Vol.1, No.12

Comparing popular appliance manufacturers

Comparing popular appliance manufacturers can leave you scratching your head. Here's a little inside advice to help you decide.

A microwave
Photo Credit: Johanna Goodyear
For most consumers, the purchase of a major appliance can be a big investment. The first step for any of us is deciding which features are essential within fiscal limitations, then comparing brands and prices. As a seasoned customer service representative, I've learned that the real differences between any of these products boils down to service after the sale. Here are a few tips to help you make the best decision you can before you plunk down one penny of your hard-earned dough.

Read every word of the warranty before you buy. Make sure you understand every clause. If not, ask your salesperson for clarification. If he or she cannot, or will not, answer your questions to your satisfaction, find another store, even if you must pay a little more. All major appliances manufactured in the United States come with a standard year's warranty, though some are now extending portions of their guarantee, such as parts coverage, to two years on certain models. All of the top brands guarantee integral components against failure for five or more years, such as compressors for refrigerators and freezers, transmissions for washers, etc. Simply take the time to read the fine print, then compare. Consider this--a refrigerator compressor covered for five years that needs replacing after the one-year warranty expires will require the customer pay labor and trip charges to affect the repair. Service calls approaching 150 dollars are not uncommon, the labor extra.

Some consumers may opt for the added security of an extended warranty, also known as an extended service contract, or other variations on the term. In my humble opinion, you're better off going to the manufacturer of your appliance for this type of coverage versus any other plan you may be offered. Most major manufacturers provide this added protection against trouble. You might pay more per year with the manufacturer, but without a doubt, you will receive much better service for your money.

If you decide to purchase an extended warranty from a company other than the manufacturer, and for those of you who already have, my advice is to deal only with the manufacturer for service during the first year. With certain exceptions, extended service contracts for appliances normally do not begin until after the initial warranty expires. Every time you call your plan provider to assist you with service during that first year, there is a distinct possibility the problem you're experiencing with your appliance is being documented for later use as a basis to deny you reimbursement for repair under a pre-existing condition clause. Ask for a detailed breakdown of what's not covered to give you a clearer picture of what benefits you may receive in return for your money. Again, if your salesperson cannot answer your questions, does not go the extra mile to assist you with the answers, don't hesitate--find another retailer.

The last and very best thing the savvy consumer can do is take the time to call the customer service lines of each prospective manufacturer. How long does it take to wade through the automated menus and get a live person on the line? What authority does the person who answers the phone have to resolve issues of service and replacement should your purchase come to that sorry an end. What's their no-lemon policy? In the case of refrigerators and freezers, is there any provision for food loss reimbursement? What about surge protection? Find out how many authorized servicers are in your area. Then pick another time of day and do it all over again.

Customer service might well be your determining factor in which brand to buy. If you should ever encounter a problem, you'll want friendly and helpful service that's easy to contact. Unfortunately, one or two manufacturers don't yet understand their bottom line begins and ends with you, the consumer.