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Sears bankruptcy puts Kenmore lifetime warranty in question

Ethan Wolff-Mann
Senior Writer

Sears (SHLD) recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and the future is bleak, as the iconic retailer plans to close 142 Sears and Kmart stores by year-end.

The millions of washers, dryers, oven ranges, fridges, and other appliances sold under the company’s Kenmore brand, however, will remain in use every day in people’s homes.

This raises the very important question: what happens to the warranties?

Sears advertises Kenmore products as being sold with a 13-month limited warranty and a lifetime limited parts warranty. For many products that may see decades of use, this is important, and a vital part of a buyer’s calculation when they consider an appliance.

In Kenmore’s long history, the lifetime limited parts warranty covered many key things that meant the difference between getting a repair and being required to replace a 200-pound appliance.

FILE PHOTO: Sears Kenmore washing machines are shown for sale inside a Sears department store in La Jolla, California, U.S., March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

Currently, washer-dryer motors, dryer drums and baffles, refrigerator and freezer storage bins, range and wall oven glass oven doors, dishwasher stainless steel tubs and inner door panels, cooktop gas burners and cooktop electric elements for ranges and cooktops are covered. If something happens, Sears provides free replacements with proof of sale.

While Kenmore buyers may be covered for a good chunk of the 13 months of the standard warranty as Sears figures out its next moves, the long-term future for the lifetime warranty remains uncertain.

If Sears ceases operations or if it sells off its Kenmore brand, which is owned by Sears Holdings under KCD IP, LLC, Kenmore owners may be out of luck.

Sears also offers 2- and 3-year extra warranty coverage. But in the fine print the party responsible to address a problem (“the obligor”) is “Sears Protection Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sears, Roebuck and Co.” In other words, Kenmore itself isn’t on the hook for those warranties, which means that they may not be covered in a sale unless the Sears Protection Company and its liabilities are bundled into the sale.

A Sears spokesperson pointed Yahoo Finance to an FAQ that said the company would be “honoring our warranties, protection arrangements and guarantees as normal.” But Sears would not say whether a new Kenmore owner would be obligated to honor warranties, which is what happened when Sears sold Craftsman to Stanley Black & Decker.

Should Kenmore’s warranty and parts availability collapse, however, it may still be possible for people to find replacement parts. Since Kenmore does not manufacture its own products, but rather contracts to Whirlpool, LG, and other manufacturers, it’s possible that replacement parts could be sourced should the need arise.

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, retail, personal finance, and more. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.