Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Appliance Woes

Do you ever have one of those periods where every appliance in your house starts to break down? I had one of those this month and am just recovering from the bill handed to me by the Sears repair guy for my front loader washing machine. Last month, it was the dishwasher, prior to that, the stove and refrigerator. I remember one of my colleagues muttering to me once about his appliance woes, saying that his strategy is that when the refrigerator breaks and/or needs to be cleaned out, it's time to move. I laughed at the time but I'm starting to see the wisdom of his words. I could really kick myself for not buying the warranty with all of these appliances but I have never had good luck with doing so. It seems like I never use them, there is a deductible that is equivalent to the service charge, or they are just too expensive to make purchasing them worth it.

And it's not just about the money, the time it takes to wait around for the service people is insane. "We'll be there Tuesday between 1 and 5." Great, I love being trapped at home for hours on end. It could be worse, it's often 8 to 5, as if none of us have anything better to do then sit at home all day, hoping that the call is closer to 8 than 5 and knowing that whatever time it is, it will be the most inconvenient, i.e. when you dash out for five minutes at 3:15 to pick up a kid or go to the store. When I lived in NYC, I did my wash in a dirty laundry mat at the end of the street, it was sort of fun, and at least I didn't have to wait for the repairman, just for the next empty washing machine.

Update: Megan McArdle says that warranties are a bad deal for consumers--that makes me feel a little better.



Blogger gs said...

Labels: bitching for the heck of it

First of a series? (Go right ahead. You've paid your dues well in advance, and your credit's good.)

6:17 PM, January 15, 2008  
Blogger jabrwok said...

Speaking of kitchen appliances, can you recommend a good toaster? Mine have all been either too fragile, too small, too erratic, or don't pop the bread up far enough (or some combination of the above).

6:58 PM, January 15, 2008  
Blogger Derve Swanson said...

Helen: I'm kind of surprised that your husband, who seems to enjoy researching, analyzing and comparing so many technology and transportation products, doesn't invest the same time in the household appliances. It seems like he enjoys that sort of thing. Or did the house come furnished with the appliances already?

Jason: Fwiw, I've had a Proctor-Silex 2-slot toaster that has served me pretty well over the past 5 years or so. Wide enough for bagels too, so even thick cuts of bread pop up far enough to reach them with your fingers. Average toaster size so it doesn't take up much room. I got it in white, so it's easy to wipe down the exterior.

You do have to empty the crumb tray underneath every so often, and I tend to give it a good shake every now and then to remove anything that may have caught on the coils.

Maybe check out Consumer Reports for a greater comparison of models though?

7:16 PM, January 15, 2008  
Blogger Will Conway said...

We just got new stuff in my house, but our old washer was terrible.

Also, good point by Mary. (I'm kind of surprised that your husband, who seems to enjoy researching, analyzing and comparing so many technology and transportation products, doesn't invest the same time in the household appliances.)

9:28 PM, January 15, 2008  
Blogger El Duderino said...

My Sears front loader just STB as well. Apparently electronic noise cooks the control module which has been replaced by a newer model that is shielded. What a scam! I was able to do the work myself but oddly enough I took no joy in doing so.

9:28 PM, January 15, 2008  
Blogger tomcal said...

Whatever happened to "Satisfaction Guaranteed, or Your Money Back"?

12:06 AM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger pockosmum said...

Someone (Dave Barry?) wrote once the he just *knows* Sears repairmen hide behind trees outside customer's homes, and ring the doorbell in the only 10-minute window they're not home in the 8-hour waiting period.

2:20 AM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger MikeLM said...

Moved into a remodeled condo four years ago; took only our double wall oven. Everything else, including furnace and A/C new. Were offered an appliance service insurance policy: $450/year covered all service/repairs - but with a $50 deductible for each call.

Instead, we set up a new accoount at our bank and had $40/month automatically transferred from our regular account. We now have a tidy sum available for service.

5:41 AM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...


Funny, yes the first of a series of complaints, I think it would drive most readers quickly from this blog, however! The list is long. It's best I keep it to myself.

Mary etc.,

The laundry is my area so I picked out the appliances, stupidly, I picked out the ones that looked good instead of the ones that actually worked well. I'll do better in picking out the next set.

El Duderindo,

The Sears guy said that the front loaders have a number of problems, mine is leaking water and the belt? broke off --I wish I had your skills but I got basically an F on plumbing and electrical skills on a college aptitude test I took once in that area. If you have a book suggestion or a way to improve my skills, I am open to it.


As far as toasters, I have a Hamilton Beach one that is pretty good, it is here

6:35 AM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger Trudy W Schuett said...

There is actually a valid reason for what seems to be simple arrogance in scheduling repair calls.

There just isn't any way to know ahead of time how long a repair is going to take. Mechanical things have a weird way of causing trouble all on their own, so what might seem to be a 20-minute job can take three hours.

Often the customer can't communicate what the problem is beyond, "It's making a funny noise." Even when the problem is obvious, sometimes the cause can be several things, which the repair person can't know without having a look.

Then there are the customers who want to chat, or can't/won't keep their kids out of the way.

If they tried to schedule appointments in say, hour increments, then they'd never be able to be on time.

6:48 AM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger Pauld said...

I have been surprised by how many appliance repairs I have been able to do myself. I start by posting the problem on the newsgroup alt.home.repair . I've frequently obtained advice there that has made it possible to do the repair myself. I will say, however, that I the electronics in my new front-loading washing machine look pretty daunting and I would be reluctant to open up the machine myself.

7:16 AM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger Michele said...

Had plumbing issues pop up all over my house at one time. The instant-hot went out on the sink, then the pipes were leaking beneath the sink. The toilets wouldn't stop running. Hubby could fix all of it, but it was one of those weeks where he was working late.

I resorted to Feng Shui.

8:07 AM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger Parker Smith said...

I know him.

Good man with a wrench, that Feng!

8:56 AM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger Cham said...

I do all my own installations and repairs as well. That way I know it is either done right or I have only myself to blame. My dryer is old, about every 5 years the belt breaks. I know where to get the belt, I know it will cost $15 and it takes about 30 minutes to change. It beats the heck out of calling a repair man, paying him a huge sum and having to wait for him. It also beats a dryer replacement, getting large objects in and out of my basement is a massive undertaking.

9:16 AM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger DADvocate said...

When buying appliances, autos and many other things, I always check Consumer Reports. I subscribe online. They're not always 100% correct but they're better than anyone else.

Like Cham, I do a lot of my own repairs and maintenance. Saves a bunch of money.

9:29 AM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...


I typically do check Consumer reports but I often find for my purchases, they are often wrong. For example, they listed the car I bought 6 years ago as a real lemon and unreliable. Mine has been great and I have had only one repair in that time.


I think that is one of the reasons to get older machines that one can still understand--one can do their own work. I would have no idea how to fix this washing machine, it has a control panel from hell and even the repair man said he has trouble with them. I am fairly good with things like fax machines and office equipment that I use on a regular basis and understand the manual etc. but this machine is beyond my capacity.

9:38 AM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger DADvocate said...

That's why I say they're not 100% correct although I've never had trouble with a car they recommended. I have bought a couple of pieces of stereo equipment they recommended that I was disappointed with. When it comes to major appliances, I find asking friends or an independent repairman the best reference source.

12:26 PM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger Serket said...

I've heard that those front open washers are more efficient. My mom had to replace a Frigidair range recently, because it would go into hyper-heat mode.

Jason - about 10 years we had a toaster started on fire.

Mary - that sounds like a great toaster: big enough for bagels and it has a crumb tray! I hate smashing bagels so they fit!

Mikelm - It looks like overall you probably aren't saving any money, but it will be easier to handle yourself.

Pockosmum - Since you're a Dave Barry fan, have your kids read the Peter Pan trilogy?

1:04 PM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger Noah Boddie said...

I had a front-load Frigidaire Washer and a Maytag Refrigerator which both went south around the same time. The front-loader has some kind of seal that once broken can't be fixed. Talk about planned obsolescence.

I guess I should have gotten a Frigidaire Refrigerator and a Maytag Washer. Why does a company called Frigidaire even make washing machines? That should have been a tip-off.

By the way, it's called a "laundromat," and yes, they're all filthy for some reason.

2:44 PM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger Sarah said...

I hate it when multiple items of the same type all have problems at the same time -- my sister's Buick decided to start turning itself off at random (and at high speeds!) the same week my Chevy's water pump gave out. Luckily for me, the repairs came to about $500 -- unluckily for her, it's apparently a "loose wire somewhere" and thus a sign that she needs to be in the market for another car. Somewhat creepily, I was driving each car at the moment things fell apart. There's a reason I got the lowest score possible in "auto repair" and "mechanical aptitude" on the ASVAB.

Meanwhile, my parents apparently bought their new "high efficiency" washer/dryer combo based on the looks and the Energy Star rating. I tried telling them that based on my experience with front-loaders and so-called "efficient" appliances in general, the things weren't going to last nearly as long as the washer they were finally replacing (it was 17 years old) and that they'd have to wash our clothes twice a lot more often, but I was insufficiently persuasive.

On the subject of random complaining: it's worked for James Lileks for years; his audience doesn't seem to have shrunk.

2:57 PM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger peterike said...

I've always found the Sears maintenance plans well worth it. There's no per-visit fee and even if you get one repair a year it covers the cost.

The question is, what do you insure? Some things seem to break all the time, other stuff never. Goes for electronics too. Here's my take.

Things that break often and you should insure: refrigerator, washer/dryer, digital camera (went through three cameras once on a single 3 year plan from Best Buy).

Things that seemingly never break and need no insurance: oven/stove, microwave, television, stereo equipment, telephone, blender, food processor, KitchenAid mixer.

Things that are cheap enough to just buy a new one with cooler features when the old one breaks: DVD player, toaster.

For PCs I'm savvy enough to do my own repairs, so I don't include those. Otherwise, I'm not much of an electronics junky, so I don't have that much stuff.

3:03 PM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger king jack said...


You must know that statistically, extended warranties are a bad deal. What you need is a decent, self-employed, local repairperson. Here in Nashville, Dave Kendall has kept uncounted washer/dryers running at very reasonable prices for over 20 years. And I've found honest, dependable people to repair fridges too. The chain "repair" services are all massively overpriced, Sears being worst of all.

Also, I've been meaning to ask you to comment on the recent TV news item I saw about female egg donors. They are well paid and seem none too concerned about later being held financially responsible for their offspring -- a rather different attitude from male sperm donors of late. Wanna talk hypocricy a little?


P.S. If you've already addressed this in a post I missed, sorry.

3:06 PM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger Teresa said...

We have the top loading Fisher Paykel (washer and dryer are both top loads - pretty cool) that we bought when we moved into this house a couple years ago. The fear was that in a limited space for laundry, we wouldn't be able to fit front loaders. Other than the fact that the spin cycle sounds like the thing is going to take off into outer space - I really like them. :-)

Jason - I have a T-Fal Avante toaster - it works great and with the slanted front - plus the lift bar, it's pretty easy to get stuff out after it's toasted.

As for our appliances now - I'm waiting for my stove top to die any day now. Sadly we have an oven that is just terrible. And all of this means (since they are builtins) that we'll have to get LOTS of extra work done on cabinets and counters when they are replaced. Mucho $$$. So we're waiting for that shoe to drop.

It's always something.

3:07 PM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger Emmster said...

We're moving into a new house this Spring and I've been doing quite some research about washers & dryers. I hated the Whirlpool units I bought 2 years ago (front-loaders) based on Consumer Reports recommendations, but was happy with the Kenmore set I'd gotten back in 2000. I'm going with Miele this time. They are supposed to be the best of the best and really aren't that much more expensive. They use very little energy, water, and detergent.

3:15 PM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger JorgXMcKie said...

Our washer/dryer combination came with the house, as did most of the other appliances. Not bad stuff, but aging. We got the seller to buy a 'house warranty' (undoubtedly the $450 item mentioned above). We replaced the garage door opener for $25 (with a much better model) and the garbage disposal with a 1HP model for $25 and upgraded the dishwasher (when it broke) for $25 plus the difference in what they wanted to install and what we wanted ($100 or so as I recall). Then we dropped it.

Since then we've replaced the refrigerator with a much larger, much more energy efficient one and the washer/dryer with a really big front-load washer and an electric dryer. In both cases I researched costs and features and such and chose a couple of brands, etc, then my wife decided which one she liked based on looks, convenience and so on. This has worked out well.

Anyway, a front load washer is one place I can recommend a couple of things: 1) put it on a stand, even if you build it yourself. Being about 9 inches higher is great. 2) make sure it's big enough. The guys I know in the business think many of the problems associated with front loaders is that they can't take the abuse of overloading (or overusing) as much as top loaders can due to design difficulties. So, get at least the next size bigger than your previous washer.

On the up side, it does use a lot less water and a lot less electricity. Some folks have claimed an odor problem (evidently moisture collects around the door seal), but there are cleaning solutions specifically for that, and you can prevent most of it by leaving the washer door open once a week or so for a few hours to let it thoroughly dry out. Since there's no light in the door or mine, it costs nothing except time.

I still do most of the maintenance work on our appliances that doesn't require heavy lifting. Electronics musts frequently be replaced as modules anyway, and it no harder usually than working on your computer.

Having been in a consumer appliance business many years ago, I am certain that 'extended warranties' are profit centers. Nothing wrong with that, but I don't buy anything that doesn't come with a pretty decent warranty to start with. Our refrigerator and washer/dryer both came with 10-year warranties on the hard stuff. Good enough for me, and I'm not paying those inflated prices for extra, unnecessary coverage.

3:16 PM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger Emmster said...

This website has some interesting info on why newer washing machines seem to be so bad: http://www.washerhelp.co.uk/reviews/miele-overview.html. See the section titled "What's wrong with cheaper washing machines?".

3:23 PM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger Waymad said...

Front loaders are brilliant (especially if you sit them on a stand 450mm or so from the floor). We use an Asko (Swedish, expensive but very high build quality) and an Electrolux condensing dryer (no venting needed). Very pleased with both machines. But I do run them both via spike protectors - anything with electronics (and what isn't, these days?) is very susceptible to dirty power.

4:39 PM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger jack-the appliance guy said...

Listen to m c above he knows what he is talking about.
I am an appliance tech in Florida and have been for 30 yrs. Miele is the only company I will do warrenty work for, because they do not have "build in "problems.
I do not sell appliances and work on them all and the ONLY front load washer you should have in your home is the Miele or the Whirlpool Duet.

4:49 PM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger edgelady said...

Helen, I've bought Kenmore appliances for years, gone through a couple frig's (think the latest one is fixing to croak), washers (wondering about this '87 model right now), dryers, and Craftsman riding law mowers (two of those). One thing I've learned: Forget about Sears repair. They're expensive and take forever to get you in the list for repair work.

I've found a local guy to doesn't charge me an arm and a leg and puts up with all my dogs. Plus I quiz him each time he comes about the latest models, which are easiest to repair, etc.

After the last riding lawnmower croaked I skipped Sears and went straight for the John Deere: only way to go!

4:54 PM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger jon spencer said...

This is the best washer made, combines the best of both top and front loaders.
Both american made and consumer serviceable too.

5:19 PM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger ZHID said...

We bought an expensive Kitchenaid dishwasher through Sears about a year and a half ago. It stopped working in the first week of December and the Sears tech guy said it needed two parts. Two months later, our dishwasher is still not working, Sears says the part is backordered and won't do anything else to help us, and Kitchenaid suggests we go to Sears to get the part.

In about a day, I'm going to order another dishwasher from sears, have it installed and then submit the non-functioning dishwasher as payment.

7:11 PM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger BlogDog said...

As far as toasters go, why not just toast bread in the toaster oven? I think you could pretty much fit the largest bagel made into one and then cook the morning's bacon in there as well.
And fridges - my late mother kept a GE model running perfectly for over 30 years by removing the insulation over the coils on back and vacuuming them at least once a week ever after. So I make that a point with the fridge I got when I moved into my place.

8:17 PM, January 16, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

I was at home all day, waiting for the Sears repairman for two pieces of our Pro Form exercise equipment. Okay, I would have been at home all day today, anyway, but I hate that I don't know until the night before whether the person is scheduled to show up between 8 and 12, or 1 and 5, or 8 and 5. This time, it was supposed to be between 1 and 5. At 4:30, I called 1-800-4MYHOME and asked the person to check on the status of the call.

The repairman was on call number 5, and I was number 7. Mind you, I made the appointment last week. The young man who *totally understood my frustration* offered to send a message that I was unhappy and wanting to know when the guy was going to show up. Five minutes later, the call came in: "He's running pretty late and won't be there, today. I can reschedule you for Tuesday, the 29th." Let's see...today is the 16th. And for this sorry excuse for service, we're paying $150, plus any parts. And they already have the money.

I understand Sears is in serious trouble. I think I have a clue as to why.

12:30 AM, January 17, 2008  
Blogger Randy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:59 AM, January 17, 2008  
Blogger Derve Swanson said...

Actually, that was excellent customer service in that they were honest with you, and offered to reschedule.

Read above for the explanation of why you cannot keep appointments when fixing things. Basically, a repair person doesn't know the amount of time each job will entail. Especially if the customer reports only, "It's making a funny noise."

Better they be honest, and spend the time necessary to get the job done, than to "hurry up because the lady from job# 7 is getting impatient."

Again, he sympathized with your frustration, and let you know where you stood in line, then contacted the repairperson who was honest and said, "No way will I get to her today."

Try to think like a repairperson, not a professional officeperson. Fixing takes time -- you get into the job, and only then learn what it is you need to do. Better to be patient and wait -- don't give the schedulers any guff either -- than they hire unexperienced crew to be their more quickly on time, but do a crappy job.

Remember, America needs vocational workers too, no matter what we're told. Maybe less in college and more in trades schools isn't such a bad thing after all...

10:13 AM, January 17, 2008  
Blogger Shawn Levasseur said...

Service contracts, as a rule, are usually not worth it.

The exception: I always get an AppleCare plan for my notebook computers. They've always proven to be worth the investment, as laptops by their portable nature are likely to suffer any number of damages, and are very difficult to maintain yourself.

10:13 AM, January 17, 2008  
Blogger Derve Swanson said...

Last comment directed at Vicki.

10:14 AM, January 17, 2008  
Blogger Serket said...

Why would a service agent say 8 to 5 if they knew you were not the first person on the list?

Teresa: Other than the fact that the spin cycle sounds like the thing is going to take off into outer space - I really like them. :-)

My mom's is a top loader and I don't recall the brand, but every once in a while it becomes really loud and even moves a bit. I think it becomes off-balanced or something.

2:08 PM, January 17, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...


I totally sympathize with you--Sear's behavior is this case is totally ridiculous and unprofessional. Time is often worth more than money (sounds like you were out both!) to many people and feeling trapped while the people taking money from you are taking their merry time and wasting yours is upsetting to say the least. These places should not overbook and /or should call well in advance to let you know what is going on. The guy had no intention of getting to you and just doesn't care. Think how long they would keep you as a customer if you booked appointments, didn't pay and then were not home when they showed up. They would hardly want to do business with you. Part of running a company or service is doing it efficiently, if they can't, they deserve to go out of business or be replaced by someone who can. Part of the problem, I think is that no one wants to do this type of work and therefore demand exceeds supply meaning that they can drag their feet.

3:08 PM, January 17, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From what I understand appliance repair doesn't pay very well. It should. You have to know what you're doing in this day and age to fix one. Everything is run by mini computers.

To get a machine worth 100 bucks, you have to pay 1000 bucks for it.

I remember the old Bell phones made by western electric. Big and bulky, but they lasted a lifetime.In a four phone house, I buy at least one new phone a year now, because they are all crap. No matter what you pay for them.

6:46 PM, January 17, 2008  
Blogger Teresa said...

"My mom's is a top loader and I don't recall the brand, but every once in a while it becomes really loud and even moves a bit. I think it becomes off-balanced or something."

Serket - LOL no, it really does sound that way because it spins so fast. While it's "spinning up" it sounds like a quieter version of a jet engine about to take off. Trust me when it gets out of balance which has happened once or twice... there is no mistaking out of balance for spinning. :-)

11:12 AM, January 18, 2008  
Blogger tomcal said...

Regarding Warranties:

A warranty is simply a type of insurance. In general, a buyer of insurance has the option to do so or to go "naked".

I buy medical insurance because I cannot afford the cost of a catastrophic event. I doubt very much whether Bill Gates or Warren Buffett buy medical insurance because they can afford a catastrophic event, and are therefore able to "self-insure".

I do not buy dental insurance because I have never found a policy where the cost-benefit ratio makes sense to me. I could easily afford any forseeable dental expense and am not willing to pay someone to take that risk for me. My sectretary, however, does buy dental insurance because she is young, has few assets, and a major dental problem could wipe her out.

I do have homeowners insurance and various liability coverages because, like medical, I cannot afford catastrophic losses there.

I do not buy extended warranties for appliances, TV's, or computers because I own many of these things and can easily afford to buy replacements when individual units break. The money I save by not buying extended warranties easily pays for the occasional needed replacements.

If I were a starving college student, on the other hand, and had a laptop computer which I could not afford to replace, and which was necessary for my studies, it would be insured.

Most people are over insured, in my opinion, particularly when it comes to extended warranties. They are hugely profitable to the seller of the warranty and to the salesperson who signs you up.

In general, if you can easily afford a possible loss, you should not pay someone else good money to assume the risk of that loss for you. You will come out far better in the long run.

9:41 PM, January 18, 2008  
Blogger pockosmum said...

My mother ordered a new dishwasher from Sears. When they brought it to the house and wheeled it in, they soon saw it would not fit under her countertop. The took it back without even opening the crate.

A week later she starts getting phone calls from Sears billing department to hurry up and pay for the new dishwasher. She told them it wasn't installed...well she went round and round for nearly 5 months, with Sears eventually turning her over to a collection agency, simply because the people who received the dishwasher back at Sears' supply warehouse never filed the return paperwork. Mom finally called and found the driver who took it back, she had him straighten it out. I hope this was an isolated incident, but I hear that Sears has a lot of customer service problems lately.

serket, no I haven't read them. Are they good?

7:34 PM, January 19, 2008  
Blogger MikeO said...

that is what you get with new appliances everyone wants the glitz of a new appliance that ends up lasting 1-5 years max when the older stuff last 20-30 years and whats even more funny is those that own the 20-30 year old microwave dont spend 50$ to repair it...wouldnt u think that if it broke down once in 20-30 years that its telling you its quality ? just realise this that those new appliance built in china or malaysia they r built for as little as possible and sold for as much as possible..the companies r trying to extend as much profit as possible

9:00 AM, July 24, 2008  
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