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I have one basic approach to repair persons: I run as fast as I can in the opposite direction. It's the only way I know to avoid paying $200 to fix something worth $1.98. So on those rare occasions (roughly 150% of the time) when an appliance dies after its warranty has expired, I do what any rational individual would do: I consult Consumer's Digest and purchase a replacement.

I'll bet your ears perked up at the words Consumer's Digest. "She's one savvy buyer," you're telling yourself. Well, not exactly. All I really do is check the warranty lengths so I can schedule my next purchase. Let's say my new DVD player comes with a one-year guarantee. I simply mark "Day 366" on my calendar, and it breaks like clockwork.

I came by my Never Try To Fix It rule the hard way. I tried to repair a television set twice, at $75 a pop.

My first attempt seemed quite sensible. After all, the set was only five years old, and a new one would cost $400. Unfortunately, it didn't seem quite so sensible when the TV self-destructed on the 91st day of my 90-day repair warranty.

But it was a good TV and hard to throw away, especially after a $75 investment. So I yelled a lot and, after getting no satisfaction, went out and found another repair person who was every bit the first fellow's equal.

Whoever said history repeats itself surely was thinking of me.

For years I've wondered why repairmen seldom effectively fix anything. And why their estimates incite so many bewildered customers to ditch the item and replace it.

After casting about for an answer, I finally coaxed it out of my favorite government insider, whom I can identify only as "Deep Wrench." He clued me in to a little-known law passed in 1959 -- right before things started to fall apart. Known as the "Make Them Buy Stuff Act," or MTBS, it was modeled on the federal subsidy for farmers. We pay farmers not to farm. Why not pay fixers not to fix? So argued the lobbyists representing appliance manufacturers all over America.

In the '50s, skillful repairmen were so good at their jobs and so reasonably priced that a manufacturer couldn't even make a sale to his mother. After all, why purchase a replacement when someone was willing and able to fix your appliance without demanding to be named in your will?

The solution was simple: encourage fixers to either bungle the job, or to quote such ludicrous repair estimates that even a miser would opt to buy rather than repair.

How do you accomplish this? Easily. Just pay repairmen a healthy percentage of the profits on replacement appliances. The idea was swiftly adopted and, unlike our appliances, the scheme functions flawlessly.

Now that Deep Wrench has unraveled the repair person puzzle, it's time for me to tackle some other pressing national predicament. And I'll gladly do it, as soon as someone volunteers to pay me not to write.

© 1995, 2003 Madeleine Begun Kane. All Rights Reserved.
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