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The Lowdown on Breakdown

By Jim Bray

Murphy's Law is alive and well in the world of electronics!

Today's electronic hardware, whether it be PC, audio/video, or whatever, is generally built as inexpensively as profitability makes possible. However, since so much of today’s technology is made up of solid state components and microchips, chances are you’ll never need service.

That said, the complexity of today's equipment means if it ever does decide to develop a “mild flutter,” or pack it in completely, tracking down the problem – let alone getting it fixed – can be a horrible experience. This means it could be expensive once the warranty’s expired.

And when else would it break down?

Fortunately, so much is modular that it can be quicker and cheaper to throw away the piece that's causing the problem and replace it. This is especially true of computer components.

You may be wise to think twice, however, before tossing your three thousand dollar TV into a landfill because its tuner stops tuning. Fortunately, since electronics prices plummet steadily, it may be relatively affordable to simply replace a failed component from a more expensive product, even if you have to pay for it.

For example, if the fax/modem for which you paid $200 three years ago has gone awry, you may discover that to replace it now requires hardly more outlay than the purchase of a box of corn flakes. Likewise, if your 5 year old VCR, for which you paid $500 back then, becomes terminal you may as well just throw it away; new VCR’s are about as cheap as many repairs.

I apologize to environmentalists for this fact of technological life, but I stand by the opinion – though, naturally, I recommend you recycle as much as you possibly can.

An extended warranty can sometimes get you around the cash outlay for repairs, though I’m a bit torn about these beasts.

Extended warranties are a crap shoot. They’re often cash cows for the retailer (and the warranty company), which is why they push them so often, and chances are you'll never need the warranty work. Even if you do, the fine print could exclude exactly the part that broke on your equipment – so make sure you read it before you need it!

Then again, if you have my track record (everything I buy seems to break down the day after the warranty expires, regardless of how much I spent on it), an extended warranty can bring peace of mind.

The best way to get an extended warranty is to use one of those credit cards that doubles the manufacturer's warranty.

If you need service, the first place to go is the dealer from whom you bought the equipment. If they stiff you, find out who the local authorized service depot is and go there. The dealer will usually tell you; so will your local Yellow Pages. You may even find the info on the manufacturer’s web site.

If you can't get no satisfaction (to steal a line), don't hesitate to write the manufacturer. They generally (though not always) care very much about satisfying their customers, correctly realizing that one angry customer translates to ten lost sales as that now-ex-customer warns friends and family against the brand.

This is a last resort, of course, but it can be a good one. Don’t be afraid to write directly to the company’s president, either. This should be done by name, which will entail a bit of homework on your part.

It’s amazing how seriously many corporate presidents take such feedback from the public, though of course such a blanket statement may not apply to the one to whom you write (and wouldn’t that just figure?). I once felt ripped off by a major department store and, having gotten the runaround locally, wrote to the top dog. I didn’t mention what I do for a living, either; to this person, I was “just an ordinary consumer.”

I got satisfaction.

A word on behalf of retailers. It isn’t fair to buy something from “Whacko Willie's” and, when it breaks, take it to "The Technology Boutique " because they're known for customer relations and product knowledge.

If you didn't shop at “the Boutique” you have no business abusing them, unless the product is out of warranty and “the Boutique” will earn some money off the deal.

Fair’s fair, after all.

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.


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January 31, 2006