I get asked about new appliance protection plans and extended warranties a lot both during real-life service calls as The Appliance Guru and via emails from this site. So, FWIW, I thought I'd offer my contemplations and musings on the topic.
First off, you gotta realize that protection plans and extended warranties are only as good as the people offering or doing the actual service work. Protection plans are basically a form of insurance. Lots of companies want to get in on the protection plan biz because, structured correctly, it’s a highly lucrative arrangement: you pay a chunk of money for service that the warranty company is betting you won’t need. Insurance companies have this game figured out in all aspects of our lives, including home and appliance warranties.
But there’s one big difference.
In auto, home, and medical insurance, for example, all the insurance company has to do is write a check for a claim. Insurance companies are all about cash so even writing big checks are no problem for them.
Now consider an appliance repair insurance plan— which is basically what protection plan and extended warranties are. When a claim is made, what’s the payout? Instead of a check, the payout is usually a repair. And herein lies the dirty little secret about appliance protection plans: they are only as good as the repair services available in your area, as in a live, skilled technician coming to your house and fixing your broken stuff.
When you’re being sold on the plan, they’re trying to implant the Fantasy Scenario vision in your head:
The Fantasy Scenario
The technician gets there the same day or next day, knows exactly what the problem is, has the part on his vehicle and gets you all fixed up right then and there. This almost never happens in a real-world warranty situation but that's the fantasy when you buy the plan.
Okay, let’s come back to planet earth and look at how these protection plans work in the real world.
Suppose something breaks and you need service. Depending on who is actually providing the service for the protection plan, the response will likely be one of the following scenarios:
The Typical Sears Scenario
You call and get an appointment for two weeks from now. If you're lucky, you'll get a decent tech who can troubleshoot the problem accurately. But much of the time you'll get an undertrained guy who "thinks" he knows what the problem is but, since corporate policy prohibits him from carrying inventory on his service vehicle (to prevent employee theft and moonlighting), he has to order the parts and come back. That’ll take another two weeks. On the second trip, the servicer installs the new part only to realize that he guessed wrong. Whups! “Golly, ma’am, must be sumpin’ else!” Or, “Dang, another bad board outta the box, that’s the 5th time today!” He scratches his head, takes a guess at another part, and has to come back yet again. Each trip is a four hour window for the servicer’s arrival so that’s two or more half-days you’ll need to take off work to wait for him. Oh, and they may call you on the day of the scheduled appointment to cancel for that day and re-schedule.
The Typical Home Warranty Company Scenario
There are several of these types of companies out there-- NEW, American Home Shield, and others. They all work the same way: you pay them for an appliance warranty plan (repair insurance) and, in return, they’ll cover any repairs that need to be done under warranty. Sounds great on paper and they do a great job selling these plans. But, as you might expect, there are not one, but two big Achilles’ Heels with this arrangement.
1. Their service is only as good as the independent servicers they can find in your area. If you live in a densely populated area, this may be a non-issue. But if you live in a sparsely populated area, this could be a problem. The warranty company won’t have any easier time finding a qualified servicer than you would on your own. In fact, they’ll have a harder time because of the second Achilles’ Heel:
2. Most independent servicers hate working for warranty companies because 1) they are difficult to deal with like any corporate bureaucracy, 2) they are either slow to pay or pay very little compared to COD rates, or 3) they have gotten a reputation in the industry for stiffing servicers and not paying at all after the repair is successfully completed so, as a result, many independent service companies flat out refuse to work with particular warranty companies. The result is a delay in finding a servicer willing to work with the warranty company which means a delay in getting your stuff fixed. This miserable process usually culminates with you spending hours on the phone with the warranty company (most of that time on hold listening to blaring muzak or repetitive announcements telling you how awesome they are).
Protection Plans from Independent Retailers
This requires careful investigation on your part because, again, their warranty is only as good as the service to back it up. Some dealers service what they sell. Okay, fine. But are their technicians any good or are they parts changing monkeys? Hard to know. One way to find out, though, is to use the Internet and see what people are saying about them on places like Google reviews, YP.com, and the Better Business Bureau. Do a Google search of the company’s name and see what you come up with.
Most service companies should have a company website that tells how they do business and a social web presence, at least a Facebook Page. If they don’t, that’s a red flag right there. I don’t say that because I’m a Facebook fanboy, but because it shows something about the company-- that they have a public reputation they are cultivating and want to protect. It also shows that they’re in business for the long-haul.
If you are inclined to go the protection plan route, a good way to go is with a local dealer who services what they sell and one whom you have personally vetted nine ways to Sunday. You don’t want to end up in the situation where you call your local dealer for a protection plan service only to find that their phone has been disconnected. Hey, a lot more common and possible in today’s economy that you may think.
What would I do if I were me? No, wait: what should you do if you were you? No, wait…
IMHO, the best thing to do is to find a good local servicer (using the vetting suggestions discussed above) and establish a relationship with them. Some may offer some kind of protection plan you can purchase. Otherwise, just budget a little money each month into savings to cover eventual repairs.
Here are a few more vetting strategies...
If you don’t get a live human when you first call, don’t leave a message. Call back another time and see if you get a human then. You’re looking to see if getting voicemail is how these people roll or was that a fluke due to bad cell reception or something else going on with them. You want a service company that strives to always answer the phone, even after hours and on weekends. Honestly, in this day and age of cell phones, there’s no excuse for not doing this… unless they just don’t care whether or not they get your work. And that’s what you’re trying to assess.
You also want to find out what their typical response time is. What do they claim their response time is at their website? You’re looking for someone who strives for same day-next day service. The best service companies will offer Saturdays as a regular working day because that’s when people are home and it’s convenient for them (that’s why it’s called appliance repair service).
Once you’ve found this golden service company, cherish them, woo them, nurture that relationship, send them Christmas cards, bake them Kwanza cookies, carve them Hanukah dradles, knit them Ramadan kufis, whatever you think will solidify your connection with them because, when your fridge breaks on a Saturday and you have a houseful of guests, you want them out there that day to get that box cooling again taco-pronto.
If you have the supreme good fortune of living in the Kearsarge-Lake Sunapee Region of New Hampshire, call The Appliance Guru for fast, expert appliance service, including weekend and holiday emergency service at no extra charge. Learn more here: www.ApplianceGuru.com