After 20 years at the University of Oregon, I have retired. So, I will begin posting about my new experiences here and hope you find them interesting.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Is product quality just a thing of the past?

 Ever since the contractors that remodeled our bathroom in 2007 stacked my Sears HE washer and dryer, the dryer has quit after tumbling just a few minutes, forcing me to rearrange the clothes to get them more evenly distributed - sometimes every ten minutes for up to three days just to get a single load done.  After four years, I finally had enough and called Sears for a service technician.  (I guess I'm a glutton for punishment!) I suspected it was an issue with the machines not being balanced properly.  So I researched the problem online and found other Sears customers complaining that the stacking kit that came with my model of washer and dryer was not adequate to withstand the vibration that naturally occurs from the agitating washer and tumbling dryer drum and that Sears had developed a better stacking kit.  I mentioned this to the customer service agent but she had no knowledge of this issue and recommended I order (and pay for) a new stacking kit and a set of special rubber vibration pads that the technician would install.  I was quoted $139 minimum just for the service call and any parts needed would be in addition.  The customer service agent cooed about the fact that after I paid the service fee I would then have an additional one year warranty too.  So I asked her what would be the charge without the extended warranty and I was quoted the same price.  Obviously, I was going to pay for that warranty whether I wanted it or not!  Instead of feeling helped, I felt like I was just having extended warranty charges rammed down my throat.

When the stacking kit arrived, my husband said it looked just like the one I already had installed by the remodeling contractors.  Then the Sears technician arrived and he, too, said I didn't need the new stacking kit as it was, indeed, identical to the one I already had, but used the rubber vibration pads and spent quite a bit of time leveling the stacked washer and dryer.  Now, if I'm careful about the size of laundry load, I can actually get a load of clothes dry on the first attempt.  The technician said I could return the unused stacking kit.  He suggested I wait a week, though, to be sure we had the problem resolved.  The next week I called Sears for a return authorization and was told I could return the unused stacking kit but would have to pay the return shipping.

Then the next week my Sears microwave conked out after only about five years of service.  Knowing that the service charge minimum was $139, I just went down and bought another microwave (with larger capacity and a higher power maximum) for $200 (not from Sears).

Then a week after that my Sears oven quit.  I had paid over $2,000 for that range to get the top-of-the-line model which is now only a little over 5 years old.  I was told for $239 I could have the range repaired including parts up to $500 and, of course, I would have a one year extended warranty guaranteeing repairs of up to $500.  If I did not accept the warranty bundle I would have to pay $139 for the minimum service charge plus parts and any labor needed above the $139.  I asked the service rep whatever happened to purchasing appliances that lasted 30 years like we used to do? She didn't know what to say so I asked to talk with a supervisor.  I was subsequently put on eternal hold and gave up after a half hour.  I didn't have much choice but to call Sears back and agree to the $239 service bundle. 

So I went up online and found a website that had a table illustrating the average longevity for the current crop of appliances and was shocked to see that most gas ranges regardless of brand now averaged only 5 - 8 years.  The culprit is the electronic ignitor that has replaced the pilot light to save energy costs.  The ignitor usually burns out between 5 and 8 years.  When the technician arrived to repair my range, I received confirmation that it was the ignitor that went out on my stove.  I asked him whatever happened to appliances that lasted 30 years or more and he just laughed and said those days were long gone.  So, we now pay 10 times as much for appliances that last only 25% as long.  No wonder older people (like me) who remember buying quality products that actually lasted get pissed off!!

Update:  Well, after drying clothes for a couple of weeks it became apparent that the leveling procedure had not fixed my problem after all.  So I called the problem resolution center at Sears to report that I still had the problem.  I told them I was told I had paid for a one year warranty so a return visit should not cost anything.  I was then told that they would send a repairman back out and that he would call me to arrange an appointment time.  Several days later, I received a call from the original repairman telling me that they had asked him to come back out but he was not trained in the electronics my dryer had.  He only performed installation services so I should call back and explain that I needed a repair technician (which I thought I had already made perfectly clear).  When I called back in to the Sears service center I was informed that I had really paid only for an installation not a repair and therefore if I wanted a repairman instead of an installation serviceman, I would have to pay more money.  I argued with the service scheduler who kept insisting I had only paid for an installation (even though my washer and dryer had been installed as a stacked unit since 2007).  After repeatedly trying to explain that I had never requested an installation only a service to fix whatever was keeping my dryer from completing a cycle, I lost my temper totally and finally told him that I didn't give a sh..t what his computer showed, no one installed my washer and dryer on the date of the service.  Then, of course, all I got was a lecture about using profanity.  I finally asked to speak to the warranty department but by the time I waited for 10 minutes on hold, I had become so outraged that when I was asked for my contact information again, I could not do anything but sob.  The warranty service person was quite concerned that I was so upset and escalated the call to a supervisor from the problem resolution center.  The supervisor offered to send a repairmen out for no charge just because of all the problems I had encountered trying to get my dryer fixed.  So I agreed and waited for a call.

The day of the scheduled repair I got a call from the repair technician who asked me if I was prepared to pay for the repair as he was instructed to collect the charges from me.  I told him that I was told by the problem resolution center that the visit was to be at no charge to me.  He called his boss and between the two of them they decided they would not charge me and he came on out and found that the contractors had sprung the door on the dryer when they stacked the units back in 2007 so the door wasn't making proper contact with the door open sensor that shut the dryer off if the door was opened.  He realigned the door hinges and the dryer now works fine.  The whole thing took about 10 minutes to find the problem and adjust the door closure.

While the repairman was at my home, he suggested that I get a maintenance contract on the washer and dryer since both units were 8 years old.  Apparently my original charge of $134.95, which I was told included a one year warranty, was just water under the bridge as far as Sears was concerned.  I was so frustrated at that point I agreed to purchase a contract as long as I received a contract in writing that could not be disputed on a future call.  But, the entire experience has left such a bad taste in my mouth that I would be extremely hesitant to purchase a major appliance from Sears ever again.

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