The ultimate guide to getting a repair, replacement or refund for your broken appliance

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Christopher Elliott

Kristin Sorensen wanted a repair, replacement or refund for her broken GE appliances. She’d bought an oven, refrigerator, and dishwasher at Home Depot. And then everything fell apart.

It started with the dishwasher.

“We ran it once,” she says. “And it never worked again.”

Then her refrigerator broke. 

“It made a funny noise,” she recalls. “The next morning, all of our food — and breast milk stored for my newborn — was warm as can be.” 

Hang on. Two appliances broke at the same time? Are you kidding?

Appliances stop working occasionally. In one 2014 study, about 14 percent of dishwashers encountered a problem within 10 years. When that happens, you need to know if you’re eligible for a repair, replacement or refund. Manufacturers often give you little or no help with your problem. They hide behind a retailer or a vaguely worded warranty. Or they just give you the runaround, which is what happened to Sorensen. But there are advanced strategies for getting your appliances repaired or refunded, and I’ll share them with you now. 

The incredible story of two GE appliances that failed at the same time

Sorensen and her husband purchased the three appliances. Home Depot did not hook up gas or water lines, so Sorensen’s husband took care of the installation. 

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After the GE dishwasher stopped working, she contacted Home Depot, which referred her to GE. 

GE sent a technician, who diagnosed the problem as a faulty motherboard. 

“We waited two months for this part to arrive, leaving us with an expensive, brand-new, non-functioning dishwasher stuck in our home,” she says. “GE would not agree to a replacement, even though it literally failed instantly.”

Then the refrigerator started to act up.

“GE again said this, too, would need to be repaired — not replaced,” says Sorensen. “It was two weeks before the repair shop could come look at it.”

The diagnosis? The appliance needed a new compressor. The technician advised her to buy a new refrigerator, “which of course, GE is refusing to replace,” she says.

“I have no words to describe our frustration,” she told me. “I have a newborn baby and I’m wasting so much time from my limited days home with her fighting with GE. They are near impossible to work with and I feel like I flushed $5,000 down the toilet.” 

Sorensen wants a replacement fridge and dishwasher. 

“I would understand if they were a year old, but they are brand new and do not work,” she says.

What are your consumer rights on a defective appliance?

Your appliance should work as promised. If it doesn’t, you are entitled to a prompt repair or replacement.

As I’ll explain in a minute, there’s an implied warranty that supersedes any express warranty the manufacturer offers. In other words, your appliance should do what you expect it to do.

Here’s how long it should last:

Appliance Average Lifespan (years)
Air conditioner15-20
Compactor6
Dishwasher
Dryer13
Electric range13
Gas range15
Microwave oven9
PC5-8
Refrigerator13
TV4-10
Washing machine13

Put differently, you have the right to have a functioning appliance for about as long as it says on this chart, which is based on data from our advocacy cases — no matter what your warranty says.

Tip: If you see a lot of complaints about your fridge, TV or dishwasher, there might be a safety recall. That means you can get the appliance repaired or replaced, no questions asked. Check the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s SaferProducts.gov site to find out if your appliance is affected. 

Bottom line: If your appliance stops working, the manufacturer has a responsibility to make things right, regardless of what the warranty says. 

Remember, warranties protect the manufacturer — not you. 

What kind of warranty does your appliance have?

If you want a repair, replacement or refund, one of the first things you need to do is find out what kind of warranty you have on your appliance. There are several types.

Manufacturer’s warranty

Some manufacturers offer full warranties that guarantee that the product will work for the warranty period. “Full” means no strings attached, including no requirements for you to pay to return the product. Almost no one offers a full warranty anymore. Most warranties are limited, which means they only cover certain parts of the appliance and only under certain conditions. For example, if you take apart some computers or phones, you will void the warranty. That’s a limited warranty. These warranties are often referred to as express warranties.

Extended warranty

Some retailers and manufacturers will offer an extended warranty at extra cost. Although they call them warranties, they are essentially a form of insurance that extends the warranty on your appliance by a fixed amount of time. Extended warranties grew popular in the mid-90s when computer manufacturers quietly downgraded their warranties and asked their customers to pay for coverage. But you need to know that extended warranties are an almost pure source of profit to the company, so they are usually not a good deal for you. We’ve had numerous cases where even an extended warranty didn’t cover a needed repair. Most credit cards offer extended protection, so check with your card before you buy one of these pricey plans.

Implied warranty

If you’ve ever had an appliance break outside its warranty period, then you know how irritating it can be. The manufacturer and retailer will tell you the warranty expired and that you’re out of luck. But you’re not. Why? Because of the legal concept of “implied warranty,” which means the appliance will operate according to your expectations, even if there’s no warranty card or agreement that specifically says it. (Implied warranties are covered under the state Uniform Commercial Code, section 2-314.) We’ve won numerous cases on behalf of consumers by arguing that even though the appliance was out of warranty, it was still covered by an implied warranty.

Sorenson had a standard one-year limited warranty for her GE appliances. For example, her dishwasher warranty covered  “any part of the dishwasher which fails due to a defect in materials or workmanship.” It also offered free in-home replacements of the defective part.

Remember, warranties protect the manufacturer — not you. 

— Christopher Elliott

What if your appliance has no warranty?

Some manufacturers and retailers disclaim their warranties by making their purchases “as is.” The business is selling you the appliance with all its faults and no warranty of any kind. Most states allow that, and you are most likely to find it at a retailer that specializes in second-hand or refurbished appliances.  

However, 11 states — Connecticut, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia, plus the District of Columbia — do not allow appliances to be sold “as is.” (Some restrictions apply, so check your state laws before approaching the business. For example, some states technically allow an “as is” as long as there’s enough disclosure.)

Even if someone sold you an appliance “as is,” you may still be able to contact the manufacturer to get the device services at a reasonable cost. And there are options for getting a refund, which I’ll talk about in a minute. 

Should I use an appliance repair service or contact the manufacturer?

If your appliance stops working, your first instinct may be to call an appliance repair service. It may be the right instinct. But before you do, check with the retailer and manufacturer to see if they can fix the problem without a third party. If they say “yes,” check with an appliance repair service to see if they can do better. Always ask what kind of warranty the appliance repair service offers on its work.

To find a reputable appliance repair service, consult with services such as Angi and Yelp. But the best recommendations always come from a trusted friend or neighbor. 

What’s a reasonable time for repair under warranty?

We’ve advocated hundreds of appliance repair cases. A vast majority happen because the manufacturer insists on a repair rather than a replacement and then makes the customer wait weeks or months for the promised repair. 

Manufacturers always seem to have a plausible excuse for the delay. They blame a backorder on a necessary part or a supply chain disruption. But none of that interests consumers who purchased an appliance they can’t use.

So what’s a reasonable amount of time for a repair? It depends on the appliance. But generally speaking, you should not have to wait more than two weeks from the repair call to getting your appliance fixed. Any more than that is foot-dragging. Of course, express warranties do not specify the repair time. Nor do companies commit to a particular timetable. They are so quick to take your money but often so slow to provide service, it’s embarrassing.

When can you get your appliance repaired?

If your appliance doesn’t work, the manufacturer should be able to repair it. If the appliance is no longer being manufactured, the company may refer you to an outside business that specializes in repairing older models. And if your appliance is under warranty, the repair should not cost you anything. Some companies charge for service calls when they use an outside contractor. Always ask about expenses. We’ve encountered several cases where the company will continue billing a customer’s credit card for repair expenses without asking for permission.

When can you get your appliance replaced?

If a washing machine, dishwasher or dryer is defective, you may be able to ask for — and receive — a replacement. Warranties typically do not address a replacement, so it is up to customers to negotiate them. Generally, if a manufacturer is unable to repair an appliance, or if you’ve waited more than two weeks for a repair, you have a strong case for a replacement.

When can you insist on a refund?

As a general rule, if your appliance doesn’t work and the retailer or manufacturer has taken more than two weeks to get it repaired, you should ask for a refund. You’ll run into resistance from the company, especially if you’re outside your warranty period. 

But remember the implied warranty and don’t be afraid to invoke your state consumer protection laws. Escalate your case to an executive and you may find that “no” turning into a “yes.”

How to return your appliance for a repair, replacement or refund

Every appliance has a return policy. Some allow you to return it within a few days of purchasing it. But most will offer a repair. Manufacturers strongly prefer repairing an appliance to replacing it. 

Unless you purchased your appliance directly from a manufacturer, you’ll want to go through the retailer (like Home Depot or Best Buy). If you are still within the window for returns on your appliance, the retailer can make arrangements to pick up the TV set or dishwasher and refund your purchase.

One of the most effective ways of initiating a return is to ask the sales representative you worked with to help you. The sales rep is your point of contact at the store and is responsible for your customer satisfaction. Also, that person should want to help you, because you might buy another, more expensive replacement appliance. 

If the retailer has a strict no-returns policy — and some do — you’ll want to contact the manufacturer directly. If the appliance doesn’t work properly, the manufacturer is ultimately responsible for the product.

How she tried to fix these broken GE appliances

Sorensen went through the right channels to get to the GE appliance repair department. She contacted the company online and started a paper trail, which is the best way to get almost any consumer problem fixed.

The email thread looked pretty routine until GE appliance repair got its wires crossed, forgetting that two of its appliances had broken down. That prompts this almost surreal exchange.

Sorensen: My concerns are being completely ignored. I have a family and a newborn baby I am storing food and milk for in a mini fridge. I have brand new appliances that do not work, and am being treated like this is just the norm. I am NOT waiting two months for refrigerator parts like I have been for my dishwasher.

GE: Hello Kristin, My name is Makala and I am following up on behalf of your case manager today. I apologize for the inconvenience this situation is causing and has caused for you and your family. Since the warranty is for repairs we do need to continue with repairs. If parts show on backorder we will place a parts review for our parts specialists to locate the parts sooner to expedite them to your home. If they are unable to locate the parts sooner that’s when we will look into other options. If you have any other questions or concerns, please feel free to either call us, or reply to this message. Thank you for choosing GE Appliances and have a great rest of your day!

(Email correspondence between Sorensen and GE)

At the end of the process, Sorensen still had two broken appliances — and GE appliance repair insisted that she wait for the parts.

Are there any other options for getting a refund, replacement or repair on your broken appliance?

Contacting the retailer or manufacturer is only the first step in getting an appliance problem resolved. Here are a few more options:

Take your complaint to a manager

If you keep getting the same answer from a company about your broken appliance, maybe it’s time to take it to the next level. We list the names, numbers and email addresses of the customer service managers at all the manufacturers</a>. A brief, polite email to one of them, along with your paper trail, might be enough to get you the service you deserve.

File a grievance with regulators

You can file a complaint with your state regulator. (Here’s a list of state consumer protection offices.) States have a variety of consumer laws that a nonworking appliance might violate, including certain lemon laws.

Initiate a credit card dispute

The Fair Credit Billing Act protects credit card users from a good or service that is not as described by the merchant. A dishwasher that breaks after the first use would definitely fall under that category. Here’s my complete guide to a credit card chargeback. You’ll need to follow a few steps and you only have 60 days from the time you receive your bill to file a chargeback, so don’t wait too long.

Can GE fix these broken appliances?

I still can’t believe two appliances out of three failed and that GE appliance repair couldn’t fix them. Even more remarkable: GE was making this young family wait weeks and weeks for a working refrigerator and dishwasher, without any apology. 

“It is mind-blowing to me that GE expects me to go so long without working appliances,” Sorensen told me.

So I contacted GE on Sorensen’s behalf. I forwarded the correspondence between Sorensen and GE and asked my contact there if she could take a look at your case.

My GE contact responded right away. “Chris, we are looking into this and will get back to you ASAP,” she said.

A senior customer service manager from GE contacted Sorensen almost immediately and made arrangements to get both of the appliances repaired. GE also issued an extended warranty for the dishwasher and refrigerator.

But the story doesn’t end there. Sorensen contacted me on the day her refrigerator was supposed to be repaired. 

“Apparently, not all the necessary parts were ordered,” she says. “I sent a firm message to GE requesting a new fridge. And they finally caved.”

So Sorensen now has a fixed dishwasher with a new motherboard, a new refrigerator, and two extended warranties.

“Thank you so much for your help with our case,” she said.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, Forbes and the Washington Post. He also publishes Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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