That sucks: No warranty on vac crack

Scot Walk calls his foray into the world of used vacuums "a cautionary tale," and he's right– but perhaps not for the reason he cites. Walk ascribes his difficulties to the store, Vac & Sew City in Rio Hill Shopping Center, but I suspect the real issue is when it makes sense to buy a used appliance and when it's wiser to just get a new one.

Walk's wife paid $400 for an Electrolux canister model last June, which included a two-year warranty. The store's owner, Daniel Harris, allegedly added that the warranty covered everything– "Unless she dropped it down the stairs."

They got a chance to test the warranty sooner than they would have liked, because, by Walk's account, the carpet head motor malfunctioned "almost immediately." Harris repaired it promptly, however, and they were satisfied– but not for long.

In July, a crack appeared in the housing around where the retractable cord goes into the machine. "When my wife took it back," Walk claims, Harris's son (who also works at the store) told her that "the crack could only have happened if she had dropped the machine, and therefore was not covered by the warranty." She insisted she hadn't dropped it. The son ordered the part, but, Walk reports, "could not guarantee that his father would cover it under the warranty."

When the part came in and she returned with the vacuum, Harris stated that the repair would not be covered, and she left, quite unhappily, with the cracked vacuum. Things went downhill fast: Walk called to discuss the situation, but Harris was unshakable in his assertion that the vacuum had been mistreated. "All he was willing to do," Walk says, "was not charge us for his labor"– but the couple balked at paying $59 for the part.

Walk finally called Charlie Lloyd, who manages the store's parent company, Vac City in Richmond. "He was understanding and respectful," Walk says, but "all he did" was talk to Harris and accept his assessment of the problem. He also rejected the resolution Walk sought– that "either the vacuum should be fixed under warranty, since we did not drop it, or they should buy back the vacuum at full price"– even though all sales are final.

I spoke with Lloyd at Vac City (the five Richmond stores don't repair sewing machines, which accounts for the Charlottesville store's longer name), who was happy to explain the company's position.

"It was so broke up," he claimed, that it was "basically impossible" that the damage could have resulted from anything besides mistreatment. However, since he didn't see the vacuum himself, his statements are based entirely on Harris's report.

Lloyd went on to say that Walk had suggested the vacuum could have had a hairline crack when they bought it, but he vigorously rejected this scenario: Vacuums are thoroughly examined and reconditioned before being offered for sale, he claimed, and such a crack wouldn't have been missed.

Lloyd stood by Harris's offer to fix the problem solely for the price of the part– which, he added, was "not a simple thing to do," as it would require 45 minutes to an hour of fairly involved work. He might be willing to offer store credit, he allowed, but would probably reduce the total by the price of the part.

The Walks, meanwhile, have found a new use for duct tape, and haven't decided whether they'll take Harris up on his offer of free labor.

Now for the larger issue: Were they wise to pay $400 for a used vacuum? According to Consumer Reports' latest ratings of vacuums, which were posted this month on its website (, probably not: The Kenmore Progressive, which retails for about $350, is listed as a Best Buy for canister models.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at Box 4553, Charlottesville 22905.