Panasonic Case #29866973: A sad unfinished story

This is not about libraries. This is about companies standing behind their products–or not.

We were late to high-definition TV, because we had a magnificent 34″ Sony XBR TV: 10 years old and still working perfectly.

Finally, in September 2010, we took the plunge. We purchased a 54″ Panasonic TCP54G25 plasma TV at Video Only. We’d gone there thinking of an LED-backlit LCD TV, but the clearly more natural picture of the plasma (Video Only turns off “torch mode” in their display models and doesn’t have a super-bright showroom), and the fact that power consumption on plasmas was finally reasonable, convinced us. (My brother’s slightly older 50″ Panasonic plasma uses 540 watts; our 54″ uses 250 watts when viewing <0.5 watts in standby. What a difference a couple of years can make!) We paid $1,600 for the set (plus tax, stand, Blu-ray player, etc.)–a lot of money, but a great set. We were well aware that Panasonic plasmas have the best reliability record in the only real consumer magazine’s reader surveys–3% repair rate in first 4 years–so we didn’t buy an extended warranty.

An interruption here: The Panasonic’s picture, in THX mode (which we use all the time), in a room with reasonably dim lighting, is superb. I couldn’t ask for better–I never saw the old, discontinued, frightfully expensive Pioneer Kuro sets, and everything I’ve seen or read says that the Panasonic plasmas are the next-best displays ever.

We got the set. We loved the set. We don’t watch a lot of TV–one movie each weekend, usually Blu-ray, either one one-hour show or one 45-minute TV episode on DVD on other nights, sometimes one short movie during the week. In other words, about nine or ten hours a week, or say 470-550 hours a year.

25 months later…

Either on turning the set on or off, I’m not sure which, there was a mild bang. And the power light on the front of the set started blinking four times, then pausing, then blinking four times…

Tried a power cycle. Tried unplugging, then replugging. Same deal: The set wouldn’t go on, but the light would blink…

Did some internet searching. Got a couple of suggestions. Tried them. Net result: Sometimes it would blink 10 times rather than 4.

Called Video Only. Noted that we hadn’t purchased extended warranty (based on best advice from all parties). They said “Call Panasonic.” So I did. ["25 months" is significant: The credit card I used to buy the set might have doubled the manufacturer's 12-month warranty--but at 25 months, we were s.o.l.]

Panasonic gave me the number of a “nearby” authorized repair center and said that, if I thought I should get any break on the repair–since, after all, the set was only 25 months old, and for most circuit boards if nothing dies in the first 90 days the board should last at least 10,000 hours–I’d have to get a written evaluation and fax it to them (or scan & PDF) before getting any repair done. That slows down the repair process, but since my internet searching had suggested that this could be a few hundred dollars, I figured to do that.

The repair shop they said to call was fairly far away, and couldn’t make an immediate appointment. I looked online for authorized Panasonic service centers and found one much closer. They quoted $75 just to do an evaluation, but that would be applied against the repair. I had them come out. The technician did a little testing, talked to Panasonic on his cell phone, and wrote up an evaluation and estimate. I gasped: A flat $295 service fee (including the $75) and another $270.79 for the bad board and sales tax. Oh, and they wouldn’t repair the TV set on-site: They’d take it away, repair it in their shop, and return it. I told them I’d bet back to them…

Then I sent the PDF to Panasonic and waited. A few days later, they called and offered me something like $100 toward the repair. I said that was pretty awful–that still left us paying close to $500 to repair a two-year-old $1,600 TV, one that we knew we could replace (with a similar model) for $1,000 or so. On October 15, they upped the offer to $190–but only for that repair estimate from that shop.

We were still trying to decide whether to accept that offer or to decide it wasn’t worth it and buy a smaller, much cheaper set from Anybody But Panasonic. I called Video Only; the manager said he’d talk to Panasonic…but he also said that we should not use the repair shop that did the estimate, and explained why.

(Which is why I’m not naming them: I can’t vouch for what was said.)

He said I should call George at TV.A Repair–further away, but Video Only’s preferred service shop.

I called George. First thing I learned: His flat repair service charge, including estimate, was $100, not $295. And his price for the same board was about $100 less. I called Panasonic about this. They said they’d only offer to pay part of the repair they’d already had an estimate for…but if I sent them the new paperwork after it was done, they’d see what they could do.

So I scheduled the repair. By now it was the last week of October. And here’s where it gets even more interesting: His testing showed that the original estimate was wrong–the board that the other tech had identified as blown, working directly (on the phone) with Panasonic, was fine; another board was clearly, visibly short-circuited. So he went back, ordered the new board, returned on November 1, and replaced it. At our house: None of this “we’ll take it to the shop.” It cost $280 (plus, of course, the $75 we’d wasted spent on an erroneous estimate).

I sent the paper work to Panasonic. Nothing further was heard from them…

34 days later…

Five minutes after I’d turned on the TV, I heard one loud BANG, a softer Bang, and smelled ozone. A lot of ozone. And, of course, the set was dead. We opened the windows to clear out the air, made sure there wasn’t actually a fire, and swore a little. Or a lot.

Called George again, giving him the new red-light-of-doom pattern, informed Panasonic and Video Only again.

George was so certain that it was the same board blowing again that he didn’t come out; he ordered the board. And Panasonic, apparently because it was a replacement under 90-day repair warranty, took two weeks to send it to him rather than the usual week or so. And when he did bring it out…well, turns out that board was blown, but so were two smaller board. So another order, another long wait.

Finally–a full month later, on January 4, 2013–George replaced the three boards, charged us (only for the two other blown boards, not for his labor or for the replacement board: $80 total), apologized for the situation, and left.

I scanned the invoice, added cover materials, and sent it to Panasonic and Video Only.

I felt that, at the very least, Panasonic should refund the $75 wasted on evaluation by their approved shop. Ideally, the company should do more than that: This was an expensive set, Panasonic is supposed to have great reliability, we really don’t watch that much TV, and the repeat failure seems wholly unreasonable. We were without an HDTV for all but 34 days of the period from October 5, 2012 to January 4, 2013, much of that time because of the delays caused by Panasonic’s procedures. (Hey, a voucher for a really good soundbar/subwoofer might make us happier…we still haven’t gotten one.)

Since January 4, 2013

So far, the set’s working. In my Candide mode, I’m hoping that, in fact, the first blown board had degraded the two smaller boards in the process of blowing, so that maybe everything’s fine now and we’ll get the kind of lifespan you should get from a fairly expensive top-rated TV–which, I’ll suggest, is at least 10,000 hours of use. (Right now, 5,000 hours would be a huge improvement. 1,100 hours just does not cut it.)

I have not heard from Panasonic. Period. No check, no offers, no nothing. I tried calling, a couple of times, but gave up.

We’re out $355 plus loads of aggravation and doing without.

And, at this point, much as we love the picture on the Panasonic–and let there be no mistake, we do love the plasma picture at THX settings–we would certainly not buy another Panasonic if this happens again. Not with Panasonic’s lack of apparent support for their own products.

Seems a shame. By the way, if the company does belatedly come through, I’ll certainly add a postscript to this post.

Panasonic knows where we live: Thus the case # above. If not, I can be readily contacted: waltcrawford @ gmail.com

 

2 Responses to “Panasonic Case #29866973: A sad unfinished story”

  1. Elaine Mayes Says:

    Have you considered sending this to The Consumerist? http://consumerist.com/

  2. waltcrawford Says:

    I’m aware of The Consumerist, but I don’t believe this rises anywhere close to what that site should be covering. Too long, too complicated, and not an “evil company” by any means–mostly just a lemon that they’re not being very responsive about. Now if Target was involved, since The Consumerist has a real thing about Target…but I like Target.


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