Acer: It's time to own up to your lemons and fix your lousy support

Summary:Acer and its Gateway division refuses to do anything for its customers when it foists lemons upon them.

Acer and its Gateway division refuses to do anything for its customers when it foists lemons upon them.

Nothing makes me angrier when a computer or consumer electronics vendor thinks it can get away with screwing their customers.

While I've been extremely angry in the past with various vendors such as Hewlett-Packard when it comes to reneging on warranty service and their determination of what constitutes "accidental damage" nothing compares to how livid I've gotten at with Acer Inc. and its Gateway division over this last weekend.

Yes, I realize this is the very same Acer which I just recently purchased a brand new tablet computer from. God help me.

On Friday, my wife got a call from one of her girlfriends -- who for the purpose of protecting her real name I'm going to call Susan.

Susan is a single mom with two young children, who like many single parents these days is struggling with her finances and trying to make ends meet. She works multiple jobs and has to be very careful with the way she spends her money.

Unlike someone like myself who is gainfully employed in the technology industry, she can't just throw money at a problem if something like a computer part breaks, even if it costs under $200 to replace.

Susan told my wife her computer had stopped working. Specifically, when she turned it on the monitor had no signal. So she asked if I could take a look at the machine and determine what was wrong. Late Friday morning, I asked her to bring her CPU and Monitor over to the house.

After hooking the machine up and about 15 minutes of diagnosis, I determined that her Gateway monitor was in fact broken. Originally I thought perhaps her graphics card might have burned out, but I was able to hook the computer up to two of my flatscreens using her original SVGA and DVI cables and the system booted up just fine.

So the monitor was dead. I checked the date of manufacture on the screen: January 2007.

Clearly the monitor was out of warranty. The replacement cost was somewhere between $130 and $150, depending on the brand. For someone like myself, this would have been a "Ah, crap. I have to go visit Micro Center tonight" moment.

Unfortunately, like a lot of other people right now, Susan is a bit tight on funds, so she can't spend that sort of discretionary income. So I offered to loan her one of my older 20" DVI screens as I just replaced it with a new 27" Samsung LED the previous weekend to hook up to my new Mac.

The story would have ended right here if Susan hadn't told me this was at least the fourth time the monitor had died. In fact, in its first year of life, it was replaced three times.

I have in my possession, should Acer actually want to see it, 40 plus scanned pages of frustrating back and forth correspondence between Susan and customer service from November of 2006 through November of 2007 pertaining to delayed system shipments covering two months, broken parts upon arrival, refusals to repair or replace defective equipment over the course of the original warranty period, and of course, the whole debacle with the monitor.

I looked the model of the screen up -- it's an FPD2185W.

What I found out was disturbing. Apparently, this particular screen is notorious for having poorly-made capacitors which eventually burn out and cause the screen to fail. The design of the monitor is fatally flawed.

It's what is referred to in the auto industry as a "lemon".

Bulging Samxon Capacitors on the main system board of a FPD2185W Gateway monitor.

Thinking that there may be possible recourse, I decided to call Gateway customer support to see if I could get the monitor replaced. Like, they might actually own up to their defective product and help this poor single mom out, right?

Uhmmmm, no.

[Next: An exercise in pure futility and frustration]»

Well, the first problem is that Gateway which is a division of the Taiwanese company Acer  doesn't exactly make it easy for you to call support.

Once you have navigated through their labryrinth of a support website, you'll get this page if you actually want to call them on the phone, where they ask you for your serial number and/or something called a SNID, which I didn't have on this monitor or on the high-end XP media center computer it came with.

So I plugged in the serial number on the monitor, which was printed out in 3 separate places, and the site told me it wasn't a valid serial number. Wait Gateway, you don't let people with 4-year-old equipment just call you? I have to get through your serial number sentinel first?

Gateway/Acer does have a published tech support number, but if you call it, it's a paid number which only people who purchased support contracts can use, or if you agree up front to shell out money with a credit card. Screw that.

Okay, so then I tried the Chat with a representative option on the website. That apparently doesn't cost you anything. So then it showed me this:

Closed? After hours? It's not even LUNCHTIME in California, you stupid jackassses!

Making zero progress with Gateway, I went straight to the parent company, Acer.  And lo and behold, they also have the same exact Serial Number and SNID sentinel system as Gateway. With paid tech support number and free chat support. So I clicked on the free chat support.

For those of you interested in pure exercises in futility and frustration, I've published the chat log here.

Acer, here's the bottom line.

You sold an expensive computer system to a single mother of two, and after no fewer than three attempts to replace the faulty monitor -- which has been found to be susceptible to a widely known thermal management defect that causes its defective capacitors to overheat and overload, are refusing to rectify the issue and own up to these problems.

While you may be within your contractual rights by the terms of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act to not replace this 4-year-old screen, it would be the ethical and responsible thing for you to do.

Clearly, however, Acer doesnt understand ethics and responsibility. It not only foists lemons onto its customers, but it also makes its support infrastructure so difficult to use that essentially most regular end-users would basically just throw their heads up in frustration, hopefully to walk away so they don't have to deal with them.

This is an absolutely atrocious and unconscionable way to do business.

If any potential Acer or Gateway customer is reading this article, I urge you not to do business with this company because of their horrible support.

We have lemon laws for the auto industry in many US states. Currently we don't have them for the electronics and computer industry, but I'm now of the very strong opinion that given the shoddy component manufacturing we're now seeing out of China, Taiwan and other countries these days, I think we definitely should.

In the State of New Jersey, Assemblyman Paul Moriarty tried to push such a law through the state legislature in 2008. Unfortunately, this legislation failed. Had it been enacted it would have set a precedent for similar legislation in other states across the US.

I think it's time that we give this new consideration in New Jersey and in other states across the country.

If we do eventually enact these sort of laws at the state and even the Federal level, I think companies like Acer which make life extremely difficult for their customers to find resolution to their problems despite repeated attempts should become our primary targets.

Short of this sort of legislation being enacted, I believe class actions against Acer and companies which foist lemons on customers and refuse to fix or replace them are completely warranted as well.

Has Acer or another company served you an electronic lemon or has made customer support nearly impossible to deal with in order to resolve your issues? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Hardware

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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