Previous month:
December 2011
Next month:
February 2012

do not buy Kenmore Elite ranges: a cautionary tale

I would rather use Hewn & Hammered to steer people toward good products, but sometimes that goes hand-in-hand with recommending against those that are substandard. And this is one of those times.

A few years ago, my wife and I decided to radically remodel our kitchen, tearing everything down to the boards and replacing all appliances with shiny new versions, all well-reviewed in consumer magazines and on similar websites. What we didn't realize is that those websites and magazines can only review the use of an item, and not how it will degrade over time.

We purchased a 36" Kenmore Elite black-and-steel finish range, and were (and are) happy with its operation and, to a lesser extent, its design, which seems slightly faulty, at least in materials choice. The materials it is built with tend toward the cheap, the flimsy, and – most unfortunately – the short-lived.

Within months of installation, the knobs on the stove started to come apart. At first, we thought perhaps it was just a layer of shrinkwrap that had been left on, but after consulting with a number of appliance salespeople, Sears service folks and even an industrial designer, we realized it was something else: the stove knobs are coated with a fake chrome plastic wrap, glued on, which is not heat-resistant - and the oven door seam leaks quite a bit of heat, which (as a non-oven-designer) I would guess that it probably should not. Not only is the finish almost completely gone on some of the knobs, but the knob itself is made out of a plastic that is degrading quite quickly as well, with significant cracking and the beginning of deformation.

We contacted Sears about what seemed to be a design flaw, and was told that while other people (one Sears rep admitted many other people) had complained about this, they saw it more as a consumer problem and not an issue that was theirs to remedy; they would charge me approximately $60 per knob if I wanted to replace them. Unfortunately, the replacements they offered are identical to the original knobs, and would degrade within a few years as well, making this cost repeat every three or four years for as long as we wanted the stove to look halfway decent.

I'm still looking for replacement knobs that match the stove, but luckily most of the cheap knockoffs on the market are made of better materials than the original knobs, so I'm certain I'll find something. My word of warning: if you buy a Kenmore Elite range, replace the knobs with the $15-for-5 set you can buy on Amazon, if you see some you like, and don't expect good customer service from Sears, who will do everything they can in their endless contortions to avoid the fact that they make a substandard product and refuse to fix or replace the affected parts.

Shame on you, Sears! I am hereby removing the Sears ad that I previously had in my sidebar, and ending my advertising relationship with a company whose product I can no longer endorse – and who refuses every opportunity to make whole their guarantee, presented upon purchase, of providing me an appropriately working and non-defective stove in exchange for my hard-earned money.

Update 1: a Sears representative asked me to remove this article. I believe they were expecting me to capitulate in exchange for a small discount on new knobs, which of course would fall apart as well. I will not. Since that time, the hinges on the oven door have worn out and had to be replaced. The screws that are intended to hold the new hinges in place are no longer available, either.

Update 2: I have now received more than 11 emails from other owners of Sears/Kenmore-brand ovens with similarly-eroded knobs. Most are less than 2 years old. I have also been approached by an ex-Sears installer, who tells me that the issue is most likely the door seal, and that it's so variable that Sears won't bother sending anyone to fix it even if we caught it immediately.