Why did this Whirlpool microwave go down the drain?

Filipchuk Oleg/Shutterstock
Filipchuk Oleg/Shutterstock
Question: I purchased all new Whirlpool Gold appliances in March of 2011, including a refrigerator, convection microwave/hood, dishwasher, large smooth cooktop, built-in oven.

I’ve been very happy with everything until my microwave stopped working. It doesn’t heat, so it is very likely a bad magnetron. I called Whirlpool and talked to a representative and escalated the call to a manager. The supervisor admitted the product was defective, but said it would cost $300 to repair the unit and to extend the one-year warranty.

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We have been very careful with this microwave. We haven’t slammed the door or abused it in any way. Remodeling our kitchen was quite an expensive thing for us. I researched all the major brands and even talked to a Whirlpool rep at Nebraska Furniture Mart. I believed Whirlpool made a quality product that would last, and I still do. But this particular microwave was defective.

As a small business owner, I know that doing the right thing isn’t always easy or the most profitable, but it’s right, and it’s what keeps customers coming back. It’s also what makes my customers refer others. Whirlpool’s code of ethics says: “Whirlpool’s long-standing reputation for quality, excellence and integrity demands that our employees and our suppliers make the right choice in all cases. As you know, there is no right way to do a wrong thing.”

We spent thousands on top-of-the-line, all-new Whirlpool Gold appliances. I think Whirlpool should do what’s right. The microwave was defective, and it should be repaired at no cost to me. I expect that sometimes appliances will need maintenance over the years and am willing to incur expenses for needed repairs. What I don’t expect is to spend nearly $600 for a microwave that lasts one year and nine months. — David Eck, Lincoln, Neb.

Answer: Technically, Whirlpool was right in its first response. You were past your warranty, and the best it had to do was offer to fix the unit for a fee. But I also agree with you. When you’re buying a premium microwave oven, you expect it to last more than a few months after your warranty expires. What’s more, if a representative admitted to you on the phone that this particular model was defective, then you have a strong case for appealing Whirlpool’s original response.

But how? You tried by phone, and it didn’t work. You tried to find the names of Whirlpool’s executives, but ran into a dead end. Whirlpool lists some of its corporate executives on its website, but there’s no way to contact them through the site. Oddly, my Whirlpool contact works for the KitchenAid brand, which, according to Whirlpool’s site, is a subsidiary of the company. (By the way, the naming convention for emails at KitchenAid is [email protected]). Let’s just say they’re not making it easy to appeal anything.

The ethics statement you cited makes this case even more problematic. It suggests Whirlpool would not let a warranty stand in the way of doing the right thing. If those are not just empty words, then this would have been a good time to either prove it by fixing your oven or clearly explaining to you why it can’t help you. It apparently did neither.

I contacted Whirlpool on your behalf. Separately, you also reached out to its executives by email. Whirlpool contacted you and offered to fix the microwave at no cost.

Did Whirlpool violate its own "ethics" statement by initially denying this repair request?

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42 thoughts on “Why did this Whirlpool microwave go down the drain?

  1. I’m glad it worked out in his favor, but it’s also good for consumers to remember that their credit cards often offer some protection as well. Many credit cards will automatically extend the manufacturer’s warranty, often doubling it. If Whirlpool hadn’t stepped up, Mr. Eck might have been able to have the unit fixed through his credit card’s warranty extension. (Granted, this is still not necessarily a painless thing to do, but it’s still a nice perk.)

      1. A lot of the higher end microwave/range hood combos sell for about $600 and as high as $900. I’m not sure if the cost of labor is included though, since these are built-in appliances. It would be an advanced DIY job, but most people have a professional install them.

    1. Depends on how it was purchased. None of the appliances mentioned were standalone appliances. I haven’t seen a standalone dishwasher in ages (my parents used to have one that rolled on wheels and had to be coupled to a special fitting over a faucet). They could have been purchased separately or through a contractor. Some appliance stores accept an entire payment and pay the contractor, but a contractor would prefer to be paid by check.

  2. Seems like a common thing in business sadly, companies say such glamorous things about their product or themselves, but then hide behind stone cold terms and conditions in their warranties when the products do not live up to their own promises or the artificial expectations they create.

  3. Warranties have a limited span, and the cost for servicing the warranty is built into a product cost. Yes, the microwave SHOULD last longer, and we can have no doubt that the “design life” of the microwave was certainly longer than two years. But sometimes things break early; it happens. If a one-year warranty is too short for you, buy a longer one. Period. End of story. Yes, extended warranties, like all forms of insurance, are sources of profit for the companies that sell them. This is kind of the way insurance works; they don’t bear that risk out of the goodness of their hearts.

    I don’t consider it to be a customer service failure if a company chooses to not repair, for free, an item for which the warranty has elapsed.

    1. I on the other hand would. Merely following the terms of the warranty is to do the minimum that’s required. Do I want to do business with someone who operates on such a low level. No. I much prefer to do business with those companies that operate on a higher level.

      1. You are, of course, welcome to patronize (or not) any business you choose. I’m just saying that it’s not unethical to do for the consumer exactly what a business said they’d do. (And this shouldn’t come as a surprise either.)

        Yes, a warranty defines the minimum, but I think it also defines a perfectly reasonable maximum. If a business wanted to “do more” for the customer, they’d offer a longer warranty so you wouldn’t have to even call into customer service and get an exception.

        1. I’m thinking more along the lines of manufacturer’s warranty vs in-store return. The same item from the same manufacturer may be sold at Walmart and William Sonoma. When you patronize Walmart you expect and generally get a certain level of service. Buy the same item at William Sonoma and they provide a higher level of service. Walmart is more likely to follow the letter of the law. Williams Sonoma is a much more accommodating store, valuing personal service and repeat business.

          1. And William and Sonoma certainly costs a lot more than Wal-Mart. Whirlpool is Whirlpool Corp’s mid-range brand. (In retail-land, they’d be about at the level of Target, who is not exactly known for generous return policies.) If you expect more red-carpet service, Jenn-Air would be a better choice.

      2. I wouldn’t generally think honoring the warranty is the minimum required. Would you expect you car dealer to give you new tires if the tread wears out after their warranty? How about Now a one year shelf life is certainly awful when it comes to a kitchen appliance but to me that points to a defect in the products warranty. Looking at most microwaves most of them all only cover one year of labor, however many of them offer 5 years for parts.

        In this particular case I wouldn’t call it a customer service failure. However based on the online reviews it does seem to be a marketing/design failure as there are lots of complaints regarding Whirlpool Gold failing prematurely.

        1. I think you missed what I was getting at. Under all circumstances, a business must do at the very least what it promised. It can’t go below that. The warranty itself might be crap, but that’s another issue.

          1. And I can definitely see your point. I am a fire extinguisher distributor, our manufacturer warrants all units for 6 years, but they have to be sent back to the manufacturer to get service. I have actually made repairs during the warranty period and then contact the manufacturer and get reimbursement. At the same time any of their equipment even outside warranty that fails due to a manufacturing flaw they will warranty. They have great service especially if it was their design or parts that failed. Every company should be like that in my opinion!

      3. I purchased a Breville counter top convection oven a few years ago. It had a 1 year warranty. One of the knobs didn’t turn well from the get-go, it seemed to rub against the panel, but it still worked so I let it go. After two years the convention fan started making scraping and squeaking sounds and not running very fast, this was a bigger issue to me. I called Breville to find out about getting both issues repaired and they told me that my problem was unacceptable and did not live up to Breville name, and they were so sorry that I didn’t call with the first issue, that it should have never passed their inspection. They FedEx’d me a new oven with 2 day shipping and a pre-paid label to send mine back. They also included a broiler pan and a pizza tray for free for the inconvenience of the knob rubbing. Those were optional extra-cost accessories. Now that’s customer service. I will always buy from them now. I didn’t expect them to do anything at all when I called but tell me where I could get it repaired at my expense.

  4. If Mr. Eck talked to a Whirlpool rep at Nebraska Furniture Mart (the Mart), he may also have purchased his appliances there, since the Mart (in Omaha) delivers to Lincoln. Talking to the Mart people may also have been a resource for him. They’ve been fabulous to me over the years and have an well-earned and outstanding reputation for customer satisfaction. I had a similar problem with a GE Profile wall oven; the computer panel died right outside the warranty. I, too, had purchased all new appliances for my (then) new house from the Nebraska Furniture Mart. I made a call to them when GE declined to help me, saying why did you sell me a “top of the line” model that breaks in 13 months?, they made a call; GE paid for the part and I paid for the labor, which I thought was a fair compromise.

  5. I feel that they did violate their ethics code. Yes, they were legally right in denying the repair since the appliance was out of warranty, but if you’re going to be that strict about the failure of such an expensive microwave so close to its end of warranty, don’t imply that your ethics would lead you to behave differently.

  6. If the company admitted that there is a product defect, but refuses to replace the defective part, then they are not following their stated code of ethics. In fact, I wonder why they did not reach out to registered owners to tell them that the product was defective and offer to replace the defective part. That would really be living up to their code.

    1. They did not admit to a product design defect. I don’t know where you got that from the story. A single part in an single microwave broke.

      1. ” The supervisor admitted the product was defective, but said it would
        cost $300 to repair the unit and to extend the one-year warranty.”

        If you admit to me that you sold me a defective product I expect you take care of the situation. That’s why manufacturers issue recalls years after the warranty has expired. If you’re not willing to stand behind your product, its time for me to shop elsewhere.

        1. Without hearing the actual conversation, I don’t think the customer service rep was referring to the design of the microwave. I think when “the product” was discussed it was referring to the individual microwave, which has obviously not met it’s design spec.

          (What phone rep in their right mind would discuss field repair rates? That would get the phone rep fired in short order.)

          1. We don’t even know if the supervisor used the term “defective” or if that was the OP paraphrasing. Something broke on the microwave…clearly to that extent it was “defective.” That doesn’t mean it was a design flaw or even that they’d ever gotten a call about this particular issue before. It just means that something broke on an appliance outside the warranty period. And, in this day and age, of course they’re not going to fix it.

            I really feel for the OP because I had a similar thing happen a couple years back. A fairly high-end stove died within a couple months of the warranty ending and repairs would have been so high I ended up replacing the entire appliance rather than fixing it. (I’d gotten a great deal on the unit…so I thought…meaning I wasn’t into it for anywhere close to retail price making forking over close to what I’d paid a bad option.)

        2. Parts break down. Regardless of how well made something is, there will be examples that break down. Look up the term “bathtub curve”. A lot will break down early and most will eventuall break down after a few years. Then there will be a steady proportion of failures during a mid-range of life.

    1. Screwed in what way? A customer requested a free repair for a product where the warranty had elapsed, he did not purchase an extension, and the request was denied. In what way is “doing exactly what you said you’d do”, “screwing” the customer?

      It may certainly be “above and beyond” to grant a free repair, but that’s another matter entirely.

  7. I have had this happen with several products over the years, a week or two after the warranty, or once I even called BEFORE the warranty expired, but the company responded after, and they refused to honor the warranty. I used to write and complain, but now I speak with my wallet, and I refuse to purchase products from those companies. Whirlpool is one that will never get my business again from personal experience. BUT once a warranty has expired- I think you are out of luck, and where does a company draw the line? 2 weeks after expiration, 3?

  8. My question to Whirlpool. If you stand beside your products, why don’t you include a longer warranty? I always ask companies that. I had a plumbing company come out who said they guarantee their work 100%. I asked what that meant and they said it meant that their plumbing work is so good it will easily last 50+ years. I asked if their Warranty was 50+ years and they said it was 6 months. I asked them why their warranty didn’t match they 100% guaranty and they had to call a manager who told me they didn’t need a long warranty because their work was so good. I laughed and said he needs to take a class on logic. I found another plumber with a 25 year warranty, who had been in the business 20 years so far and provided references.

    I have never had a magnetron go out on a microwave. I have a 25 year old microwave in my closet that has gone through many moves, goes to work a lot, and while I had to fix the door switch once, it has had no other problems. Its actually pretty simple technology and a magnetron is very hearty. The only likely reason for one to break would be for it to be defective or dropped. While a 1 year warranty means 1 year, I would hope as good will a company would fix something that was defective, and I would also hope they would have a longer warranty on the heartier parts of the unit. I have had several products where there is a 1 year warranty on the wear and tear parts, and longer warranty on the parts that are unlikely to break unless something truly was defective in them.

    1. Warranties are never really guarantees on the quality of a product. They’re more or less bets about whether or not people will actually return an item for servicing.

      I remember way back when, Apple computers of the 1980s had 90 day warranties. They were still known to be ultra-reliable with very few repairs needed.

  9. Well, as Chris points out, technically Whirlpool could have stood by its point that once the warranty expired they were not required to honor it. But yes, if I buy something at a premium, I do expect more and better performance than just to last through the warranty period before it collapses.

  10. I think that the main problem is the statement the OP makes here:

    “so it is very likely a bad magnetron.”

    The average consumer doesn’t know what this is and certainly wouldn’t be able to diagnose a microwave issue. I’ve done customer support and repair in a previous life, and whenever a customer shows that they have intimate knowledge of the intricate internal workings of some complicated device, I suspect the customer to perhaps have done something to the device that may have voided the warranty. For customers who show this knowledge, I would pay particular attention to the unit when I take it apart for maintenance…looking for gouging of the screwheads, cross threading inside the plastic bosses, wire bundles not cleanly secured. All these things are scrutinized to validate if the customer had opened the unit or not.

    I follow a strict Columbo method of guilt. It’s usually the one who gives the most plausible alternative version of the crime!

    1. That didn’t sound all that unusual to me. I’ve never taken apart a microwave oven before, but I could probably figure out if it’s a “bad magnetron”. All that means is the microwave source. I’ve had a microwave go bad before. All the controls seemed to work. The lights went on. Everything seemed fine except that nothing seemed to get hot. It could possibly be more specific, including a bad transformer or control circuit, but saying that it’s a “bad magnetron” isn’t bad as a simple diagnosis.

    2. I doubt seriously this is a case of the user opening it up and damaging it that way. Also, a quick Google search for microwave not heating produced lots of hits referring to the magnetron as the problem. So him mentioning it sounds more like someone who did some basic research on the problem. And besides, it probably was the power supply for the magnetron that went out. In my search, I looked up Whirlpool convection microwaves and found several references of the power board going out on some of those models.

    3. There isn’t all that much else to go wrong with a microwave, so the magnetron would be everybody’s first guess if it seemed like it was trying to work. (If it has no display and isn’t working at all, the guess would be something with the control panel.) Microwaves just don’t break all that often, at least in my experience. I’ve gotten rid of them with remodels or when I no longer needed my college pint-sized model, but I’ve never had one break.

    4. The magnetron is the doodad in a microwave that makes the microwaves. I knew that before reading this article. If I had a microwave that seemed fully functional, but just didn’t make things become hotter, that would be the part I’d suspect. The only mods you’d be making in order to know this is to your brain, by reading “How it works” books. (BTW, I also know where electricity comes from, and where stuff goes when you flush it down the toilet.)

  11. Assuming the Whirlpool supervisor did use the word “defective,” meaning there was a service bulletin on this unit, they should have offered Mr. Eck a parts and labor concessions, which pays for ALL the repairs. If there was NOT a service bulletin out on this microwave, Mr. Eck should have to pay for his own repair. Most manufactures’ only offer a one year warranty and appliances are an expensive investment. Therefore, I highly recommend consumer’s purchasing an extended warranty for all appliances. Magnatrons are one of the most common parts I replace in microwave’s, and yes, even on brand new units. Consumers’ all too often make the common mistake of believing new appliances don’t tear up. Please take it from me, it doesn’t matter which brand you buy, save yourselves a ton of money and inconvenience down the road.. purchase the extended warranty (=

  12. I always feel like anything I get with a warranty winds up breaking right after it expires! I never even bother trying to contact the manufacturer anymore. After many attempts and getting shut down, I started getting my repairs done cheaper. There are other companies that offer better deals on whirlpool repair parts. It seems easier to go to the place you bought the appliance from, but I’ve had a MUCH easier time avoiding it.

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