My quick reasoning seemed to make sense. The guy had found nothing amiss, though something clearly had been and might be again. We’d be covered at that point, he reassured us. Plus, if the problem still wasn’t fixed after three attempts, our “appliance plan” would provide a replacement for no charge.
I handed over a credit card for the $49.99 monthly fee. When several months later the three-year-old Samsung dryer conked out for the count, we scheduled the first of those appointments.
As I recall the long, ugly saga that followed, I’m staring at a pile of notes my husband and I kept every time we contacted the program’s customer service department to schedule yet another appointment or to press for specifics of what needed to happen next. The hours we spent on the phone added up — on hold after hold, detailing what the prior technician had been unable to diagnose, asking why a new box of parts had been delivered to our home and what we should do with the first box that hadn’t solved the problem but still had been billed to us.
Because we got a different person each time we called, we had to repeatedly recap each service visit and the ostensible solutions. I tried to stay polite. I always thanked the person on the other end for his/her help. The notes show a lot of names, dates and times — all for naught.
Ultimately, I was told to send a letter and any supporting evidence that would summarize what by then was a standoff. I explained that technicians had been dispatched at least four times and that one of them had tried to blame the dryer problem on our electricity current — though a certified electrician we hired separately found no issues. I also mentioned how we’d finally contacted Samsung directly — and how the repairman who came out discovered that a previous technician had cut wiring leading to the machine’s control panel.
You can guess the outcome. Long past the “three to five business days” promised for a response, an email informed us of a total claim denial because customer service believed my husband or I had cut that wiring ourselves. We were flabbergasted. As well as defeated.
What did we learn through all this hassle and headache? It might be too simplistic to recommend never buying a home warranty; I know some people consider them important security to guard against unexpected big bills.
But we should have done our homework first; online reviews of our particular program were generally damning, I later discovered. Even if we had still signed up, we should have scrutinized the dense, 12-page booklet of terms and conditions that arrived in the mail. One critical line: “Should [the program] choose to replace a Covered Item the replacement will be the base model…” Never mind that our dryer was significantly up the product line.
And without question, we should have closely monitored each technician’s visit, recording his name, what he did, what he said he found or failed to find and what the next step was supposed to be. It may sound too adversarial to suggest also taking pictures — yet before-and-after photos would have helped to prove that we’d neither abused nor misused our appliance.
Kevin Brasler is extremely dubious. He’s executive editor of Washington Consumers’ Checkbook, part of the nonprofit Center for the Study of Services, and he considers home warranty programs “terrible deals” that play on people’s anxiety but aren’t worth the price or hassle. The math that purchasers do when deciding to sign up rarely works out. Companies, Brasler says, “seek to not pay claims.”
Yet the biggest issue, in his view? “You don’t get a say in who does the work. And the people who come out, they’re not working for you at all. Their loyalty is to the warranty company.” The result, he suggests, is almost preordained.
So read this as a cautionary tale, one with a bittersweet ending. My husband and I had no choice but to buy a new dryer, which pushed our total costs over seven months to about $2,000. More than a year later, at least the machine is still working.