Friday, December 14, 2007

Low End Appliances Suck

Unfortunately, most small appliances are not worth researching. They are made in China and are cheap and disposable.

This year while we were renting my wife bought a cheap microwave oven. It was about $50. When I opened the box I could see that the door was bent. I returned it, and I bought a cheaper microwave. It was $40, and actually was a reasonable size for heating leftovers. The next week it was reduced to $30. I got my $10 back from Target. After 92 days (2 days after you could return things to Target w/o going through warranty) it died. It was a ChefMate which might be Target's house brand. I called the manufacturer, ultimately located in China, but undoubtedly with a tiny service office in Canada. I know this, because the Chinese fellow who answered the phone was also the voice on their answering system. He had me cut off the plug and mail it back along with the plastic support for the glass plate which usually revolves inside the unit while it is heating. I eventually got a check back for the full amount.

Now on to toaster ovens. We do not use a traditional pop-up toaster here - just the toaster oven. We use it for toast, melting things covered in cheese, and breaded chicken (or fish) fingers. Years ago, maybe 7 in fact, our old family friends gave us a toaster oven. It was small and standard and it was in their garage and hadn't been used much. It was probably 20 years old at the time, but you'd recognize it. It's the kind with the lever you push down and the mechanical 'ding!' when it was done. Anyway, it was slowing down. Not heating as much. Perhaps one too many a chicken finger had gone through it's maw. My brother had an almost new one, so I took that and free-cycled the old one. My brother's oven was obtained from his neighbor who once sold them online. Whenever something was returned to him, he'd send the plug back to the manufacturer and often would give the working appliance sans plug to my brother. So this one had a hefty plug from a hardware store attached to it. He apparently didn’t use it much at all. Now I'm trying to avoid using brand names in this story, but this one was an Oster. It died about a month into service.

So off I went to Target again. I consulted Consumer Reports, but of course since it's my contention that low end appliances are not worth deep comparison shopping, there were no good top specific models that Consumer Reports (CR) recommended to actually find. Target had 10 models, but I found that almost all models had the same big chunky knobs which were actually quite difficult to turn. Big and chunky is easy to use if you are a handle of an implement like a can or bottle opener, but very hard if you are a knob on an appliance. I take it CR didn't take usability into account. It seems clear to me that they all use the same knobs from the same Chinese knob factory. They don't really care that they are hard to turn - they just want to copy each other. Only one or two had the tapered knobs. So of those which were easy to operate, I found the $29.95 GE toaster oven which was exactly the same as our original one, except with knobs instead of levers. Within a week, it failed to 'bake'. I returned it. We now have another - similar one - a Hamilton Beach from (gulp) Wal-Mart. Our pathetic little Wal-Mart* at least only has 4 types of toaster ovens. I'd have paid up to maybe $70 if they only made toast and melted cheese and baked fried things and didn't have those big chunky knobs which neither me nor my family could turn very easily first thing in the morning.

You think I'm cheaping-out here, eh? Well there were many expensive silly toaster ovens which I skipped for good reason:

Do you want two racks in the oven, so you can toast two layers at once? Nope.
Pizza size, so you can reheat a whole pizza? Nah.
Do you want a rotisserie in your toaster oven? I think not.
Do you want a glass top so you can observe the top of the toast while it's toasting? Nope.
Do you want some scalloped warming trays inset into the top of the oven. Definitely not.

I'm beginning to think that generic appliances - the ones made in China (or Mexico or somewhere far away by people who would never use them) from companies you never heard of - are just as good (or bad) as any lower end name brand. Consumer Reports should note that or just give up. They don't read this, so you can note it if you'd like.

* note: It seems my MS Outlook spell-checker actually has the word 'Wal-Mart' in it.

1 comment:

  1. Are you sure it's a good idea to place your small appliance piece so close to your pyromania update?

    A peculiarity about small appliances and such is that, by this point, they should all be perfect. I am sure that the secrets to great and reasonably priced toaster ovens and microwaves and vacuum cleaners (as well as washers and dryers) have been pretty much plumbed. However, it's hard to figure out which, if any, really do represent the wisdom that must result from decades of manufacturing. I figure that various factors have contributed to the current predicament, and that most of those contributing factors are absurd if not asinine. And I think they must be terrible for the environment. Like their disposability and whatever makes them "not worth it" to repair.