17 December 2008

La saga du magnétoscope (part 2)

Read part 1 here.

Should I buy a new VCR or try to get the old Toshiba repaired? In the end, I decided to take the old machine back to Darty, because when they repaired it several years ago they said it was a simple adjustment (un réglage). Now why a VCR would need periodic réglages beyond what you can do using the remote control and adjustment features, I don't know. I guess the machine is just a piece of... on va dire... junk.

One day back in September or early October, we drove up to Blois. We took the Toshiba VCR and stopped chez Darty. At the customer service desk, the man I talked to said I would do better to just forget it. "We charge 45 euros an hour for labor," he said. "And the repair will take at least four weeks. You might as well just buy a new VCR. It won't cost any more than the repair, and we'll be glad to sell you one. Go have a look around."

That's galling to me. I paid good money for the Toshiba (200 euros in 2003), hardly used it at all, and it went seriously out of adjustment two times, requiring intervention by a technician.

European video components — TVs, VCRs, DVD players —
use these big connectors
SCART in English or péritel in French.

Meanwhile, the Panasonic DVD player I had bought from an online store at about the same time had also stopped working after only about two years. I gave up on that one, feeling not half lucky, and just bought a new model, a Pioneer. It has given good service for several years now.

By the way, the Philips TV we had bought chez Darty had had to be repaired too. A first attempt to repair it by a Darty technician who came to the house was unsuccessful, and the second time Darty just sent a truck and hauled the big old clunker back to Blois for repair in their shop. When it came back — just a few days later, I must say — the technician told me it was also « un simple réglage. » But it was an adjustment they had to do in the shop. Fortunately, it has continued to function perfectly since then, and that was several years ago.

I don't know about you, but that was the first time I'd had to have a TV set repaired in my life. I've had Sony, JVC, Panasonic, General Electric, and Sears models over the years. We've had several TV sets and VCRs that have given us 10, 15, or even 20 years of good service without ever needing a repair. Are these machines made for the French market that much more complex because they are designed to read not only PAL broadcasts, but SECAM and NTSC signals as well?

I left the Darty store with the defective Toshiba machine under my arm. But back in Saint-Aignan, I decided to try one more time. I looked in the yellow pages (les pages jaunes) and found a man who repairs TVs, VCRs, and other appliances in Saint-Aignan. He has a workshop in an electronics and appliance store called Expert, part of a national chain, over near SuperU. So I took the VCR to that shop.

There, a young man listened to and wrote down my description of the problem I was having with the Toshiba. He said he would hand it off to a technician who would charge 23 euros an hour for his time. Hey, that was half the Darty rate! And the boy man assured me that the technician would be able to determine in very short order whether the machine could be repaired or not. If it couldn't be repaired, he would telephone me to let me know.

That gave me the impression that there wasn't a great risk involved in leaving the VCR in their care. That was around the middle of October.

About 10 days later, I got a call from the "Expert" technician. (You will soon understand why I put that word in, as they say in England, inverted commas.) He wanted to know what exactly was wrong with the VCR. I told him that I had explained all that to the person who had taken it in, and that person had written it all down. But the technician wanted to hear it all again. So I explained once more.

Another week later, I got another phone call. The VCR was ready for pick-up. I went and retrieved it the next day. The bill was 60 euros! I was shocked. But I bit my tongue, even when the woman who seems to be in charge of the store, if not the owner, told me that the technician had done nothing more than a thorough cleaning of the machine. He hadn't been able to find any other problem with it, except that it was dirty — sale. I suspected that that was not really true, since it had hardly ever been used. And I wondered if the guy had even bothered to insert a tape to check whether the machine worked properly or not.

Sixty euros! For a cleaning! I could have bought a new VCR for not much more than that. I brought the Toshiba home, plugged it in, and put in a tape. Guess what! It worked — or didn't work — exactly as it had when I took it in for repair. There was absolutely no change in the picture on my TV screen. Had the technician done anything at all? It was a Saturday morning. I threw the Toshiba back into the car and returned to the Expert store tout de suite.

More about the video capture device tomorrow.


  1. 60 €--whoa! I think you were conned big time!
    I wonder if French vcrs are more delicate than American ones?

    We discovered that cheap dvds work quite well. Lewis also found an old Panasonic vcr/dvd combo on ebay that works well.

    Do you remember having a tv repairman come to the house when you were a kid? The tv had lots of funny tubes inside and that big picture tube as well. Heck, I remember the day my family got our first tv and the stand-up radio wasn't very important after that.

    I hope this story is going to have a happy ending.

  2. I had the same problem years ago in Virginia with a VCR. I had it repaired and it really never worked again. I think VCRs are just pieces of junk whose life [whether you use it or not] is not supposed to exceed that of the warranty. Isn't it what they call "built-in obsolescence?"

  3. Evelyn, I agree with you -- I was rooked. But they did finally fix it for no more than the first fee they charged. I don't really remember TV repairmen coming to the house when I was little, but I do remember when we got our first TV at home. I was in kindergarten or maybe the first grade (it was about 1956).

    CHM, I'm sure you are right about VCRs. "Junk" is a polite term for what they are. Yes, the obsolescence is built in.

    Did I tell you that our Epson printer died? I bought it in March 2005, so it wasn't even four years ago. That's the last Epson printer I'll buy. The last time we tried to use it, we got an error message on the computer screen saying that "certain parts" inside the printer had "reached the end of their useful life." Isn't that elegant? The Epson web site says in such cases it is not worth getting the printer fixed. Just buy a new one.

  4. Ken, you've missed the point about printers. Their function is no longer to print words and images on paper; they are merely delivery systems for the expensive consumable ink in the non-refillable cartridges. You can buy a printer for less than the cost of a single set of cartridges. Be warned, however, that the printer is only designed to last until the ink runs out. Grump.


  5. Susie, I'm sure you are right. The cost of ink jet cartridges is the reason I bought myself a laser printer last year. I have to buy a new cartridge every six months, but I still think it is more economical. I mainly print documents for the French administration (health insurance, taxes) and newspaper articles I want to read, so black and white is just fine for me. And the laser printer is a lot faster too.

  6. By the way, the laser printer cost only 89 euros. A toner cartridge costs about 35 euros.

  7. Yuck. I've got my gripes, too, with Epson printers. I liked mine while it worked, but it clogged up after about a year and a half or maybe 2 years... after buying a second, similar one (because I liked that the paper fed from the top), it dried up on me immediately after the ink ran out in one of the cartridges. I discovered that if you don't have ON HAND an IMMEDIATE replacement for an empty or low-ink cartridge, the whole thing dries up, and no colors will print-- and that's not fixable. When I bought my new Sony camera this year, they were giving away a free Epson printer, and I didn't even want it! Elliot talked me into it, but I haven't even opened it yet... I just know it's going to cost us $$$ in ink, and conk out when I've got several expensive ink cartridges still in there.

    Okay, end of complaint :) Don't buy Epson printers.

    (My security word in pallin... I wonder if it will be obamma next time? )

  8. I've been bumped off your followers photos. Boo Hiss. Guess when you are the first one to the ball you wither on the vine. Cheers.

  9. Cheryl, Blogger doesn't give us much control over the display of the followers list. The only thing I can think of is delete yourself and then sign up again. It seems the last to sign up are the ones who get displayed.


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