2010.10.06 Scared of the dark? Buying a lamp might be scarier

Written by David Green.


They just don’t make lamps like they used to. At least I’m having a hard time finding a reliable one. Not only that, the warranty instructions to my new one are downright scary.

A couple of weeks ago, my reading lamp, which is actually a desk lamp placed on a high end table, stopped working. I assumed the problem was the bulb, one of those weird, “four-pin” compact fluorescents. I had a similar lamp a few years ago and couldn’t find replacement bulbs anywhere when it burned out. The company itself sold them, but I was able to buy a whole new lamp for less than the price of the replacement bulb.

This time, however, the bulb wasn’t the problem. I also own a floor lamp that takes the same type of bulb. Its bulb wouldn’t work in the desk lamp, but the desk lamp bulb worked fine in the floor lamp. Obviously, there was some sort of internal problem in the lamp. I’m not aware of anyone who still does small appliance repair, so it was time to go lamp shopping.

The first acceptable one I found cost $40, about double what I paid for the last one. But the store also had an old-fashioned high-intensity clip-on desk lamp with a 40-watt bulb. Not exactly what I was looking for, but marked down from eight dollars to a mere five bucks. If nothing else, it would bridge the gap until I found a lamp I really liked.

It actually worked extremely well as a reading lamp, but its light was concentrated in such a small spot that I still needed a better lamp to help light the rest of the room. The fine print on its instructions was entertaining, though, and reminded me of a long-ago purchase.

Among the various warnings was one that stated “Because small electrical appliances do not lend themselves to normal repair procedures, the consumer should not attempt such repairs.” Instead, if the lamp failed within the first two years, they wanted me to return it at my expense to be fixed, along with including an extra $10 for “handling costs.”

Add in the postage cost and I would be paying $15 to $20 to get a replacement for an eight dollar lamp that cost me five dollars. Suddenly, it seemed like 1983 again.

I had just rented my first apartment and among other furnishing purchases, I bought a stereo at the Adrian Mall Sears store for $99. A few weeks later, I got a call from someone at the store wanting to sell me an extended service contract. For only $139, they would do any needed repairs for three years. When I passed on the offer, they asked me why.

I explained that with the money I saved by not buying the contract, I could throw out the stereo if it broke, buy a new one, and have money left to buy some record albums or cassettes. They never called me back after that. Twenty-one years later, it was still working fine, but didn’t make the cut when I moved to Fayette. Sometimes, I wish I had kept it. But back to the present day...

A store in Adrian recently advertised a desk lamp similar to my broken one for $22. I bought it and have been happy with it so far. The box claims that the full spectrum bulb simulates natural sunlight. Wasn’t that the type of lamp they were prescribing a few years ago for people with depression? It’s a lot cheaper to buy a $22 lamp than Zoloft or Prozac or whatever the current pill is.

Then again, the lamp’s warranty includes depression-inducing words like execute, wrongdoing and suspect. For instance, “This lighting product will execute its illumination function when properly assembled.” How about just saying it’s guaranteed to work if put together correctly?

And the lamp’s warranty does not cover “negligence, wrongdoing or improper care.” What exactly do they mean by wrongdoing in this context?

If your purchase fails to work within two years and you are somehow able to prove absence of wrongdoing, then it’s acceptable to return it as long as you remember that “suspect units must be properly packed.” I guess your lamp is suspected of being operable until proven to be broken by the manufacturer.

Do you suppose someone at the factory threatens returned “suspect” lamps, maybe with a rubber hose? “We know you’re not broken! Now turn on!” Maybe not. But those sure are odd instructions. Next time a lamp fails, I just might buy a bunch of candles instead.

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