Best Buy Might Replace Your Lemon Of A Laptop If It Breaks A Sixth Time. Probably Not.

Please don’t pull the cord on Howard’s laptop or it will die. Best Buy‘s Geek Squad has failed five times to coax his laptop’s ailing battery into holding a charge, replacing both the battery and the hard drive, and shipping Howard the same incorrect replacement battery three times. Howard now wants Best Buy to honor their lemon policy by giving him a new laptop, but it seems like every Geek Squad agent has a different copy of the replacement policy, and none of them apply to Howard. It’s almost like he’s asking for a price match! Let’s read his story, inside…

Just shy of three years ago I bought an Averatec 2260-EY1 for about $1000 from Best Buy and paid extra for their 3-yr warranty in anticipation of something going wrong, hardware-wise, as something usually does. Back in January of this year, I finally decided to address the fact that it was overheating constantly, the battery no longer held charge, and it often froze up and had to be forced into shutdown. I dropped it off at the Geek Squad with those complaints, and was told in vague language that if they have to fix three things about the computer, the 4th move would be to junk it and replace it, according to their “lemon” policy. They said they could do an in-house diagnostic, which would take about 3-5 days, or they could send it right out to the offsite repair people, who would then strangely do their own diagnostic regardless of what the in-house people do. I told them to send it straight out, of course. They said I would receive an update via phone or email within a week.

Having heard nothing, I attempted to follow up by phone, to no avail. I was continually referred to the Geek Squad status website, which was basically like tracking a package with UPS, only the package never moved or changed status at all. Almost a month later, it came back from its repair limbo. I came back to the store to pick it up, and was told that they had replaced the fan and the battery. I figured I might as well start it up while I was standing there, just to see how it ran. It ran slow. Veeeerrry slow. Way slower than it ever had on my watch — slowness was not a part of my initial complaint — and even the guy behind the counter had to agree that it shouldn’t take 10 full minutes to get from hitting the power button to loading MS Word. In the midst of all this, I noticed that the battery LED was still flashing green and orange, but I figured maybe they just hadn’t charged the battery after the last round of tests or what-have-you. The counter guy, while frantically helping two other people in person and one on the phone, managed to run some software tests while I stood there for over half an hour.

He seemed to think it was the hard drive, which could be fixed in-house, but first they had to run a few days’ worth of tests. I checked it back in, said goodbye to my livelihood once again (I’m a freelance writer), and kept my fingers crossed. At the very least, according to the first Geek to help me, a new HD would constitute the third “hardware thing” fixed, so if anything further went wrong, I might hit the lemon policy jackpot.

A week later, after several flabbergastingly fruitless attempts to gain information by phone, I return. They’ve replaced the hard drive, cloned it, and said I have to reinstall the OS myself. The Averatec didn’t come with backup CDs because it came installed with backup software instead, which took me a while to figure out. A Phoenix Recover Pro software customer service operator walked me (by phone) through the process of restoring the OS, and by the time this was all said and done, I couldn’t deny that the battery light was still flashing. Charge was not being held. If I unplugged the unit, it died instantly. That’s not how a newly replaced battery should work, no?

Here begins the real fandango. I call Geek Squad, told them I’d hit Thing #4: If they did indeed already replace the battery as they said they had, then if I’m still having power problems, it must be something else — a fourth thing — and so I’m due a new laptop, right? Not so fast. First, they have to replace the battery again, to be sure it’s not the battery. I’m not about to say goodbye to my most essential wage-earning tool for another month, so I enact the process of ordering one by phone through Best Buy Partsearch, still covered by warranty, at least until June. Since none of their systems are connected, I give them my name, address, make/model, and part number. Naturally, they send me the wrong battery. Wrong shape, wrong color, wrong model, not even close to what I need. I call them up, they email me a return postage label, I send the battery back and they were supposed to send out a correct one as soon as the wrong one was received. This one’s taking longer, so I call to see to what the delay is. The battery I need is on back-order. They don’t know when they’ll get one. There’s absolutely no way to find out. Supervisors, managers, Baron Wilhelm von Partsearch himself couldn’t have told me any more than what appeared on that one lackey’s very-slow-loading screen. If Nostradamus worked there, not even he could tell me when the correct battery would come in. I tell them my warranty’s expiring soon. They say if I haven’t gotten it by the expiration time, I should call customer relations and they’ll probably extend it for as long as it takes to get the new battery. And what if, given that the new battery didn’t solve the problem the first time they replaced it, the second new battery doesn’t, either? What then?

Water-boarding couldn’t have gotten these folks to err from their carefully scripted run-around. No one can see any of the information from any other department. Geek Squad is separate; in-house repairs are separate from the offsite people; Partsearch knows nothing about warranties, customer relations knows nothing about repairs, etc.. A week or so later, some anonymous genius decides to send me another battery anyway. Not only was it wrong again, but it was the same wrong battery. I spend another half an hour on the phone with some poor, disaffected, headsetted cubicle slave. He says I can always purchase a new battery myself, produce the receipt and Best Buy will reimburse me within a few weeks. Considering how dependable they’ve been so far, I decide not to bet on that. I order yet another battery.

At this point, it’s March. I receive battery #3…. THE SAME WRONG BATTERY, again. Now it’s just laughable. I stop laughing, however, when I speak to customer relations to begin laying groundwork for the trouble that surely will come in a few months when my warranty expires and I’m stuck with a problematic ‘puter. According to that fine chap, none of this gets me close to the lemon policy after all. Suddenly it doesn’t work the way it was originally explained. It doesn’t matter how many “things” go wrong — you have to have three independent work tickets, or service numbers, or whatever — it has to have been checked in on three separate occasions for hardware-specific issues, then on the 4th check-in, it might be eligible for replacement. What’s more, the battery replacement doesn’t even count as a repair. And then the real kicker: So far he shows I’ve got two check-ins, only one of which resulted in parts replaced.

Now hang on a minute there… What about the hard drive? The 2nd check-in resulted in an HD replacement! Not according to this guy’s records. Apparently, depending on who you ask, the 2nd check-in was only a diagnostic; Best Buy customer relations has no record of the HD replacement, but told me that if I have the paperwork to prove it, I should hang on to it and bring it into the store if/when the time comes to attempt to take advantage of the lemon policy. “Great,” I think to myself. “So it’s my own documentation versus the word of the store. That’s gonna be tons of fun.” Thankfully, I do have the documentation. I even have the old HD in a box with a Geek Squad bar code and an employee’s handwriting on it. I arrange for battery #4. This time the kid on the phone says he can see a picture of the correct battery — it’s black, not silver, just as I’d been saying all along. I feel hopeful — for completion of this stage, anyway.

Today, March 24th, I receive battery #4. That’s right, folks — the same wrong battery, just like all the others.

The truth is, my laptop still basically works. I’m using it right now — I just can’t unplug it, which kind of negates the whole “ultraportable” idea, which is a large part of why I bought this particular model. Meanwhile, a friend has an old laptop (yet still newer and more powerful than my Averatec) that also has a power problem that he doesn’t care to fix, and he’s willing to let me have the broken laptop for free. My plan is this: Take his broken Compaq to a trustworthy independent repair service, have it fixed (if cost effective), then use that one while submitting my Averatec to the Geek Squad once again, to let them sit on it indefinitely while waiting for a pterodactyl to come swooping out of the sky with the correct (but clearly obsolete) Averatec battery. All the while, I’ll plant periodic phone calls to Customer Relations, demanding status info and attempting to make sure that if/when the battery doesn’t solve the problem, they’ll still fix it, and maybe — just maybe — make good on the lemon policy.

My Consumerist comrades: What say you?

It’s clear that Best Buy has no intention of honoring their policy. When customer service agents stop talking about repairs in favor of talking about how their system describes the repairs, it’s time to escalate. Try to get results by calling Best Buy’s executive office. Or maybe just call your state’s attorney general and ask what other policies Best Buy is training their employees to undermine.

(Photo: David Baker)