In need of a crusade to have manufacturers post product repair and warranty records

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I wish that 1,000,000 people could see and respond to this e-mail. I don’t know about you, but I have reached the point where I just don’t trust any appliance or automobile that I purchase to work or last nearly as long as it should before something breaks or the product stops working completely. Premature breakages are the norm. I would like to have access to the information about breakages before I buy a product. Manufacturers have all the statistics, and could easily post them on a clearinghouse website. But as a consumer, I don’t have that information, or at least it isn’t readily accessible. Thus, when I buy the $700 to $1800 stove or refrigerator, or that $25,000+ car or truck, it is impossible for me to evaluate whether the price is reasonable when compared to other similarly priced products taking breakage/repairs into consideration, or whether I should pay another arm and a leg for the extended warranty. I really detest those extended warranties. I resisted them for years. They are very expensive, and they should not be necessary if the product is of good quality. And yet, those darn warranties are everywhere, and I have to admit that I have started to buy them out of necessity. Don’t be fooled by that $500 purchase price--the item now really costs $680 because you have to purchase the extended warranty, or take the gamble that it will work as it should without breakage.

Here are four recent examples:

On our fairly new stove the plastic faceplate that covers the clock, timer and temperature gage cracked, and the clock/thermostat mechanism is not turning on or regulating temperature properly;

On our refrigerator the ice maker stopped working at about the one-year mark;

Our less than one-year old van seemed to hesitate or disengage during acceleration; and

Our cell phones of all makes simply stop working without rhyme or reason for any multitude or reasons.

As I said, the stove is fairly new, so it was under the new plan of purchasing the extended warranty. It will be fixed at “no cost,” saving me approximately $250, but of course I had to first purchase the extended warranty. Since the repair would have cost more than the extended warranty did, you could rationalize that I now have a net gain. However, the product never should have broken at this point, so I am still at a loss. I am happy to have the warranty, but not happy to have had to purchase it. I am now also informed that:

(1) The faceplate crack is a common occurrence resulting from heat coming from the stove (can you imagine that--yes, stoves do produce heat--shouldn‘t that prompt the manufacturer to make a change in materials that are used?), and

(2) The entire clock, timer, thermostat mechanism usually doesn‘t last for more than 5 years anyway. Gee, isn’t that just great for this product in the future!

The refrigerator is over one year old; it was not purchased under the new plan of purchasing the extended warranty (I thought about it, but still was not fully convinced that the extended warranty was a necessity). I am informed that the repair, which shouldn’t be necessary at all, will cost at least $270. This one is an obvious net loss.

The van is over one year old. Previously I owned a small underpowered, four cylinder car with a stick shift from the same manufacturer. It was a fantastic car. No complaints. Very, very begrudgingly, I agreed to purchase the $1800 extended warranty on the van although purchasing the warranty should not be necessary, and my history with manufacturer clearly indicated that the extended warranty most likely would not be used. Well . . . I am still happy with manufacturer, but I am glad to have the warranty for peace of mind for as long as the warranty lasts. We brought the van in, they checked it out, replaced or tweaked a part, and there was no charge (except the $1800 warranty cost upfront, of course).

What can I say about cell phones, cell phone plans, etc. Unreliable, expensive, unnecessarily break or just stop working all the time, manufacturers don‘t stand by their products, and generally speaking, buyer beware because you are on your own. I can count at least seven or more different brands that we have owned. A few of them were good. But the industry as a whole is an unfortunate, unregulated minefield for consumers. I am not big on regulation, but just how Congress could allow this situation to continue is way beyond me. I can only assume that our elected representatives have someone else who handles these problems so they don‘t have to.

So, what, at a minimum, would I like to see happen? Manufacturers should voluntarily or by law be compelled to compile and then post (on the internet) by specific product, model, year and part the information and statistics relating to what breaks or needs repair, when (after what number of years) and how often it breaks or needs repair, and how much the average repair or replacement costs for each part or incident. The result, I think, is that quality products will rise to the top, manufacturers of sub-quality products will improve quality, and customers will either benefit or at least they will be able to make more informed purchasing decisions.

Your thoughts? How about a grassroots movement on this one?

Dave Tate, CPA, Esq.

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