Friday, April 17, 2009

Getting Grilled

We have a large deck off the kitchen and dining area of our home, upon which rests a gigantic gas grill purchased 8 years ago at no small expense. My wife, whose parents owned a very successful Italian family restaurant in suburban Chicago, has been known to have the stove, the Jenn-Aire grill in the kitchen, and the outdoor gas grill all operating at full capacity to create her culinary masterpieces on Saturday evenings when we’re home. This is a year-round thing.

Last Saturday evening, following the purchase of mass quantities of high-end butchery products and several tons of asparagus at the store, as she was in the early preparation stages of the evening’s feast, she came into the media room where I was engrossed in a baseball game, and said “will you check the grill…it smells like gas is leaking”.

That’s never a good sign, especially at El Rancho Morrissey.

Last summer we nearly burned down the house at a family gathering where too many fat-laden brats and sausages were on the grill, resulting in a HUGE conflagration which I battled with a fire extinguisher until my brother put the final touches on the job by emptying several bottles of Leinie’s onto the flames. And a couple summers before that, Chief Bloom and his brave squad had to come over and bail us out of problem with a leaking gas container.

I dutifully checked the grill….found nothing wrong…and reported back. My long-suffering wife dragged me back out onto the deck, turned the gas cylinder on (I hadn’t bothered to take that crucial step), pointed at the crack(s) in the supply line to the firebox of the grill, and said “take a whiff”. Oh. THAT gas smell.

Needless to say, dinner plans were “changed”.

I called the national 800 line for the company from which we’d purchased the grill (at great expense) in 2001, and discovered that our warranty AND extended service plan had expired in 2008. We’ve changed phone numbers since then, and they never got a chance to telemarket us into re-upping. Anyway, I told them what was going on, we agreed that I needed a “new hose and regulator”, and I took their earliest appointment….yesterday afternoon, between 1 and 5.

The robotic phone device called the night before to ascertain that we were still interested in having the service person come over. I pressed “1” and we were good to go. The guy shows up around 2 PM, says “what’s the problem?”.

Bad sign.

He doesn’t know I need a new gas hose and regulator. Gotta order that. Don’t carry it on the truck. Can’t keep all the different ones on the truck. Gotta order it. Takes a couple weeks. Cost on that’ll run ya around a hundred bucks, and when it gets delivered to ya, call and make an appointment and I’ll come back and install it.

So, he’s telling me that I have a $99 trip charge for THIS service call; that I need to find the handbook that came with the grill, get the part number, order it from their parts department, IF they still have it in stock; and when it arrives, I’m supposed to call the 800 number to set up another appointment for him to come over. He left an invoice for his $99 service call, which I will NOT pay. This trip could have been avoided completely if the person I first talked to had been even marginally competent.

If I followed their “plan”, I’d have about 300 bucks of expense to put a part (similar ones retail on the internet for under 40 bucks) in an 8-year-old grill which is not covered by warranty or extended warranty, and it’s gonna take about a MONTH from first phone call to actual repair.

I'll be grill-shopping this weekend.


  1. Colonel,

    Heh! This gives me a chance to gloat about two service calls we've had within the last two weeks from Sears. Not a gas grill, but a front-loading washing machine and a dishwasher.

    We bought both appliances from Sears about 8 years ago and have had service contracts on them for most of that time. A couple years ago while doing a load of wash, the washing machine made all sorts of clunking, thumping, banging noises. It sounded like it was going to go through the floor (it's in a room off the kitchen instead of in the basement).

    Turns out that one of the big honking springs that holds the drum in place inside the washing machine housing had broken causing the rapidly spinning drum to break loose from its moorings and bang around inside the washing machine.

    The service guy came and he found that he needed to order a part. We didn't know what had busted so we couldn't tell the Sears service dispatcher. The part came withing a couple days and we scheduled another service call.

    Two guys came since they needed four hands to do parts of the repair. They replaced the big honking spring and then had to re-seat the rubber seal inside the door. Everything was copacetic except that there were occasional leaks from the rubber seal since it wasn't quite put back perfectly.

    Come a couple weeks ago and we began to get major leaks from the washer through that self-same seal. A service rep came out and verified that the rubber seal was bad. This is a big floppy thing that completely surrounds the front opening inside the door of the washer. I thought for sure that he'd have to order it. But he taps in a couple inquiries into his laptop and lo! and behold! He's got the very rubber seal we need on his own truck! THAT impressed me.

    It took him nearly an hour to wrestle that thing into place, though. At the factory the seal is put in place before the drum is mounted inside the cabinet...but here the repair guy had to make do with stuffing it in from the front and smooth it into place without taking the whole thing apart.

    He managed it and the seal works just fine. That was a very satisfying outcome...and well worth the service contract price (about $100 a year).

    Then just this week the dishwasher started making noises like it was trying to grind up some broken glass. The service guy removed the screws and the various items at the bottom of the dishwasher...and discovered a Bic pen cap rattling around loose where the water drains out. A rotor of some sort that spins the main spray unit was rapping up against that pen cap and making all the noise.

    I was pretty sheepish about how the heck a Bic pen cap wound up inside the dishwasher. Seeing my embarrassment (since it only took him about four minutes to find it), the Sears repairman noticed that the water level was low in the washer. He said that that usually meant that the water filter was clogged. So he disassembled the thingie that admits water into the dishwasher and cleaned the filter screen. THAT made for a decent length service call AND salvaged some of my dignity.

    Sears has a solid and effective service organization. It may be that they sell gas grills, too, that might be serviced by those fellows. I would seriously consider buying from Sears if I were you, Colonel, and buying a service contract from guys who know how to do service.

    The Dr.

  2. Brazier afficionados are not immune to this phenomenon. A few years back I shared, with a (very occasional) grillmeister I know, the secret of roasting the Thanksgiving turkey in one of those kettle grills.

    He followed the directions for separating the coal to provide indirect heat admirably - up to the point of getting the fire going. The briquets were a bit damp and, despite liberal applications of charcoal lighter, the coals never really did take off enthusiastically. Not a problem. He comes out with the lawnmower gas can and douses the reluctant charcoal.

    Well, that made ALL the difference!

    In this corner of New York City, when two houses, a garage and a couple of cars are imperiled by a frantically tossed flaming gasoline can and a fireball from a brazier, the standard response is, in FDNY radio code, a 10-75. That translates into four engines, 3 ladders, two battalion chiefs and a rescue truck. This on a quiet dead-end street on Thanksgiving Day.

    When the turkey was declared an irredeemable smoldering ruin and one of the bat chiefs - who knew the fellow personally - got done scolding the chef, the family repaired to the living room and called for Chinese take-out.

    Why not just run a natural gas line out to the deck and hook it up that way? The connections are much more robust, there's no need to futz with a gas bottle and the fire can be controlled by a remotely located and on/off switch. And maybe keep a bucket near that hot tub, just in case.

  3. As someone who has been in the repair business for over 30 years I have come to a simple credo. Sometimes I lose a buck by cutting labor in these cases, but nobody wins all the time. And price is always negotiable. Call the owner, I'd rather lose money than have a bad reputation.

  4. Hieronymous,

    Excellent story! I have myself with my own eyes witnessed the effect of a paper cup full of gasoline on a Weber grill: a nearly two-story flame...and charcoal briquets that were all-to-eager to provide steady -- albeit gasoline-flavored -- heat to the burgers and brats.