In the not so recent past, if a household appliance was in need of repair, technicians invoked the 50% rule – if a repair cost 50%or more than the cost of a new unit, buy the new one. But these days as the recession deepens, more homeowners and rethinking that advice.
Getting anything repaired, however, can be frustrating. To stay profitable, service companies book multiple appointments on the same day, forcing consumers to sit home and wait for hours. And because it would be impossible for technicians to drive around with every possible replacement part, some repairs require a followup visit that can be subject to the same inconveniences.
Typically manufacturers outsource warranty service to another company, which subcontracts the actual work to a third party. So after contacting the manufacturer, consumers frequently find themselves calling yet another number, and then later, after the service call has been arranged, communicating with a third party — who inevitably seems to have a different idea about when the work will be done and what the warranty covers.
Appliance-repair rage has also driven at least one person, a 42-year-old woman in northern England who says she endured six months of rescheduled appointments and other delays, to hold a repairman hostage until he fixed her washing machine. “I am not proud of what I did,” Tracey Fox told The Daily Telegraph in January, “but it was the only way I was going to get something done.”
After the nightmare comes the bill. Manufacturers intentionally charge a lot for replacement parts as a way of encouraging consumers to buy more products, said Ronald Sawyer, an appliance servicer in Cohoes, N.Y., and a founding member and executive director of the Professional Service Association, an appliance repair industry group. “When manufacturers came up with a machine that retails for $400, that price covers all parts,” he said. “But when it breaks down and you needed a new timer, the timer alone could cost $250. Manufacturers create the technology when they design new machines, they control the manufacturing process, they make the replacement parts, so we’re at the mercy of the manufacturers.”
The complexity of warranties makes matters worse. Years ago, most manufacturers gave warranties of at least two years. Now, however, warranties on most midrange appliances are just one year, say retailers and service providers. Boutique companies like Sub-Zero and Miele typically provide coverage for longer periods.
The best way to avoid the hassle of repair, according to numerous repairmen and Consumer Reports, is to buy the simplest possible appliance. “The more doo-dads, the more stuff you add to an appliance, the more likely it’s going to need a repair,” said Mark Kotkin of Consumer Reports National Research Center. Consumers would also be wise to recognize that the more sophisticated the equipment they purchase, the more complicated — and expensive — the repairs can be.
Still, few products will last as long as those made during the 1960s and 1970s. “The old Maytag washer your grandmother had, she bought that thing and used it for 35, 40 years,” Sawyer said. “It held up like nothing was ever going to go wrong with it. Today, you just don’t get that quality.”
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