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Will Sears Keep Its Promise?

A consumer-friendly change to warranty policy slips through the cracks.

Regular readers of this column know that I do more than solve problems for individual readers. I also encourage companies to change policies to prevent similar situations in the future, and when companies promise to mend their ways, I generally take their word that they will. That's why I was disappointed to find out that Sears hasn't followed through on its year-old pledge to revise its tire warranty.

AARP member Ronald Sexton of Vesuvius, Va., first brought the tire warranty problem to light. Sears told him he had violated the warranty on his tires by failing to rotate them every 5,000 miles.

But Sears's warranty didn't mention tire rotation, merely that it could be voided by "improper maintenance," which a Sears tire center manager where Sexton went interpreted as meaning tire rotation is a must.

We disagreed and took the matter to Rick Sawyer, Sears Automotive vice president, who saw things our way. Besides providing Sexton with a $200 gift card as compensation for prematurely worn tires, Sawyer promised to rewrite the warranty to specify the elements of proper maintenance. Case closed — except that the rewrite never happened.

When I stopped by my local Sears tire center recently, I discovered that, a full year later, the tire warranty had yet to be changed, so Sears customers might still be denied warranty coverage for tire replacements and repairs.

I immediately called Sawyer, only to find out that his number had been disconnected. A few more calls to Sears eventually yielded a call back from Larry Costello in public relations. He informed me that Sawyer had indeed left the company — retired — more than six months earlier. I explained the situation to him, and the next day he called again.

"This is something that fell through the cracks when Rick Sawyer retired from the company," Costello told me. He was also armed with a statement from the new head of Sears Automotive, Joe Finney, who promised, "Our goal is to have the warranty language clarified in all states by January 31, 2011."

According to Costello, the warranty agreements will specify tire rotation as a required part of proper maintenance. While that was nice to hear, it raised another question: How should a Sears customer prove the tires have been rotated as required?

"If Sears customers had their tires rotated in Sears centers, there would be a record," Costello said. "If the work was done elsewhere, they'll need to show a receipt."

Warranties are only as good as your ability to enforce them. To protect yourself, keep adequate records, file all receipts and challenge ambiguous phrases such as "improper maintenance" at the time of sale rather than the day of disaster.

Of course, I'll check again in February to see if Sears has — finally— kept its promise.

Ron Burley is the author of Unscrewed: The Consumer's Guide to Getting What You Paid For.

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