Company Flouts Product Warranty: What Happens Next?

One man’s experience dealing with a defective washing machine serves as a lesson for consumers protected by law and companies that aren’t inclined to do the right thing.

A very small person appears to be pushing a large boulder up a rocky hill.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It’s no secret that the life-span of major household appliances has shrunk dramatically. At one time, you bought a washer-and-dryer combo, and both appliances would last well over 20 years. Today, you would be lucky in some cases to see those essential home appliances remain trouble-free for two weeks.

In mid-2017, “Steve” and his wife, “Donna,” who reside in Southern California and read this column here on Kiplinger.com, went shopping for a new washer-dryer. He said they wanted “high quality and a long warranty, as we heard horror stories from people whose machines required expensive repairs days after the typical one-year warranty expired.”

Asked Family-Owned, Century-Old Local Appliance Dealer for Recommendations

“We were customers for over 40 years of a family-owned appliance dealer who recommended an American-made, commercial-grade, top-loader washing machine that, in his opinion, was the best on the market. It came with a promotional warranty that ran for several years. We took delivery on July 3, 2017.”

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Performed Great for Over Three Years and Then Flooded Laundry Room

“For three and a half years, it worked beautifully, until one day, we returned home from shopping to find our laundry room covered by a substantial amount of water caused by overfilling that was confirmed by service technician ‘Drew’ sent out by the manufacturer.”

Thus began “one of the most frustrating experiences we have ever had in obtaining effective warranty service, as it was an intermittent problem. The washer would fill correctly on multiple occasions, and then randomly overfill, spilling water all over our laundry room floor,” Steve explained.

An Exercise in Changing Parts

Over the course of about a year and a half, Drew returned to the couple’s home trying to repair the washing machine, including:

  • Changing a water pressure sensor.
  • Replacing the washing machine motor.
  • Installing new top tub seal rings.
  • Changing the autofill value twice.
  • Installing a new idler pulley and belt kit.

At least nine service visits were made in an effort to repair the couple’s washing machine, without success. But this was not some phantom problem, as my reader discovered: He found “several online, identical complaints about the same washing machine model from customers all over the country.”

Company Began Billing Steve for Service Calls

It was clear that Steve’s washing machine could not be repaired. “And then I get billed for a service call for a problem they never fixed — while it was under warranty. And I contacted you.”

What Should Have Happened?

I phoned appliance dealers across the country that carry the same make of washing machine, asking, “What should the dealer and manufacturer do in a similar situation when it is clear they can’t repair their own product?”

Steve Sheinkopf, 20 years as CEO of family-owned Yale Appliance (opens in new tab) in Boston, Mass., had no sympathy for the dealer: “You took their money. You made a profit on the transaction. Now, take care of your customer. Whether you have a service department or not, somebody has to help the customer.

“When it was clear early on that the technician could not repair the washer, the dealer and manufacturer should have replaced the machine. The couple were sold a defective washing machine, and this had to be remedied,” he underscored.

In every instance but one, appliance dealers across the United States and Canada told me they would take ownership of the problem and replace the customer’s washer with a new one, given the long warranty.

What Did the Manufacturer Say About Steve’s Situation?

I e-mailed the manufacturer’s general counsel and asked that someone get involved and remedy Steve’s problem, which had not been successfully dealt with while the washing machine was under warranty.

No response — never got a commitment from them to do the right thing, but Steve received an e-mail from “R” in customer service that stated in so many words, “Your warranty has expired. Tough!”

While there are variations in state consumer protection laws, the manufacturer of an appliance under warranty can’t just say, “Oh, too bad, your warranty has expired,” as, in most cases, a warranty is automatically extended until the item is repaired, or one, a refund is offered, or two, the unit is replaced.

The consequences of noncompliance can be costly, under the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (opens in new tab), including suit by a local district attorney or attorney general and significant financial penalties awarded, not to mention class-action lawsuits.

How About Joining Me for an Interview and Discussing Steve’s Problem?

I e-mailed “R” and the company’s general counsel, saying, “It is only fair that I get your side of this issue for my article, so let’s set up a time for an interview.”

No reply, but Steve received a confidential settlement agreement in which the manufacturer would refund his purchase price in addition to tax and delivery charges.

This was OK with Steve — a small price to pay for receiving what he was entitled to in the first place.

“Clearly, they had to know their legal obligations,” Steve observes. “If they had been upfront, and as soon as it was clear they could not repair the machine, why not offer me a new washer or a refund? If asked, I would praise their handling of the situation. So why, Mr. Beaver, do you think I was treated this way?” my reader asked.

In my experience, companies are well aware of their legal duties in Steve’s situation. But if they can drag the process out, far too many consumers will just give up.

And I would like to point out something that is so important about this story.

No one should think that it was attorney Dennis Beaver the lawyer who solved this problem, as I never personally represent readers, nor do I charge for my help.

Rather, as my paralegal, Anne, observed, “Beave, it is the power of the press that made a fair result possible for the couple. And you did it by shining a brilliant light in a dark space, scattering the cockroaches!” (See what Michigan attorney Steve Lehto has to say about this article (opens in new tab) and issue.)

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield, Calif., and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993, or e-mailed to Lagombeaver1@gmail.com. And be sure to visit dennisbeaver.com (opens in new tab).

This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC (opens in new tab) or with FINRA (opens in new tab).

H. Dennis Beaver, Esq.
Attorney at Law, Author of "You and the Law"

After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined California's Kern County District Attorney's Office, where he established a Consumer Fraud section. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, "You and the Law (opens in new tab)." Through his column he offers readers in need of down-to-earth advice his help free of charge. "I know it sounds corny, but I just love to be able to use my education and experience to help, simply to help. When a reader contacts me, it is a gift."