Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Rant: Through the Wringer

You'd better know right off the top--this rant is going to reveal my age. Time was, major appliances were something you forked out money for and then lived with for years and years. In our house in Washington, DC, we inherited an old clunker Kenmore (actually manufactured by Whirlpool) clothes washer. By the time we sold the house and returned to a colder climate, the machine was 35 years old. During our ownership, it needed one minor repair. I purchased the part and installed it myself for almost nothing.
It seems that the appliance companies have now entered a New Age. They want us to replace major appliances in the same way tech companies force us to replace tech devices (as I was finally forced to replace a mobile phone when the hardware would no longer support the software). The way appliance companies are doing this is via that old trick, built-in obsolescence. About 18 months ago, we replaced a wonky Maytag clothes washer with a GE washer. I wanted an old-fashioned top-loader for a bunch of reasons: 1) the lid on these doesn't lock as it does in high-efficiency machines, thus allowing one to manipulate the load in various ways while the cycle is in progress--useful for anyone who works with wool; 2) high-efficiency machines have cycles that take forever--hours in most cases; 3) high-efficiency machines, in my experience, are harder on one's clothes--all that motion in so little water means that the garments rub up against each other more than in a traditional washer; 4) since even traditional machines allow one to control the water level, it's possible to exercise restraint in one's water use; and 5) THIS IS THE IMPORTANT BIT--the soak cycle in traditional machines allows for soaking WITHOUT ANY MOVEMENT AT ALL. With high efficiency machines, front or top loading, there is always some slight movement of the load, and it is just enough to felt pure wool. I write from experience, unfortunately. I like to soak my sweaters in the machine, then spin them before laying them flat to dry. It's so much easier that the bathtub routine, with dripping towels and water-sodden wool.
Back to the story. Our 18-month-old washer broke down last week. It broke down in a most fundamental way, requiring over $400 in new parts. Labour would be on top of that. The warranty ended at 12 months. As a former lawyer, and someone who follows consumer law, I had decided not to purchase an extended warranty. Historically, these did not pay off. It seems that nowdays, they might, given the short lifespan of today's appliances. In any event, our machine was not covered. I called GE, and after 10 days of getting the runaround, and after calls to the US, Mexico, and Canada, finally was offered half off the cost of the parts.
What to do? Should I take up the offer and pay $200 + labour (which was going to amount to several hundreds more, given that an entire transmission needed to be installed), or try something else. I opted for the latter course. First, I decided against dealing any further with the local company that sold me the washer. It specializes in sales to high-end customers and while it does service the machines it sells, clearly the company is dedicated more to selling than repairing. Instead, I did some research on alternatives and located a company on the semi-rural fringe of Kingston that sells washers, including heavy-duty commercial machines, but specializes in repairs. They are geared to a lower-income clientele and also sell "re-built" machines. I chatted up the sales/repair staff, and they took me in back to have a look at an old Whirlpool they were working on. This is the same style of machine I had back in DC. Joy! It's going to be delivered later this week. And it comes with another 12-month warranty, but I won't need it--I'm almost certain.