Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: | posted December 03, 2012 13:33
The woes of warranty in the Philippines
Once in a blue moon?
Once there was wailing and gnashing of teeth. It's not an everyday nor every purchase experience but claiming warranty is usually a bugbear. There are forms to fill, phone calls to make, explanations and arguments to deal with. Even if icons of customer service, like SM Appliances, True Value and Ace Hardware try to ease the pain, its dealing with the product maker that sometimes demands the Biblical patience of Job.
Take the case of JML, a newish household consumer brand my household trusted when it came to pest killers, vacuum-blower device and super absorbent mops. A squeegee mop, fantastic in absorption, lasted only a few months of its 2-year warranty before its steel clamp gave way. ACE Hardware dutifully took down the details and promptly sent the defective unit, along with a letter to the distributor. After a few weeks, the distributor contacted me asking to know what went wrong. The lady on the other end of the line claimed that my sponge was discolored and wanted to know if any harsh chemicals were used. Nothing more than plain tap water was my reply as the mop was exclusively used to wipe bathroom floors. I added that if JML doubts my word, they should lab test the sponge to find out if there was indeed contact with any harmful chemicals. The lady then asked me what I wanted. My query-reply was what should I get from the warranty, to which no answer was forthcoming. That's the status quo now several months later. The effective dead hand of the Dead Ma.
Better known brands are not as innocent either. Philips, with its excellent product design is a name to be trusted. Some 6 months ago, I fell for the charms of their pricey Do-it-yourself hair clipper with a unique rotating trimmer head. As advertised, the hair trimmer was able to charm the hair cut buzzing anxieties of my autistic teenager. Unfortunately, after 6 hair cuts, two of the three adjustable plastic combs worked loose and could no longer lock in their notches. Still within the two year warranty, SM Appliances directed me to the nearest Philips authorized out-sourced customer service center staffed by TV repair technicians. They claimed that Philips said that the plastic combs were not covered by warranty and that I would have to pay for new plastic combs if at all available. But only after 6 hair cuts? It would appear that the problem lies not in the combs but in the expensive electric motor trimmer lock, which is covered by the warranty, which failed after 6 hair cuts. At this writing, I am still waiting.
Its a dream wish for any warranty claim to be as simple as returning and exchanging an item as many US shoppers are so accustomed to. A recent case with True Value shows that such things do happen here. I purchased a bug killer from a newish brand. Six months later, the bulbs failed. I brought it back to True Value. They replaced it with a model from a more expensive but established brand. No ifs, buts and no questions asked.
And now, cars
Happily, my extended family's experience with warranty claims over domestic appliances are not in keeping with my automotive warranty claims in the past decades before I turned motoring journalist. A car costs more and is far more complex than a mop, pest killer or hair clipper so the anxiety and grief a debilitating failure will cause is aggravation multiplied.
Change of heart, change of mind
In the late 60's, my Grandmother ordered a Mercedes-Benz which Universal Motors duly delivered to her door step. The next day, she changed her mind on her choice of color and called up to ask for another car. Since the model in her new choice was in stock, the car with the preferred color arrived the next day in exchange for the one day 'old' new car. No problem.
Even monopolies warranty
Car sales in the early 70's was controlled by the PCMP monopoly and we all know that given a situation like that when car supplies were tight vis-a-vis door-banging demand, the only customer right was to wait until he or she is served. Yet there were still shining examples of warranties being synonymous with word of honor.
New car, new defect
In those days, GM's family sedan entry was the Holden Torana. It was powered by the iron-block 1.9-liter cam-in-head engine from Opel, mated to a gearbox which was a vociferous whiner. After many trips to the dealer, the whine could not be quenched, and so the transmission was replaced. But the whine, which may well be in the manufacturing DNA, was still there. By then, the Torana was replaced in GM's line up by a bigger Holden sedan. GM offered to take back the Torana and for a couple of thousand Pesos more, we could get the brand new Holden. Done!
Let me try again
Well, the bigger Holden had the same 1.9-liter 4-cylinder Opel engine-gearbox combo but due to the bigger platform and better sound insulation, the whine was greatly subdued. Problem solved. Err, not quite. Since brand new, the Holden was as thirsty as the predecessor Holden Kingswood which had a big 4.1-liter straight six. Again several attempts by the dealer, including carb and head replacements, failed, as the Opel four drank like a Holden six.
Let's make a deal
By that time, the family business needed a new truck and since we were regular customers of Chevrolet C-30 trucks, GM offered us another deal. Give them back the Holden and they'll give us a brand new truck, this time at no added cost. Done deal and we all lived happily ever after.
More happy stories than sad
Mind, our stories of warranty claims are a small proportion of happier stories with many cars - Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi, Isuzu, Mercedes Benz, Nissan, Ford, Mazda, Subaru, Rambler, VW - through several eras that never gave us cause to claim warranty. To this day, these happy stories continue way beyond the warranty period. Isuzu even honored warranty claims to an Isuzu Trooper injection pump and automatic transmission even as the Trooper was past 10 years or 50,000km. In the mid-Nineties, Alvarez Group's Prestige Cars North installed a brand new engine in a 3 year old E39 BMW 525i that overheated. No ifs or buts, too.
Even pre-owned have it
Pre-owned Peugeots, sold and maintained by Volvo Cars Philippines after Auto France shut its doors, were given the same word of honor treatment from replacement mufflers and windshield defects right down to rear view mirror mountings. A confidant and owner of a 2-year old Volvo once experienced engine problems with his car and Volvo promptly replaced it with a new car making the owner a Volvo loyalist who echoed, hand on heart, 'Volvo for life....', the Volvo ad tag.
Please don't sue
One can only wish that our experience with houseware claims were as painless and easy as our motor vehicle warranty claims, a product several times the cost and complexity of a hair clipper, bug killer or a squeegee mop. Still, litigation, which is not good for the blood pressure nor even the threat of it, should be the last resort, even when the silence from the product maker is prolonged and deafening. Woe to those who refuse to honor their word, much less reply in word and in deed.