We used to joke about lifetime guarantees on large appliances. We asked, "Does that mean the appliance is guaranteed for my lifetime or until it stops working?" Anyone over thirty knows that in the past, major appliances lasted longer. Now that we have to replace them more often, manufacturer guarantees are down-graded to match the new life expectancy. Major appliances may be energy efficient but what good does that do for ecology when more of them end up in the dump?


When I moved to Hesperia, I retired my old refrigerator to the garage where it holds the bulk food I like to have on hand when the family arrives for an unexpected visit. I've depended on it for more than twenty years and I expect the old refrigerator will continue to serve me faithfully. For my new kitchen, I purchased an energy efficient, double door refrigerator with a freezer drawer at the base. It's beautiful. It came with a limited warrantee for parts. That should have been a warning.


The first time the big beauty stopped refrigerating, I called the manufacturer for service. When the technician arrived three days later his diagnosis was a faulty compressor and circuit board. The compressor was still under warrantee but the repairman didn't have one on the truck. He ordered the part, charged me $65 for the service call and said he would return with the part when it came in. I was thankful that I had kept old faithful in the garage.


Two weeks later the repairman showed up with the new compressor. He was not looking forward to installing it. He said, "Compressors are really hard to install. This is brain surgery." Luckily for the disinclined brain surgeon, his diagnosis was also above his pay grade. A faulty compressor was not the problem. For some reason he couldn't identify, the refrigerator started to work a week before the would-be replacement compressor arrived. It was a noisy revival. It sputtered. It clicked. And it sounded more like a threshing machine than an energy efficient refrigerator. He didn't charge me for bringing a compressor that wasn't needed and he did not replace the circuit board.


Six months later, during our December snow storm, the refrigerator stopped working again. When the second repairman arrived, he suggested I could put the food outside to keep it cool. Even though he wasn't as amusing as the guy who said repairing a refrigerator was brain surgery, he was a better technician. He replaced the faulty circuit board, promising that the refrigerator would be fully functional within twenty-four hours. But he must have been somewhat serious about using snow as a substitute for in-home refrigeration because he disconnected the ice maker. I paid $346.27 for his service call and the part. I was not charged for an additional service call when the third technician arrived to reconnect the ice maker because it was within two weeks from the prior call.


Turns out, the original circuit boards in models like mine were found to be defective. I argued that position when I wrote to the company asking for reimbursement for my costs. Had the company recalled the defective circuit boards, they would have been replaced at no cost to me and the other folks that purchased this model. Instead, the company response was to refund me $250.


Why only $250 when my actual costs were $411.27 plus the cost of the food that didn't fit in the garage stand-by and that I chose not to put outside in the snow? The risk management department said, "That is all they are authorized to reimburse."


Problems of this nature can be reported to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC won't help with the cost recovery, but they do promise to investigate complaints about companies and business practices. Perhaps their input will keep this from happening to other people.


The servicing section of the company uses robo-phone follow-up calls for consumer feed-back. The calls inquire if the repairman was on time, courteous, and offered a service contract. Everyone hypes service contracts sales because these are the new guarantees. They guarantee that the company receives yearly fees for the lifetime of the consumer.