Sunday, October 14, 2007

A broken Washer

This is a long story, feel free to just cut to the end.

A little over a year ago, we bought one of Sears top-of-the-line washing machines (the Kenmore Elite Oasis Canyon) for several reasons including that it was EnergyStar compliant while also being very large (so we could do our laundry in less loads while saving energy).

We really like the washer. It does a great job on our clothes, does it quickly, and does lots and lots of clothes at the same time, while also being very efficient at doing small loads.

However, we didn't like the fact that the thing just up and died mid-load with no sign of life in it. None of the lights were lit, none of the buttons did anything. On top of that, the lid was locked and there was nothing I could do to unlock it, so our clothes were stuck in there. Power cycling it did nothing (though I was able to use a meter to verify that it was not only getting power, but also consuming some small amount of wattage). Just in case you're wondering, no, the there was no surge on the line as the weather was clear (we're in the middle of a drought) and I have UPSs all over the house which beep like crazy for any power line problems -- none of that happened, so I'm pretty convinced it was not a surge.

Of course, the warranty was over (1 year) and, given that it was a top-of-the-line system I thought it wouldn't be necessary to buy the extended warranty (especially since they almost always are a waste of money). So the repair was going to be on us.

We called Sears Home Repair and they couldn't schedule someone to come out and fix the washer for 2 weeks. When he did get here, he determined that the electronics module behind the console was bad, ordered a replacement and scheduled someone to come out and install it (another 2 weeks later). This at a cost of $346.77.

The part came in a few days and since I didn't want to wait another week to get a working washer (we had already been to the public laundromat once) I tried to install it (something not all that unexpected if you read my blog). However, the cover over the board was screwed down with 3 screws and had 2 locking tabs. I was unable to get the locking tabs to release no matter what I did. I gave up and decided to wait for the repair guy to show up.

This past Thursday he shows and he had the same problem with the tabs and ended up cutting them off. After installing the board, the washer was still dead. He then said that the problem was most likely the main electronics unit (motherboard to the rest of us) and ordered one with "Emergency" delivery and scheduled a return visit the following week. He also noted that the replacement board was a different part and therefore they probably had fixed something in there. This at an additional cost of just under $300, bringing the total to $625.25. Needless to say I was NOT happy.

I poked around on the web and on Sears own site, found several people who had complained about this same exact failure just after the warranty expired. It seems like this was more of a general problem than a unique failure.

Armed with all of this information, I called customer relations and after about 40 minutes on the phone I was asked if they could call me back. I was hesitant because I was afraid of not getting a call and having to start over, but I went along with them. About an hour later, she called back and said that she had found that the electronics were covered by a 2 year warranty and the repair would cost us nothing (and she arranged for a refund of the initial charge on the first visit).

The part came in on Friday and since I didn't want to wait another week for a working washer, I decided to install it myself. This was a bit more complicated than the first board as it had many wires running about, but I took a few pictures so I could verify where all the wires should be and off I went. After about 15 minutes, the module was in, the washer was all back together and magic, I had a working washing machine. Of course, I was again proud of myself for doing the repair (though it was much easier than when I replaced the LCD on my camera).

One thing I did note once I had the washer working again: when I do a load a bleach load of whites on hot, steam comes out around the lid of the washer. Some of this steam could leak into the area with the electronics if the seals aren't tight enough. It was a similar load/settings on the washer when it died.

Things to learn from this

  • The squeaky wheel definitely gets the oil. It was only after calling and talking to 3 people at customer relations did I get to someone who magically said "oh, that should be covered by warranty". I do have to admit that I can't find any such warranty statement with the documents for my washer, but I'm happy to get the part fixed.
  • I was amazed about how little trouble-shooting was done on the phone prior to rolling a truck. Dell is a pretty good example for how to do this right, they will work quite well over the phone to figure out the exact problem to save a truck roll if possible. A little diagnosis over the phone and they would have known that the problem was with the electronics and could have sent the parts so that the unit would have been fixed the first time (note that Dell will even let you install the parts if you feel comfortable doing so -- which I've done several times for keyboards and such stuff).
  • Sears definitely has a problem with the electronics module for this unit. When something like that happens to a car, they do a recall, or they do a proactive warranty extension to keep their customers happy. Sears doesn't appear to be doing this and that's problematic given that they risk loosing a customer who is buying their top-of-the-line (probably widest margin) goods.
  • The lid-lock should release when power is removed from the machine. Having it stay locked like that meant that we were unable to remove our clothes from it until the repair guy came and took the machine apart (and the lid was still locked when he was done, but we did get our clothes out).

Update (10/21/07) - apparently things were not as well worked out as they appeared. The service guy still tried to come out to my house for the installation of the part even after I had twice called to tell them that I had installed the part and they had said something to the effect of "Cool, then no need for us to come out. I'll cancel the service call". The service guy said he still had to come out to collect payment. I told him that customer relations had said that this was a warranty repair as the electronics were warrantied for 2 years. He went off the check on this and called me back about a half our later saying that that was a parts-only warranty and that since I had installed it myself that voided the warranty and that I would have to pay both for the service call and the parts. I told them to give it a shot, but that there was no way in hell I was going to pay for this work. We'll see how this works out.

What I can't understand is how Sears is showing that they have no interest whatsoever in smoothing things over with a customer who has routinely purchased their top-of-the-line appliances. Ruining a relatitonship like that over $65 or so just doesn't make sense to me, but that's what they appear to want to do.

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1 comment:

Jeremy said...

You had better luck than I did with Sears. I bought one of those overpriced extended warranties on my dishwasher, and Sears refused to honor it! They said that I had "abused" (their word) the machine by not scraping the dishes (even though the manual explicitly says in 3 places it's not necessary), and therefore the extended warranty didn't cover the repair. I tried phone calls and writing a letter to the EVP of customer service, and got no where. I wouldn't buy appliances from Sears again.