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Sears steps up as Whirlpool passes the buck

Q: I'm having a long-standing problem getting a Whirlpool microhood vent/microwave unit repaired. I purchased the unit from Sears in 2004, and have an extended service agreement from Whirlpool for parts and labor running into 2009.

A repairman -- approved by Whirlpool -- came to my home last December and determined the computer panel was not working. He said he would order the part and when he checked into it, was told the part had been on back order since November 2005 and would be here within a month.

Nothing happened. I called Whirlpool and they told me the part would be available in February. On March 14, I called the repairman who said he'd been told it wasn't certain when the part would be ready. I then contacted Whirlpool and got the same response, but was assured that as soon as it was available, we would be the first to get it.

I feel I have waited long enough, paid enough and am covered for enough years. I can hardly use my stove without worry, since the microhood does not take heat or steam out of the house because it is dead.

-- Elizabeth A. Werner, Clarence Center

A: Nailing down a resolution to your problem was quite a challenge.

After leaving several messages for the Whirlpool Corp. public relations staff -- including the model and serial numbers needed to track your repair -- we heard nothing back. Not even a return phone call to acknowledge the complaint.

So, we moved on to Sears Roebuck & Co, and on March 21, contacted its corporate offices in Hoffman Estates, Ill. Within just a couple of hours of speaking with Sears' Shirley Bicknell, a Sears technician arrived at your house.

As you indicated, the technician spent an hour checking your microhood and he placed an emergency order for the $292 part needed to fix it. An appointment was made for March 30 for him to return to repair your unit at no cost.

On March 22, Sears called you again to say they had located the part and would have it sent directly to your home -- expecting it to arrive in a day or two. If the part arrived early, Sears said it would do the repair immediately.

Sears had the part sent overnight from a company location in Nevada. "It will come directly to the customer and we'll fix it probably by the weekend," said Bicknell, a field support manager for Sears national customer relations.

About the time the Sears technician was at your home, Whirlpool called us to say they were forwarding your problem to their executive team/customer experience center.

The quick turnaround by Sears speaks volumes. However, it became painfully apparent that Whirlpool wasn't on the same page.

Whirlpool's Steve Duthie called us back on March 22, this time saying that Whirlpool had nothing to do with the repair delay. He said it was Chicago-based Aon Corp., an insurance carrier that handles the service contract.

"I guess Aon is paying 75 percent of the cost for a new microwave," he said. "I guess Aon dropped the ball and never ordered the part. This has happened before. All of a sudden, people are pointing the finger at Whirlpool, when it was Aon."

None of that made much sense to us. Why would you want to pay at least $200 toward a new unit, (yours cost $790 in 2004), when your service agreement covers the repair?

Aon didn't call us back by press time, but Bicknell assured us that Sears will resolve the matter. In the future, she recommends that you contact Sears for any other product service needs.

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