Her washer's warranties no help with dirty clothes

The Baltimore Sun

When you've tried everything you can think of to resolve a problem and then given up in despair, you might be surprised to find that there's still reason to hope.

Ann Saltzman discovered that gem recently after more than four months of fruitless attempts to repair a spasmodic and possibly possessed Frigidaire washing machine she bought for $747 in April 2005.

The washer worked fine for two years, the 65-year-old Owings Mills nurse said. Then in September, the trouble began. After 15 minutes of run time, the motor cut off and restarted every five minutes. Odder still, the machine occasionally filled itself with water when it was in "off" mode.

"It's still under warranty," Saltzman said, when she called looking for help last month. "I have an extended warranty, too. I've had three different technicians put in four different parts, but it's still not working.

"I'm a really, very unhappy consumer," Saltzman added.

Most people might have quit long ago. But Saltzman was relentless in her pursuit of a fix. She called Lowe's Home Improvement in Westminster, where she purchased the diabolical machine. She called and e-mailed the Customer Care center at Lowe's corporate office.

Saltzman also doggedly called Georgia-based Frigidaire and its warranty service company.

Each time, she explained that her washer was still relatively new, that she'd purchased an extended warranty and renewed it every year for $70-plus, and described the problem in detail.

In her multiple pleas for help, Frigidaire responded by promising to send a service technician to Saltzman's home. That was when her wait began. Sometimes, a technician showed. Sometimes, they didn't. Sometimes, they replaced a part. Sometimes, they didn't. But each time, she was told the fix would do the trick.

In December, I contacted Frigidaire to nudge them into helping her get the washer fixed. They called her and then sent more technicians.

After the sixth service visit when every sensor that could be replaced was replaced and a brand new dispenser was installed, even Saltzman had reached a breaking point when the washer was still broken.

"It completed two washes and then it stopped working," Saltzman said. "I said to my sister, 'That's it.'"

So Saltzman broke down and bought a new washer. The new machine, she said, is not a Frigidaire and it is not from Lowe's.

Most people would chalk that up to cutting your losses. It happens to all of us, right?

Not Saltzman. She continued to call Lowe's and Frigidaire to inquire about a refund and she called the paper to give me a progress report on her efforts.

The frustration in her voice was clear. She'd lost track of how many loads of laundry she had to drag to the laundromat. She could no longer count the hours she'd wasted calling each company for help and waiting for a service technician to show.

"The management of all of these companies should be ashamed that this machine was not replaced immediately," Saltzman said. "No one should have to put up with what I have gone through to fix a product. Can you believe they sent me a notice to renew the extended warranty? I couldn't even get the washer fixed under the current warranty!"

The absurdity of it all made us both laugh.

Lowe's and Frigidaire's parent company, Electrolux, didn't find it quite so funny.

"We try to take our customer service very seriously," said Karen Cobb, a spokesman for North Carolina-based Lowe's. "We have looked into Ms. Saltzman's complaint and we found that she did purchase the washer from Lowe's, but she purchased the extended warranty plan from Frigidaire."

Cobb offered to contact Frigidaire on Saltzman's behalf.

That was a nice gesture, but it would have been nicer if someone from Lowe's - after the countless conversations and e-mail that Saltzman shared with them about her problem - had lifted up the phone and called Frigidaire on her behalf before the newspaper got involved.

With the power Lowe's has as a mega-retailer, it has a certain level of influence over manufacturers it chooses to do business with. It's the least the company could have done for a customer like Saltzman, who spent almost $1,800 at Lowe's when she purchased an electric range and other products along with the washer.

Lowe's botched service means Saltzman will never buy big-ticket items from them again, she said. She might, however, give Electrolux a second chance.

"We are sorry that she's had this problem," said Tony Evans, a spokesman for the Swedish company. "If we can get ahold of the washer, we'd like to examine it to see what might have caused the problems for her.

"These products are supposed to have a very long life," Evans said.

Since the extended warranty did not cover the product as it should have, Evans said Electrolux would issue Saltzman a full refund. He also said the money Saltzman paid for the extended warranty would be returned.

Saltzman says she's grateful, but doubts that a refund of this magnitude could have happened without a push from the paper. That may or may not be true. But to be fair, Saltzman did get two years of use out of the washer, so Electrolux could have legitimately offered her only a partial refund. By giving her the entire $747 and warranty cost back, the company has gone above and beyond in my book.

"We do value our customers and it's very unfortunate in this case that it was something we weren't able to take care of," Evans said. "We want to do the right thing by our customers."

Electrolux might have been slow on the draw, but they hit the bull's-eye when it counted.

Reach Consuming Interests by e-mail at consuminginterests@baltsun .com or by phone at 410-332-6151. Find an archive of Consuming Interest columns at baltimoresun.com/consuming

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