Thursday, July 23, 2015

Whereupon, Whipped, I Return to Sears, My Tail Tucked Between My Legs.

About seven years ago I invested in a good, mid-grade gas range.  In addition to the usual burner dials or knobs, it came with a digital control panel where you would find the clock, timer, self-clean control, convection control and all the standard oven settings (bake, broil, etc.) and probe cooking.

It was still under warranty when the digital control panel failed but the vendor sent out a repair guy and he installed the replacement part in the course of which he told me how damned expensive it was and, worse yet, that it was the most vulnerable, failure-prone component of them all.  I've been leery of that stove ever since.

Things began failing.  The oven light system went down.  The thermal glass pane on the inside of the oven door cracked.  They were inconvenient but no huge deal.  Then the dreaded control panel failed yet again.

If you're not familiar with them, there are appliance parts stores where you can buy spares.  All you need is the manufacturer and the model number.  Plug that info into the search window,  call it up and you can expect to find a schematic, an "exploded view," showing all the parts and their numbers.  You can check out the prices, fill out your order and, usually quite quickly, the needed parts will be delivered to your door.


Not so fast.  I decided I'd look into replacing the control panel and, while I was at it, the other spare parts that I need.  The damned thing is only seven years old, why throw it out?  Then I found out why.

Of all the parts listed in those schematic diagrams they're all no longer available except for that cursed control panel and it's over $500 plus tax plus shipping plus installation and there's only just two of them left.  I even called the manufacturer only to be told that they haven't had parts for that model for a number of years and I should contact the spare parts suppliers.

So, here's the deal.  My dilemma is whether I spring for the replacement control panel which with taxes, shipping and installation will probably set me back upwards of $800 after which I'll be left with a mainly functioning gas range but knowing that if that panel also fails I'll have to buy a new range or do I just bite the bullet, write the damned thing off, and replace it now?

That's the dilemma but it's not my pet peeve.  What really gets under my skin is that there's no requirement on the manufacturer to ensure a ready supply of spares for at least ten years.  Letting them off the hook is tantamount to inviting them to engineer premature obsolescence in their products.  Why should they make something that's good for ten or fifteen years if they can flog products that most buyers will have to replace starting after just five years?

This brings to mind a study by Germany's Federal Environment Agency last March that found that the rate of premature failure of white goods (appliances) had increased significantly but found no smoking gun pointing to "built-in obsolescence."  Guess what?  I know what the Germans overlooked.  A failure of the manufacturers to maintain an appropriate inventory of spare parts for a reasonable period.  There's your "planned obsolescence" staring you right in the face.

I would dearly like to keep my gas range for another 10-years.  Once you get past 60 you appreciate things like that.  But I can't.  So I'm stuck having to buy another appliance and, quite possibly, another after that if I'm again unlucky. And for what? Because we let these manufacturers off the hook.


Toby said...

Consider buying a second hand older model; something that doesn't have a circuit board. Check with a few repair people for their favourites.

Electronic components don't like heat. Electronics in a stove is a non-starter for me. Hard to avoid though.

dinknut said...

There was a Marketplace episode about this very issue....

Rural said...

I am not sure if its "planed obsolescence" or lousy engineering or poor manufacturing but it seems anything under 20 years old is crap and the "old stuff" goes on forever. Just dont check the price on replacing any of those electronic dodads on you new vehicle eh!

Toby said...

During my many years as a tech for a large company I estimate that about half the time I replaced a circuit board I was wrong. There are many faults that can make it look like a bad board; among them are poor grounds, floating neutrals and loose connections. During the process of changing a circuit board all of its plugs and jacks are freshly connected an action that can be done without changing the board.

Over a seven year period with a stove I'd be looking for rust and or grease at high voltage connections and certainly grease at the low voltage ones.

Do you get many power outages where you live? Circuit boards don't like the surge that occurs when the power comes back on. It is important that your household wiring be properly grounded. In spite of rules, regs and certifications it is surprising how many aren't.

The Mound of Sound said...

Thanks dinknut for the link. I watched the episode. Like Deja Vu.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Rural - I know you're right about cars, especially those constantly failing sensors that keep needing replacement at a hundred bucks a pop.

@ Toby - thanks for the tips. I'll look into that. We do get our share of power outages here due to heavy winds that regularly blow in off the Pacific. I assume, only because my house is under 20-years old and earthquake-standard prepared, that it's properly grounded. I wonder if there's any way for me to check that without calling in another electrician.

Anonymous said...

Anyong said....I have an old 1953 gas range. Have had it since 1978. Went into storage while out of the country for 13 years....and it works like a charm. Never getting rid of it.

The Mound of Sound said...

You see, Anyong, that you make my point. The only reason your 1953-manufacture, gas range was even available for you to buy in 1978, was that the manufacturer maintained a supply of spare parts even 25 years later.

As the German government study found, a lot of this replacement is just people who demand the "latest and greatest" but there are plenty of people who replace out of necessity because you wind up with something the manufacturer refuses to support and is under no obligation to continue a parts trail.

We used to introduce fairly simple, unobtrusive legislation to uphold the public interest, in this case requiring a reasonable replacement parts train. We don't do that any more and, released from every reasonable restraint, they make overpriced garbage and sell it to us at very lucrative prices.

As individuals we amortize the cost of our appliance purchases over 10-years, 12 at the outside. Then they crap out after 5 and, already disgruntled, we find out they're all pretty much the same.

Our government, which claims the exclusive right to speak on, to represent the Canadian people does not shut these charlatans down. I think that's an issue that might have had traction in the 70s or 80s, but it doesn't anymore.

Danneau said...

Constant replacements for all manner of earthly goods is one of the reasons this planet is headed for its own scrap heap:

It's one of the most galling aspects of our society and eminently prone to fix, except the attitude of mfrs and marketers.

Sam Gunsch said...

5-7 year lifespan is the norm now for fridges of the common brands according to the manager at the appliance repair store, who's been in the business over 25 years.

I was asking his opinion as to what to buy new rather than trying to repair a 5 year old fridge, again.

Robert said...

When you have one manufacturer dominating the industry then you can expect over priced garbage with few alternatives. A lot of the big names in appliances are now under one company although they keep the old and trusted names on their appliances (like Maytag, Amana). You will pay more for a Maytag than a Whirlpool but its the same crap. All built in Mexico and China now. Appliance store manager told me that 11% of appliances are damaged in shipping so there is lots of new parts heading to the dump.

Purple library guy said...

There should be an open source government-maintained repository of part specifications, in CAD formats usable by 3d printers. Then if you need a part, you can have somebody make it. There are services today that will print you out thingies of whatever arbitrary shape you specify, whether in plastic or metal.
Electronics is a bit of a different matter--so far anyhow.

Purple library guy said...

In the future presumably there won't be any gas stoves, mostly just electric ones run off renewable power generation.

Lulymay said...

Hope I don't make this too long, Mound, but I've had it with these new appliances. Bought a Kenmore fridge (sale price $1300) from Sears. Had a one year warranty but didn't purchase extended warranty as never had a fridge last less than 25 years. Not any more! Just 2 years into its being plugged in, got up one morning and bottom freezer completed defrosted and upper fridge rather warm. Called Sears who took 3 days to get a repairman. He knelt on the floor and pronounced that the compressor had gone and would cost $599 plus labour - est. close to $1000 to fix. Okay order the part. Took a full week and a different repairman arrived. He asked a few questions and I gave him the spiel. He tells me he could repair it but the whatever they call the 'new' freeon used now was leaking and that part would cost at least another $250 plus labour but no guarantee it would fix the leak problem. WTF! Turns out, there is no way to repair this fridge and it has to be hauled to the dump. Any new fridge - except one made in New Zealand (2yr warranty) all of them no matter how much you pay have just 1 year. Then you must purchase x-tended at $274 for 4 years more. And, Sears has been known to pro-rate that if you are into a 3rd 2nd or 3rd year of warranty. Funny thing, I was in Walmart this morning and checked out a new Hamilton Beach food processor priced at less than $100 and guess what? it has a 5 year warranty on it! Such is life in Corporate Canada where the government does not see consumer protection as anything they should concern themselves with.