MARKET ANALYSIS: Why it pays to scrutinise the smallprint on your microwave warranty

KITCHEN

Microwaves tend to be the unsung heroes of commercial kitchens, so when they break down it can have a disastrous effect on service. With that in mind, it pays for operators to look at the cover and support available to them in the event that the worst happens. FEJ delves into the world of microwave warranties and asks how important it is to scrutinise the Ts and Cs.

Make no mistake, warranties can be a thorny issue and, in the catering world especially, end-users remain inherently suspicious that they aren’t all they are cracked up to be.

If you’re going to base buying decisions around the strength of a warranty then it’s a wise move to compare them with similar products or brands in the market and explore what they really include. After all, finding out that labour coverage is only valid between Monday and Friday, or that weekends and bank holidays attract an extra premium, can be a painful lesson to learn for any caterer that needs an instance response to a machine breakdown or failure.

A one-year parts and labour warranty should be the very minimum that any user should consider when purchasing a new commercial microwave and, in fairness, every major brand will provide this. And while higher-rated machines typically come with three-year warranties, industry commentators suggest one-year warranties are par for the course on low to medium duty microwaves and combination microwaves.

panasonic

“A commercial microwave oven with a power output level under 1200 watts is only a light duty microwave oven (generally they only have one magnetron) and should only be used for back-bar use, sweets, melting chocolate and re-heating portions,” says Pat Bray, managing director of Regale Microwaves. “These generally have a 12-month onsite parts and labour warranty; some have this warranty with an extended two-year part warranty on the magnetron but beware as this may only be the part and not include the fitting, which could cost up to £100. It is best to check if this is the case on the particular make that you are purchasing.”

Panasonic is one of the few brands to offer three-year on site, parts and labour warranty on all electronic and mechanical parts across its entire range of commercial microwaves — the only caveat being that it doesn’t include light bulbs. Iain Phillips, sales and marketing manager at Panasonic UK, says the depth of the warranty is a reflection of its confidence in the quality of its build and components.

Comprehensive warranties can save operators money over the longer term.

Comprehensive warranties can save operators money over the longer term.

He insists it gives operators the security they want. “This element of a purchase is often overlooked but buyers should be mindful that a three-year warranty will offer the assurance of reliability, peace of mind and in the longer term, reduced costs,” he says.

Sharp and Maestrowave, both of which are sold by RH Hall in the UK, have just introduced warranty extensions that include three-year parts cover on magnetrons, the “heart” of the microwave. “Most of the leading brands will also offer a three-year parts and labour warranty on their heavy duty machines, with some stretching even further when certain pieces of additional equipment or maintenance techniques are used with the microwave,” says managing director Ray Hall. “A good example of this is the Sharp range, which comes with a ‘lifetime’ cavity warranty when purchased and used with the Microsave Cavity Protection System.”

So is there any correlation between the length and conditions of a warranty and the quality of the appliance? “The bare truth is that offering a warranty adds additional cost to the manufacturer, so the conditions of that warranty will reflect the quality of the equipment,” answers Phillips at Panasonic. “A manufacturer offering a longer warranty, covering some electrical parts but not others, probably isn’t as confident in their product as they would like the user to think they are. The wording of the terms and conditions of a warranty can also be misleading which is why we believe that ours leaves nothing to the imagination; everything is covered, including labour, apart from the light bulb.”

RH Hall’s Ray Hall notes that suppliers won’t provide enhanced cover unless they are adamant that the kit can withstand the rigours of a professional kitchen.

“Any repair work or parts supplied under warranty come at a cost to the manufacturer, so the length of warranty provided as standard will be indicative of the quality of the machine and its history of faults,” he comments. “If a machine is proven to be long-lasting, with infrequent faults or breakdowns, then the manufacturer will almost always back this up with a good warranty offering.”

The industry certainly faces challenges around transparency and clarity where warranties are concerned, however. Manufacturers have been accused of promoting ‘extended’ or ‘enhanced’ warranties only for operators to discover they contain multiple clauses or exclusions.

Bob Clifford, managing director of microwave repair specialist Marren, says: “One of the major complaints from the user is if they are billed for a repair that was assumed to be ‘under warranty’. This is normally down to ‘operator abuse’, which covers a multitude of sins, the main ones being cleaning issues, the filter getting clogged or the ceiling plate has been washed and not returned to the oven.”

Conditions of microwave warranties will reflect the quality of the equipment, claim experts.

Conditions of microwave warranties will reflect the quality of the equipment, claim experts.

Clifford says operators can also come unstuck when they initiate a repair and then find they cannot be reimbursed: “Often technicians are employed for the repair but their company does not have any approval from either the manufacturer or importer to carry out the work and therefore they are unable to make a claim for their labour
or the parts fitted.”

Experts also point out that, even in the most comprehensive warranties, three of the most exposed and important components are rarely covered. This includes the ceiling plate or roof liner, the ceramic glass base plate and the lens light cover. “The manufacturers claim that damage to these parts is either down to misuse or poor housekeeping and therefore not covered by their warranty,” says Regale’s Pat Bray.

“Take for example the lens light plastic cover inside the cavity. If the brand is using the standard incandescent lamp, the lamp will produce quite a heat and in turn will start to dry out the lens light cover and it will turn brown (letting hardly any light through) and start to perish, so it would be well worth noting that microwave ovens which use LED lighting will not suffer from this problem. It will also save you money because not only will it be cheaper on electricity to run but the actual lamp (or light system) will be covered under warranty for the entire three-year period.”

“Some warranties have extended cover on the magnetron but beware as this may only be the part and not include the fitting, which could cost up to £100”

Bray’s own company is known for the cavity liners that it provides for most models of microwaves and he says these can protect exposed parts — potentially saving operators hundreds of pounds on call-out charges or spare parts.
Ray Hall suggests that all warranties contain exclusions and users should ensure they check the small print carefully to protect themselves from unexpected costs. “A good warranty should not exclude things for no reason and, with most areas, regular maintenance and cleaning will ensure most of the exclusions don’t apply. It is important that the manufacturer provides clear instructions on these areas — both to the customer themselves and also to any resellers that may be involved. By educating the market on these areas, warranty exclusions should be kept to a minimum.”

Phillips at Panasonic is a firm believer that comprehensive cover for microwaves should be three years at least and incorporate all aspects of the machine. “It should include onsite repair, including labour, and cover all electronic and mechanical parts. The exception to this with our warranty is the light bulb as this is regarded as a consumable but we have been industry leaders in moving to super long-life LED lights inside the cavity to overcome this situation.”

Microwaves remain one of the most used and abused appliances in the kitchen. Those scrutinising the warranty cover need to make sure it offers the shelter they expect.

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