Our Divided Nation

You don’t need to be a pundit or connoisseur of the blogosphere to know our nation has become more polarized than ever. Nirvana for one is anathema to another. Whether discussing the budget, proposed controls, alleged leaks, environmental issues – there’s no common ground anymore. Each side is deeply entrenched in one extreme or the opposite. Finding a path forward has never been more challenging.

I’m talking, of course, about dishwashers.

Recently, to celebrate our thirtieth, the wife and I decided to splurge and replace the inert steel and plastic box occupying the prime real estate next to the sink in our kitchen. A Maytag of unknown pedigree, it had recently coughed up an ominous black rubber belt of some sort. Door gasket? Circulation pump drive? Who knows. The machine itself had actually been given up for dead for a full two years (the touch panel refused to respond to our touches.) Brushed up against it about a year ago and it partially returned to life – allowing us to run only the “light” cycle for another twelve months before this recent debacle. Given its unimpressive history of (un) reliability and that the control panel alone was likely a several hundred dollar part, we assumed a replacement would ultimately prove to be less costly than repair.

I checked Consumer Reports and the four top rated machines were Bosch. (Bosches?) A quick call to Sears – they’ve got one of the models in stock – and off goes T to the Orange Mall to do the deed. (We generally don’t mess around once we’ve decided to replace something that hasn’t worked properly for three or four years.)

An hour and a half later, the front door opens. “Did you get it?” “No.” “What?” “This guy, ‘Ray’, said Bosches are bad and to get a Kitchen Aid.” “They didn’t have any Bosches?” “Had ’em, said they’re no good, told me they don’t clean well, have small racks, no water heater, no disposal, I’d hate it. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I left.” I assumed Ray actually worked at Sears, but supposed we ought to consider his opinion regardless. He did seem to know something about Bosches.

Back to Consumer Reports I go. In addition to the CR ratings, they have feedback from actual buyers. Surely Bosch owners are some of the most satisfied folk in Appliance County given that their brand occupies the top four spots.

14 CR subscribers posted reviews for the Bosch Ascenta – the top rated model. I expected the consensus to be somewhere between 4 and 5 stars, given its exalted position on the charts (#1 out of about 400!)

2.8 stars. For the Best Damn Dishwasher in Consumerland. The very first review starts, “It doesn’t clean well and nothing comes out dry.” One near the top is headlined, “The Worst Dishwasher Ever!!!” Well, tell us how you really feel, ‘CatesOpinions’.

“Still Looking for a Good Dishwasher”, “Returning It” and, perhaps the most apropos: “Don’t Buy This Dishwasher.” Seems that ole Ray was not just whistling Dixie when he dissed this dish machine.

Had all of the reviews been uniformly negative it would have at least confirmed that CR was not to be believed, apparently having a Better Than Average chance of having their collective heads up their collective asses. But, strangely, this was not the case. Sprinkled among the haters were numerous bright spots, if not out-and-out raves: “Almost Perfect”, “Very Pleased”, as well as the hopeful, “So Far, So Good.”

Drilling into the details, there is just enough agreement that you cannot discount the sanity of reviewers as a whole. Apparently the Bosch drawers are smaller (everything in Europe is smaller?), you have to run the water in the sink to get it hot first, there’s no dryer, you have to clean the filter yourself. These are probably features that made it quieter, cheaper and more energy efficient – thus leading to the higher CR rating. Well, screw that! I want clean spotless dishes and if that means the destruction of our entire planet, than so be it!

I picked out a high ranking Kitchen Aid model to see if the reviewerazzi were happier with less efficient, more expensive fare. Fewer reviews on this one, but once again, no consensus. Two of the three review headlines begin “Beware…”, garnering 1 and 2 stars, and the final (4 star) says simply, “This is a very good dishwasher.” (Should be, it was eleven hundred bucks!) So, that settles it. Clearly, everyone either hates or loves their dishwasher. You can buy any one you want and you will probably love it or hate it, too!

I perused a few more common models and manufacturers, encountering much of the same Babel of opinions, before switching gears and heading over to Amazon and epinions.com to see if there was any greater degree of agreement over there. Practically every machine averaged out in the mid two stars with about half the rankers slamming them with one or two and the rest praising with a four or occasional five. In short, the whole exercise in basing my decision on the unqualified assessments of complete (and possibly fraudulent) strangers was proving to be a pretty dubious strategy.

I decided I’d have to actually go and look at the things myself. I had no illusions about my dishwasher assessment skill level. Other than retrieving the occasional cup or spoon, I’ve never loaded or unloaded the ones we’ve owned. My reliability measure is based almost entirely on the You Get What You Pay For principle. Still, I figured I could judge the drawer quality and size, and maybe how long it would be before the soap dispenser breaks. (The over/under is about ten seconds.) See if the thing closes with a solid “Thunk.” Scientific stuff like that.

Off to the Home Depot (closest place that sells dishwashers) we went.

After some prodding, poking, general chitchat with the sales gal and more checking of reviews on the Home Depot website, I found one that didn’t seem to suck, was priced a bit above the entry level, but not batshit crazy (you can spend three grand on one) and actually had an average rating on the Home Depot site of 3.5 Stars. Of course, the first two read, “Leaks…” and “Poorly Designed Machine, Don’t Buy.” But, just as with our president, ever so slightly more people loved this model than hated it, and I took a small measure of comfort in that thin margin, as weak a mandate it might be.

As it happens, we had settled on another Maytag, the very same make that currently sat silently at home, waiting to go to dishwasher heaven. Perhaps we’ll try a Kitchen Aid next time. Anything but a Bosch.

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