February 3, 2011

Why they call it an 'Extended Warranty'

A month ago my son was idly watching Spongebob when he called to my attention that the picture on our 3-year-old, 50-inch Samsung plasma television had gone out. The sound was still working, though, so I did all the usual things: switched channels, turned it on and off, checked cable wires and cable functionality. Finally, my husband shined a flashlight down into the holes at the top of the back of the television.

“Uh, oh,” he said, stepping back and waving his hand. “Unplug it, quick!”

It hadn’t quite burst into flames, but our house was soon filled with the noxious odor of smoking electronic components.

I located the Samsung warranty, which was for the standard one (measly) year, then found the Best Buy receipt tucked into an extended warranty information pamphlet. Yay! For once, all those thousands of dollars we’d dumped into extra coverage on our appliances was paying off. We were saved!

Well, perhaps we would have been if the warranty had a “Pain and Suffering” clause…

The next day during business hours, I called the Best Buy 800 number. An automated voice gave me my options, none of which were, “If your television exploded, please push four.” I chose to speak to a representative and the call was transferred with a loud “BEE-BOOP-BEBLY-BOOP!” in my ear. Then I got the “wrong number” tone and the call was disconnected. I tried again with the same results.

Okay. Best Buy 800 didn’t want to talk to me, so I looked up and dialed my local Best Buy. The friendly clerk gave me the 800 number for the Geek Squad and then kindly transferred me through. “BEE-BOOP-BEBLY-BOOP!” Not sure what the purpose of that painfully loud transfer tone was, but I made a mental note to hold the phone away from my ear when being transferred by these guys in future.

I spoke to a Geek Squad rep who transferred me to another rep, who took down my information and made an appointment for a repair technician to come to our house. The next morning, I hadn’t heard from the repair people, who were supposed to have called to let me know what timeframe I should expect them, so I called. It was a company located an hour’s drive away from us. When I told the guy why I was calling, he said rather grumpily, “They’re not supposed to make my appointments for me.” Turns out he only comes to our town when he has more than one service call to make, AND he wouldn’t come out until he’d ordered some parts that he thought he might need to make the repair based on my description of what happened to the television. We waited almost three weeks before the parts came in and it was worth his while to make the trip. Mind you, we live in a suburban area of over 150,000 people, but when I called the Geek Squad to complain, I was told that it was the only television repair company that had a contract with Best Buy to provide service to our area.

During that time, we moved the clunky old 15-inch television from our bedroom into the living room. My husband discovered the joy of watching Netflix on his laptop, my son hovered two feet away from the screen until we had to put the dog gate up to keep him back, and I wore my glasses whenever I wanted to see what was going on.

I know what you’re thinking: BOO HOO, why didn’t you people just read a book or play a board game or go outside? But I’m telling you, we ARE a huge book-reading, game playing family. And we love to go outside, but there’s just so much family time you can spend bundled up against the 20-degree January weather. The thing is, we also happen to enjoy watching the large screen television we paid $1600 for (not including tax and warranty). And, to complicate matters, the Super Bowl was approaching rapidly…

So on Repair Day, I anxiously watched over the repair guy’s shoulder as he opened the back of our television. He replaced a part, turned the set on and BRZZZZT! Smoke began to curl towards the ceiling. I ran to open all the windows before the fire alarms went off.

“Okay,” said he, clapping his hands together. “I’m going to have to take this back to the shop.”

Progress, right?

Ten days from that point, we figured we’d waited long enough. I called the repair guy, who told me to call Best Buy. I did, got transferred to a rep (“BEE-BOOP-BEBLY-BOOP!”), and Hallelujah! The rep informed me that at long last a decision had been made. We were to get a new TV!

On the way to the store, my husband and I had a naïve conversation about our options.

Him: We paid $1600 three years ago and those televisions are worth a lot less now.
Me: I know! We should be able to trade up for a much nicer one with the extra cash.

Once inside, the clerk led us to the wall of TVs and said basically, “Here’s the one you get.”

“Um,” my husband replied, staring at the borderline-obsolete technology on display. A thundercloud began forming over his head, so I jumped in.

“But that set’s only $599. We paid a lot more.”

“It’s a comparable television,” said the clerk. “We’re replacing your old one.”

“Oh…I see,” I said as the Truth began to dawn. “We get a replacement set regardless of the price now. So what about taxes, delivery charge and a new warranty?”

“Taxes are covered, but this completes your old warranty, so if you want a new one, you’ll have to buy it. And delivery is $50.”

My husband’s head spun 180-degrees on his neck. It was urgent now that I convince him of the intrinsic fairness of the situation.

“Honey,” I whispered. “You have to consider that we got three years of usage out of the old TV. Best Buy would lose money if they gave us all our money back at this point. It isn’t their fault Samsung made a defective product. And if we hadn’t of gotten the extended warranty, we’d have nothing at all.”

The clerk was listening and chimed in, “I’ll tell you what. I see from your receipt that delivery was free three years ago. Why don’t we throw that in? And the extended warranty isn’t $299 anymore—it’s only $149!”

My husband’s mouth moved stiffly, but the impending explosion didn’t happen. “Can you get it to us before Super Bowl?”

You never saw a clerk type so fast. “How’s Saturday, the day before?”

I’m writing this before we actually get said replacement television, which is perhaps a little Pollyanna of me. After an extended amount of time with no TV, the inconvenience of ‘cashing in’ on our warranty, and the additional cost, I should probably wait to make sure everything works out in the end…