Extended warranties are often the target of consumer watchdogs.
Warranty providers make a buck and salesmen get hefty commissions, critics say. And then, while warranties are often described as “comprehensive,” when something breaks, it’s not unusual for consumers to find the needed repair is not covered.
Margaret Burke, 84, had a different problem with an extended warranty she and her husband Daniel, 89, purchased on a GE dishwasher.
The dishwasher was installed in August 2010, and in the summer of 2014, Burke paid $219.43 for the extended warranty.
The warranty provider was Assurant Solutions, a company referred to customers by the manufacturer, documents show.
In addition to the dishwasher warranty, the Burkes bought two other extended warranties from Assurant: one costing $110.57 to cover their washing machine and another for $145.78 to cover their electric range.
When the dishwasher stopped working in August, Margaret Burke said, she called Assurant.
She said she reported the problem, and someone was supposed to call her back to set up an appointment with a repairman.
That was on Aug. 16.
Burke said no one called her back, so she called Assurant again on Aug. 19.
This time, the rep promised, someone would call her back in 15 minutes.
But after not getting a call for three hours and 25 minutes, Burke said, she called again.
This time, she was told to call the repairman herself, and the Assurant rep provided her with a phone number.
“I called several times and on Aug. 22, I was able to leave a message,” Burke said. “That was the only time I got through. After that, the mailbox was full.”
She said she kept trying to call at different times — at 6 a.m., at 6 p.m. — but she never got through and no one returned her message.
Burke decided to do some research, and she found a host of online complaints about Assurant.
Frustrated, she sent a letter to General Electric to complain about Assurant.
“I want you to know that this company is not in the business of repairing appliances,” she wrote. “They only sell warranties which have no value.”
She recounted her experience and she asked for assistance in getting a refund on the $475.78 she paid for the three warranties.
“I fear that all the money spent on these extended warranties has been wasted,” she wrote.
The Burkes decided to call in another repairman.
More than $150 later, the dishwasher was fixed. Maybe.
Burke said she was told the problem was with the switchboard, and it could happen again. If it did, she’d need a new switchboard.
A few days after the repair, the dishwasher failed.
And she still hadn’t gotten a call back from the Assurant repairman.
But more than two weeks later, Assurant called to ask if she was having a problem with the dishwasher, Burke said.
She said she told her story to the rep and asked for refunds on the costs of the three warranties. The rep said he would look into it and call her back, she said, but no one called.
“At this point I am really not interested in getting the dishwasher repaired. Enough already,” Burke said. “My plan is now to shop for a new dishwasher.”
GETTING A FIX
We reviewed the extended warranties and took a closer look at Assurant.
The company is indeed the subject of many online complaints.
Interestingly, the Better Business Bureau has received 1,231 complaints against the company in the past three years. Despite the large number of complaints, Assurant still has a grade of “A+” because it has answered all the complaints, the BBB website said.
(Stay tuned. Bamboozled is working on an upcoming column with a deeper look at how companies with many complaints can still get a high grade from BBB. If you have questions you’d like us to pose to BBB, send us a message at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com.)
We reached out to Assurant about the Burkes, and we also asked General Electric to examine the case.
Assurant got to work quickly.
The company said what happened to the Burkes was “a bit of a unique circumstance.”
“We have a network of servicers that we use to handle repairs and all of those in Mrs. Burke’s area were booked out for more than a week, so we searched for someone else,” spokesman Andy Mus said.
Assurant found someone who promised to promptly handle the repair, Mus said.
“But that never happened,” he said.
Mus said Assurant has contacted Burke to apologize for everything she went through, and the company has agreed to cancel and refund her for all three extended warranty contracts.
He also said the company will “provide compensation” to repair or replace the dishwasher, but those details weren’t worked out yet.
We asked about all the consumer complaints the company has received.
“We have in the U.S. some 78 million policies,” Mus said, noting they included warranties for vehicles, appliances, electronics, phones and other household goods. “Relative to 78 million, it’s a tiny fraction.”
He’s got a point.
Then Burke had an update.
She said in addition to refunding the warranty costs, the company promised to reimburse her the money she paid for the repair cost. It would also give her $207.60 for the value of the broken dishwasher, she said.
“I am quite satisfied with what they offered,” Burke said. “Now I can purchase almost any dishwasher I want — if the checks come through.”
We’re glad she’s now a happy customer, and we’re also glad to see Assurant went above and beyond to do the right thing here.
One other side note: GE finally responded to our request, saying that GE Appliances was sold earlier this year to Haier.
Haier, a multinational Chinese company that makes consumer electronics and home appliances, made the purchase for $5.4 billion, reports said.
Haier did not respond to requests about its relationship with Assurant.
Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.