This is the tale of my refrigerator breakdown and refrigerator repair and recovery because I learned some valuable lessons, mistakes and discoveries might help others.
It all started when I opened our refrigerator on a Monday as I usually do on a school morning — half asleep — and took out the milk. It dawned on me that the milk felt warmer than usual, but I didn’t really think much about it. Later, I went back to the refrigerator again, and when I reached in this time, a light bulb went off (in the refrigerator, yes, but also in my head). The refrigerator was functioning but nowhere near as cold as it should be.
I opened the freezer (we have an LG with French doors on the top and a freezer on the bottom). The freezer was appropriately cold. I checked the control panel. The numbers that typically show the temperature for the refrigerator didn’t light up.
I pushed the buttons. The control panel beeped, but nothing happened. This didn’t look good.
So I checked the warranty. The manufacturer’s warranty of a year had, of course, lapsed six months earlier. And even more dismally, for some reason, we had not bought the refrigerator with our credit card, but with a debit card. This was unusual for us, and a mistake. That is because major credit cards will often double the life of a manufacturer’s warranty. But debit cards usually do not.
“Always make major purchases with a credit card,” Mark Kotkin, director of survey research at Consumer Reports, told me later.
Then I searched the Internet looking for similar problems to see if there was a simple fix. I couldn’t find one. I called the number for LG service, which, since I was out of warranty, referred me to Sears, where we bought the refrigerator. The repairman couldn’t get to us until Wednesday. And if he didn’t have the part we needed, we might have to wait a week or more until it was fixed.
But I was offered an extended warranty, at the price of $270, that would cover all repairs up to $500 and be good for a year.
I questioned the customer service representative closely.
Were parts excluded? No. Labor? No. It would definitely cover the repair I was calling about? Yes.
I am not usually an advocate of extended warranties. Mr. Kotkin said that they were almost never worth the money. And since Sears wouldn’t allow me to talk directly to a technician to explain the problem, I was still looking at a long wait for an appliance repair.
So I started calling around to find an appliance repair shop that fixes my brand. I found one nearby, which could send someone out in a few hours for $65, which is pretty reasonable in the New York area. The repairman showed up, spent less than 10 minutes looking at it and told me it was an expensive computer problem that could cost half the price of the refrigerator. This freaked me out. I told him I would think about it, paid him his fee and panicked.
So I decided to turn to someone who had given me good advice in the past — Vernon Schmidt, who has been a repairman for almost 35 years and is the author of a self-published book, “Appliance Handbook for Women: Simple Enough Even a Man Can Understand.” Unfortunately, he is based in Indiana, so he couldn’t pop over.
But I asked him if he had any suggestions. “Did the repair guy call LG?” he asked me. No. Was he an authorized servicer for LG? he also asked me. Well, he told me he could repair the LG refrigerators, I replied.
Not the same. Mr. Schmidt, who is authorized to service LG and many other brands told me that an authorized servicer has to go to annual training workshops to learn to repair that particular brand.
In addition, as an authorized servicer, he can avail himself of a dedicated technical helpline on the spot to resolve issues. “It’s not like the old days,” Mr. Schmidt said. “Everyone needs technical help nowadays,” because appliances change so often and are so sophisticated. And that technician on the other end of the phone is required to keep a record of the problem, he said. So if it crops again, the history can be traced.
Oh. So, I called LG back and got a list of authorized repair shops. I made a few calls and managed to reach one shop. The people on the phone did seem pretty knowledgeable. They figured that if it was the problem they thought it was, it would cost about $150 for the part, plus labor. Much less than the $500 or $600 the repairman predicted.
The charge for coming out to look at my refrigerator was high though, $80 plus tax. So all in, it would be about the same as the cost of the Sears extended warranty.
Now I was in a quandary. Do I go with the faster service? But what if the refrigerator had trouble again in six months? Wouldn’t it be better to go with the extended warranty at this point if it was all going to cost the same?
In the end, a very nice service man from Sears came out. He started by putting his ear up to the refrigerator, like a doctor listening to a patient’s chest. He was seeing if the compressor was running. From there, he set out to investigate every possible problem by delving deep into the appliance’s insides. He worked diligently for more than an hour.
The disparity between the first repairman and the second was the difference between a casual once-over and a thorough physical exam.
In the end, it was neither the computer nor the other possible problems that the authorized repair service people had diagnosed over the phone. It was a loose connection to the fan. Job done. So here’s what I hope you all learned from my experience:
- Use your credit card to buy any appliance.
- Check to see exactly what benefits your credit card offers in terms of warranties and other issues related to large purchases.
- Search the Web to see if anyone has reported a similar problem and found a solution. It didn’t work this time for me, but it has in the past.
- If you don’t have a trusted repairman, at least use an authorized servicer who has some training with that specific brand.
- Call a number of repair places to compare prices.
- Don’t panic. It never helps.
If I didn’t have the extended warranty, the service job would have cost about $175, the Sears repairman told me. So I was out of pocket about $95 for the extended warranty. But at least I have coverage for the next year. Call me cynical, though. Why do I think the next refrigerator problem may come up, say, 13 months from now?