ELEANOR Fields from Fort Lee, N.J., writes: "My washing machine is just over a year old. Every time I do my husband Harry's wash, his shirts come out with holes in them. I'd swear there's a clothes-chewing monster inside. My warranty has expired, what should I do? The manufacturer serviced my machine just one month ago!"
The Major Appliance Consumer Action Panel may be able to help Mrs. Fields (not her real name) and you, too, if you have a complaint against the manufacturer of a particular appliance. The panel, or MACAP, as it is known, is a 10-year-old non-profit organization whose primary function is to resolve consumer complaints against appliance firms.
According to Bill Comstock, the MACAP public relations director, "eighty percent of the complaints we receive in a one year period are resolved to the satisfaction of the customer." These complaints, he added, include those where the panel judged the consumer was at fault. Comstock, who works out of the main office in Chicago, says MACAP is composed of several hundred volunteers -- often home economists -- from around the country. "They are a combination of people who have worked in the fields of home ecomonics or appliances, but all are consumer advocates," said Comstock. All advice is provided free of charge.
"Sometimes in order to resolve a dispute, we'll send one of our volunteers to the consumer's home. In the case of the temperamental washing machine, our volunteer might discover that the consumer was using bleach with her husband's shirts -- so it was the bleach not the machine that was to blame for the holes.
"In a large percentage of our cases -- about 25 to 30 percent -- MACAP finds that where consumers thought they deserved or needed service, they really didn't. In other words, the poorly-functioning appliance was due to an error they made," said Comstock, an opinion that might be disputed by the appliance owner.
Still, MACAP does offer an organized way to gain the attention of appliance makers when angry shouts on the telephone and letters to the president fail.
Before turning to them, MACAP urges the consumer to call the appliance manufacturer first. "Let them have the opportunity to respond," said Comstock. "Then, if that course of action fails, MACAP will see what can be done."
MACAP recommends that consumers hold on to all warrantees -- keep them in a scrapbook or special drawer. Be sure to request a receipt for all service calls and repairs made on appliances, even when no charage is involved -- for instance, during the warranty period. "For as long as you own the appliance, keep a permanent file for both in-warranty and out-of-warranty receipts," said Comstock.
The MACAP Consumer Bulletin adds that a complete record of service calls can register if the problem is recurring. According to the bulletin, "consumers often complain of appliance problems 'ever since purchase,' and especially during the warranty period. Lack of proof that a problem did exist during the warranty weakens a consumer's position for consideration later."
As the middleman, MACAP also advises appliance companies to provide receipts for all service calls, including those performed in-warranty. "More and more," says Comstock, "companies will consider handling problems which occur shortly after warranty expiration on an in-warranty basis if proof of an identical in-warranty problem exists."
When writing MACAP, be sure to provide your name, address and phone number; the kind of appliance (brand, model and serial number); the dealer's and/or service agent's name and address; location of appliance; and a clear description of the problem and difficulties experienced.
Other MACAP recommendations:
Know your service agency and the terms of your appliance warranty before you purchase it.
Study the use and care manual -- refer to it often.
Have the installer, electrician or plumber check to make sure your household wiring and gas lines are adequate.
Budget for appliance repairs and replacement.
Check plugs, fuses, pilots, controls and your owners manual before calling for service.
Call your dealer, the service agency he recommends or an organization franchized by the manufacturer if your appliance needs service.