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Fish or Cut Bait

What Happened to Quality?
By Bob Ciminel


April 18, 2006

When I was a youngster, my mother used an old Maytag wringer washer to do the family laundry. If you don't remember wringer washers, or have never seen one, here's a picture. And, no, that's not my mother; she was prettier.

jpg washing machine

These things were a bit dangerous, as I can attest to after having my fingers pinched in the rollers several times before learning not to play with the wringer. However, they did a good job of washing clothes. They would not be safe for today's synthetic fabrics, but they were great for cotton fabrics.

Mom's washing machine lasted a long time. My wife and I moved it into our basement after we married in 1971, and we used it for about a year before I took pity on Alice and bought her a new Maytag automatic washer and gas dryer. In 1976, we moved to Beaumont, Texas and had to replace our gas dryer with an electric one. We bought another Maytag.

Our washer and dryer ran like champs for 26 years. I had to do some occasional maintenance over the years, but nothing major. I recall having to replace the timers in both the washer and dryer, and a belt in the dryer, but otherwise they ran without problems and kept our family in clean clothes until we booted the kids out of the nest. We were sold on the Maytag name; it had been in our family for over 50 years.

In 2002, New Years Day to be exact, the appliance store delivered and installed a brand new Maytag washer and dryer in our laundry room. The old washer and dryer ran fine, but you couldn't read the labeling on any of the controls. No one but my wife knew how to set up the washer or dryer. Besides, the appliance store had one of those "no payments, no interest for a year" deals, so we opted to upgrade.

I think the washer worked about two weeks before we had to call a repairman. After the first year, the top began to rust. Maytag sent a replacement top at no charge. It's still sitting on the floor beside the washer waiting for me to install it. If I went into the laundry room for something other than letting the dog out of her kennel, I'd probably get up the gumption to install the new lid.

After four years of operation, the washer won't spin out clothes and it makes a horrible screeching sound when it finishes the spin cycle. The dryer drum has a cracked vane, which showed up shortly after we started using it. Of course, everything is out of warranty now and I didn't buy the extended warranty because these were Maytag products. Lesson learned, if you buy appliances today, opt for the extended warranty.

We purchased a seven-year warranty on our new Whirlpool refrigerator when we bought it in 2003. Soon after we began using it, a crack appeared in the plastic sidewall. We're still fighting with the warranty folks. General Electric holds the warranty, but they told us to call Whirlpool. Whirlpool said they'd send us a tube of epoxy to smear on the crack, but they won't replace the refrigerator even after admitting it was a manufacturing defect. So, even with extended warranties you can end up in a situation where the warranty company and the manufacturer point fingers at each other and nothing is resolved. It all comes down to caveat emptor. Don't rely on the brand name and assume they still make a quality product, even after 50 years of experience with their products.

My mother's old Maytag was made out of steel. It was mounted on wheels because it was too heavy to slide. It took two strong men to lift it; I know because I heard the movers complain about that washing machine during each of our 14 moves. Our new Maytag washer is made out of sheet metal. My wife can slide it around the laundry room. I'm afraid it wouldn't make it through our next move.

It seems we've made a complete about-face with our product quality. When I was growing up, automobiles rarely lasted more than three or four years without needing major repairs, but appliances would run for 25 or 30 years and never miss a lick. Today, our cars can go 150,000 miles, but we're lucky if our appliances last a year. On the plus side, at least our cars will be around to take us to the Laundromat.

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Fish or Cut Bait by Bob Ciminel

Bob Ciminel's articles may include satire and parody, and mix fact with fiction.
He assumes informed readers will be able to tell the difference. Bob lives in Roswell, Georgia, and works for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations.  He is also a conductor on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway.
Contact Bob at

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Ketchikan, Alaska