Whirlpool Water Heater “Lifetime” Warranty: The Good and the Bad

So our 6-year-old Whirlpool electric water heater tank failed and dribbled water on the floor. Fortunately, I spotted the leak before it flooded the basement: I look at the heater just about every time I venture into the Basement Laboratory Electronics Wing. Judging from the mildew & fungus growing on the wooden base I built for it, though, I haven’t been doing a good job of walk-by inspecting. In my defense, the visible wooden edge is 3/8″ thick below the dark rim of the heater.

Grit drained from tank
Grit drained from tank

I turned off the inlet & outlet ball valves, flipped the breaker off, routed a garden hose out the door, laid the end in an old cake pan, and drained the tank. The pan collected a fair amount of rusty grit (and more washed down the driveway), which means the glass-lined tank was suffering from internal rust.

A call to the Warranty Hotline produced an Indian-subcontinent accented voice, who told me that I had to get a licensed plumber to tell them that it was, in fact, rusted out. “Any plumber in the phone book will do”, he said, “Just have them call this number and we will verify the situation with them.”

My back of the envelope, confirmed by friends, is that it’d cost about $150 for a plumber to drop in. Oh, and this was on a Saturday morning, which means it might be a while later and bit more expensive than that. Paying somebody $75/hour to wait on hold didn’t seem attractive.

A new heater of the same general nature is $400, give or take.

Soooo, in round numbers, I’d be spending half the cost of the “free”  replacement just to find out if Whirlpool would honor the warranty.

I was ready to just cut my losses and buy another heater when my friend Aitch suggested two simple alternatives:

  • Call the warranty line again, point out that this is the Internet Age, and offer to send them pictures of the problem, along with a statement that I was being truthful.
  • Spend the $150 to ship the dead heater to the office of the Whirlpool CEO with a note describing the situation

I picked the first option and had a brief conversation along these general lines:

  • paying nearly half the price of a new heater for an “evaluation” is absurd
  • the leak was near the top; even the caps over the heating elements were rusted
  • the grit shows that tank has internal rust, so it’s not external corrosion
  • I’ll send pictures anywhere you want

Much to my astonishment, the pleasant voice gave me a replacement authorization! No pictures needed.

Knock me over with a feather…

So I hauled the corpse back to Lowe’s, swapped it out for a new one, and away I went.

Now, it’s worth noting that the new heater has a 12-year tank warranty, not the lifetime one that came with the original purchase. Given my experience with the first one, we’ll see what happens; I suppose they learned how expensive a lifetime warranty can be.

Overall, a pleasant surprise, although the initial presentation wasn’t encouraging in the least.

Memo to Self: Don’t ask, don’t get…