issues with your appliances. As a consumer myself, I can understand how these issues would become very frustrating for you. … However, the appliances that are manufactured now only have a life expectancy of about 10 years, as these products are not made like they used to be. This is just not with Kenmore; all manufacturers only provide a 10-year life expectancy on major appliances. And this is why Sears does recommend to our customers to purchase extended warranties to cover these unexpected repair costs. … I sincerely apologize, but at this point Sears will not be covering any repair costs or be providing you with replacement appliances as, again, neither item is covered under warranty. Thank you and Merry Christmas to you and your Family.”
In case there was any doubt about deteriorating appliance quality, you now have it directly from a manufacturer’s mouth, from a brand that once was regarded as solid and reliable. And if they freely admit to 10 years being the maximum life, what is the actual number? Based on feedback I’ve received, more like five to seven years — or less.
And what about those extended warranties? I say, tread carefully here as well. I have no regrets about the extra coverage I purchased on my Whirlpool washer and dryer combo — without it, my laundry room would be cluttered right now with an expensive piece of trash — but not all extended warranties are the same.
More than ever, you have to read the fine print and ask some pointed questions.
Last week, an acquaintance of mine vented on Facebook about the extended warranty he purchased on his Sears appliance.
“Three years ago I bought a dishwasher from Sears,” Shane Kelly said.
I like Kenmore appliances and they have always held up well, so I refused the maintenance agreement at the point of sale. A few weeks later, I was contacted and offered the agreement again and was told if I did not have any service calls I would get a refund for the full amount. I figured, well, that's pretty reasonable … so I said yes. … Three years go by, no service calls and I call Sears looking for my refund. I am told it is not a refund, but store credit. Fine, I figure I'll buy some tools.
“Except I'm told I have to apply it to a purchase that is at least twice the value of my credit in one transaction. And the credit cannot be used to purchase electronics, Sears home services, Sears travel, anything on Sears.ca or purchases through the Sears catalog. I protest and am told it is all in my contract. Yes, the fine print is there if you read the whole thing looking for said information, but that is not how it was sold to me at all! So I have to spend another $140 to get the worth of my $140 coupon. Oh, one more thing: it expires 90 days from the end of the maintenance agreement, which means seven weeks from today.”
Kelly is correct to be ticked off about that. The description of a “full refund” at point of sale bears absolutely no resemblance to the fine print they throw in your face at redemption time. It may be legal, but it is deceptive and unethical. (Incidentally, a quick Internet search reveals that Shane Kelly is not alone in his frustration over this particular warranty.)
It is time for governments to take a good hard look at how such products are sold and to develop legislation that requires a concise description of the key details up front.
More than anything, we consumers need to keep voicing our anger about the junk to which manufacturers are willing to affix their once-respectable names.
Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at www.thetelegram.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.