Respect for front-load washer goes down the drain

Published on May 26, 2014
After just two years of use, this Whirlpool front-loading washer suffered a catastrophic failure.
— Photo by Geoff Meeker/Special to The Telegram

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.

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.