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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Extended warranties. Worth it? Or worthless?

I had a bad experience with Sears last week.

Our Kenmore refrigerator was failing to make ice. I got on the phone to Sears and easily navigated their automated system, which promised to send a technician to my house within 2 days. The night before the repair, we received an automated reminder from Sears. The following morning, the technician called 30 minutes before his expected arrival, arrived on time, had the parts to put my ice maker back to work, and had it fixed in a jiffy.

While he was here, he witnessed some cosmetic cracks in a few bins, drawers and shelves. So he placed orders for the needed parts and scheduled the follow-up appointment the following week.

The afternoon before the scheduled repair, all of the ordered parts arrived on my doorstep. That evening, once again, Sears called to remind me of the appointment the following day.

The next morning, the trouble began.

My appointment was scheduled between 8 am - 12 pm. Hanging close to home the entire morning, I received a call at 11 am saying the technician had just gotten to the appointment before mine, but that appointment was more than 30 miles away. They expected him to quickly service the customer before me, and informed me that he should still arrive at my house right about noon.

It wasn't until 1:30 that the technician himself called to let me know he was on his way. It was nearly 2 pm before he arrived.

Was I furious?

On average, I have had three service appointments with Sears technicians per year for the last 17 years. Never NEVER before has a technician arrived outside of his expected time. He always has the needed parts to fix my appliances. He often offers advice on keeping the appliances working their best, and has tips on keeping them running efficiently.

While this 2 hour delay was an inconvenient interruption to my day, my extended relationship with Sears and their technical service has proven that this is not the norm, but an unusual circumstance.

What do you think about extended warranties? People have always told me that extended warranties are a waste of money. Most of the people I know opt out. Even Consumer Reports in their article "50 best tips we've ever heard" recommends to skip extended warranties.

I'll admit, I have purchased a warranty on a few things that have been a waste of money.
I'm not the MOST organized person on the planet (Lori is much more suited for that title), so I have lost the proof of purchase of a warranty on more than one occasion. My mom just confessed that she needed a repair on her factory warrantied refrigerator, and she FORGOT about the warranty and paid for the repair, out of pocket. (I would *never* do that. Well, at least I'd never admit to it.)

I have always kept a warranty on my refrigerators. My first refrigerator came with my first home. It already had a few years on it, but I was glad I didn't have to buy a new one, on top of all of the other expenses. We did, however, have to buy a new washer and dryer. When extending the warranty on those laundry units, the Sears representative asked "would you like to include any other appliances under your warranty?"

What? I could cover appliances that I didn't even purchase at Sears?

I don't remember how much it was, but it seemed reasonable to cover the refrigerator. So we did.

Days later, while preparing the Thanksgiving meal, I reached into the fridge and the door came off in my hand! One quick call to Sears and the repairs were made ... long before any of our guests arrived. Additional cost to me? Nothing.

Several years later, the freezer quit working while we were out of town. What's that? The warranty even covers loss of food? Awesome. I sent an inventory of the items in my freezer and voila! A reimbursement was quickly received.

Finally, it was time to purchase a new refrigerator. We found a great unit, a Kenmore Elite, but then the ice maker began failing. Repairs were required at least three times in one year. Just when I was starting to get annoyed at the icebox and its unreliability, the repairman said to me "isn't this the third time we have been out to your house? Haven't you heard of the Sears no-lemon policy?"

Come to find out, if a warranteed unit requires three repairs in a year, the unit is considered a lemon. What does this mean to me?

Sears buys us a new unit, absolutely free! And the old unit is not pro-rated or reduced in value. We were given an allotment to purchase a replacement equal to what our old unit was when it was new. All we had to do was let Sears know at what store we wanted to purchase our new refrigerator. They issued a credit for us at that store. We went in to purchase our new unit.

No hassles.

We got a brand new unit at no additional cost to the warranty we had already purchased.

Now, I haven't figured out exactly what we have paid in warranty fees over the last 17 years. But I do know that Sears has been phenomenal in living up to their word, keeping our appliances in excellent working order, reimbursing us without question, informing us when it was to our benefit, and replacing our faulty refrigerator.

In a world where many consumers feel companies are trying to get away with delivering the minimum service the consumer will accept, Sears and their warranties have made impressive promises, and over-delivered (almost!) every time.

I guess I would give one thumb up to extended warranties. Sometimes they are worth it. Sometimes they have proven worthless. Read the fine print, ask the customer service representative every question you can imagine, read reviews from other customers, review your own abilities in regards to taking advantage of the warranty. Then go with your gut.

When it comes to our conversation on warranties, does that about cover it? (wink, wink.)

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6 chiming in:

Hannah said...

I think most would agree that Sears is a major exception to the rule. They've been in the business longer than most of us have been alive. They have been doing this since the days when good customer service could be expected, even taken for granted.

Your glowing review is a real testament to Sears, but the rest of the service world? Not so much. I've been burned on extended warranties (especially electronics) enough times to know better.

A word to the wise, a lot of companies now outsource their warranty work to 3rd party service providers, many of which are shady at best.

Jen said...

we get warranties on all our big item purchases. Sometimes (dell) we fall through the cracks and they screw us around, but most big purchases are well worth the extra money for extended warranties.

areyoukiddingme said...

We've had really good service from the Geek Squad at Best Buy. We bought an expensive TV (aren't they all, these days?) and got the extended warranty. For 2 months before and 2 months after the warranty expired, the Geek Squad made about 4 or 5 visits to fix our TV which was fried by a storm. They essentially replaced all the interior parts, and were very nice, helpful, and respectful during the whole process. I don't generally buy extended warranties, but I was very satisfied with this particular service.

Sandy said...

I just want to chime in that I've had excellent experiences with Sears. However, I find them to be helpful and reasonable (sometimes a nominal fee) even WITHOUT an extended warranties. I've been told by many people (including sales people at Sears, among other places) that extended warranties are a waste.

Sheri said...

I've experienced really good service from Sears myself.

You mentioned the importance of reading the fine print. Did the Sears warranty say anything about protecting you from or reimbursing you for sisters who use lots of ice?


MrsSpock said...

My husband has always been adamant against buying extended warranties. Though after reading this, it sounds like you have gotten your money's worth.

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