5 August, 1999
Better Business Bureau
354 Charles St. E.
Kitchener, ON N2G 4L5
Re. United Computer Superstores
4 Hurontario Street
Collingwood, ON L9Y 2L6
United Computer Superstores
304 Dunlop Street West
Barrie, ON L4N 7L2
On 19 January 1999, I purchased, for $1,283.40 cash, a new "Unitium" personal computer from United Computer Superstores of Collingwood, ON. (Copy of invoice enclosed.) In the last six months, the computer hardware has failed four times. On two different occasions I have had to have the motherboard replaced; these failures were verified by United Computer's service staff on each occasion. After the most recent failure, I returned this system to the Collingwood store for service under the store warranty (two years parts, lifetime labour; copy of warranty enclosed). It was sent for service to the Barrie store. The technicians did not check the described problem, accused me falsely of damaging the computer, and charged me $74.75 for this service.
A detailed history is enclosed. In brief, United Computer Superstores has consistently failed to deliver the product for which we paid (a functioning computer), has performed inept service on this computer, and now has refused to honor their own warranty on this computer. On 16 July 1999 I sent a registered letter (copy enclosed) to Mr. Marian Kliment, president of United Computer Superstores, requesting a refund of this service fee. To date, I have received no reply.
Our preferred resolution is that we return the computer to United Computer Superstores, and we are refunded the full amount we have paid for this computer (the original purchase price, $1,283.40, plus the recent service fee of $74.75).
Failing this, we will accept the following resolution: We will accept the computer as repaired by United Computer Superstores -- subject to our verification that it has been repaired -- and they shall refund the $74.75 we have paid for warranty repair. They shall further agree to honor the original warranty of two years for parts and labour, from the date of purchase. (The original warranty is lifetime for labour, but we are willing to accept two years to put a termination date on this agreement.) But since recent events have led us to distrust the competence and the honesty of their service department, we require that, if the computer fails again during the warranty period, we can take it to an independent repair shop of our choice, and United Computer Superstores shall pay the full cost of any repairs or replacement needed for the hardware we purchased from them.
Bradford J. Rodriguez, Ph.D.
A history of our problems with this computer and this store.
What follows is a brief summary of our experience.
1. Keyboard failure. We took delivery of the computer (a special order) on January 19th, immediately before leaving for a vacation. The computer was stored in its original packaging. After our return in February, I connected the computer, only to find that the keyboard did not work. I returned the computer to the Collingwood store, where they verified that the keyboard was functional and it was the motherboard that was defective. They replaced the motherboard and the problem was corrected.
2. Erratic memory failure. Over the next few months, the computer began "crashing" at random intervals. This happened with a variety of software programs that worked faultlessly on another computer. A motherboard I had purchased the previous year from this same store had exhibited similar problems, which turned out to be caused by a clock speed jumper that had been set incorrectly by the store. With this prior experience, I chose to investigate the settings on my wife's computer. (I am a qualified computer engineer with M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering and an M.S. in Computer Science, and a fully-equipped electronics shop. I choose to buy assembled computers because the cost is usually lower, and prior to this experience, it consumed less time.)
After two days' investigation, I found that the memory speed had been set incorrectly in the CMOS Setup parameters, to 8 ns. Reading the motherboard manual, I found it quite clearly stated that this setting was not to be used for extended periods of operation; yet this is how the computer was delivered to us. When I reset the memory speed to the value recommended in the manual (10 ns), the problem disappeared. I reported this to the Collingwood store.
3. Motherboard failure. On 25 June 1999, the computer completely failed to start. The screen stayed completely blank, not even displaying the ROM diagnostics, indicative of a motherboard failure. On previous occasions my wife had been able to start the computer by pressing Reset or cycling the power, but not this time. As she urgently needed to use her computer, I called the Collingwood store to see if they had a replacement motherboard. They did not, but the Barrie store did, and offered to replace it if I brought the computer over immediately. This procedure took four hours, partly because the first replacement motherboard they installed was also defective, and partly because it turned out that the computer's RAM memory was also defective. I returned with a different motherboard, sound board, and video board, but with an apparently working machine.
4. Spontaneous power shutdown. During the next week my wife reported that the computer was switching itself off in the middle of her work, when she was "on-line". (This generation of PCs has "soft" power control.) After this disrupted her work for the second time in a week, I called the store.
On 2 July 1999, at about 4:20 pm, I spoke to Neville at the Barrie store (where the computer had been most recently repaired). Neville said that we would need to leave the computer with them for repair. I requested that, since this was a chronic problem and my wife could not afford to be without her computer for an extended period, the store either provide a "loaner" machine to which we could transfer her files or her hard disk, or a refund so we could buy a new computer. I was told that only the president, Marian Kliment, could authorize this. At 5 pm, I reached Mr. Kliment at the Collingwood store.
In the ensuing telephone conversation with my wife and myself, Mr. Kliment said that United Computer Superstores would not provide a "loaner", and would not refund the purchase price of the machine, even after the long series of problems we have had. During this conversation he became abusive, calling my wife a liar, criticizing my professional competence, and attempting to pass off false statements (such as it being impossible to move a hard disk from one computer to another). When I in turn inquired about the professional qualifications of his staff, he refused to answer, gave only his own qualifications, and threatened to deny warranty service if I had so much as discarded a shipping container. I consider this response highly unprofessional and unethical.
Having no other recourse, I retuned the computer for warranty service on 6 July 1999 -- as directed by Mr. Kliment, to the Collingwood store and in its original shipping container, with all original materials. I explained that the problem only seemed to occur when "on-line" with the Internet. On 14 July 1999, at 10:40 am, I was called by Neville from the Barrie store, where the computer had been sent for service. Neville listed the following problems they had found:
a. The Windows 98 USB driver was not installed properly. I replied that their technicians had installed this with Windows 98. I had done nothing regarding USB drivers; we do not use them, having no USB hardware.
b. The BIOS had been "changed" (precisely how was not said). I replied that I had not made any BIOS adjustments, and I had returned it exactly as I had received it.
c. Wire ties had been added to the cables inside the computer. I replied that I had done this months ago to the original machine, and if they were present, they had been moved there (or left there) by the Barrie technicians on the 25 June visit. I asked Neville if he had any evidence that these had damaged the computer. He refused to reply.
d. Windows setup was incorrect; they found it necessary to remove Accessibility Options and install Desktop Themes and part of Communications, Multimedia, and Accessories. I replied (again) that Windows 98 had been installed by their technicians and that I had not changed any the operating system installation in any way, other than to add Dial-Up Networking connections.
e. Two cards had been removed. I replied that these were the Ethernet and scanner cards that had been transferred from an older machine, removed because of Mr. Kliment's insistence that the PC be returned in its original condition.
f. There was a broken screw in the card slots. I replied that this had been done by their Barrie technicians on 25 June. (I had observed this when I removed the Ethernet and scanner cards.)
g. No Dial-Up Networking connections were installed in the software. I replied that I had removed this software before returning the computer (since they contain our secret Internet passwords).
h. The power problem could have been caused by a brownout or power surge. I replied that this computer had been run exclusively on a UPS, which protects against such phenomena.
Neville concluded by saying there was "absolutely nothing wrong with the hardware," and that they had run it for several days with no disruption. I asked if they had tested the computer "on-line" (connected to an Internet provider) -- as we had originally described the problem occurring -- and he said they had not. He said that they could perform these tests but that they would have to charge me for the service time. He also said they would charge $65 for the tests already performed. I objected to this, since the computer was returned for warranty repair, and their warranty (attached) clearly states "two years for parts and lifetime for labour." I said I would be willing to perform the Internet tests myself, but I would not pay the $65. I agreed to pick up the computer the next day (15 July) at the Collingwood store.
On 15 July 1999, at 4:45 pm, my wife and I arrived at the Collingwood store to pick up the computer. The clerk (Andrea?) informed us that $74.75 ($65 plus tax) must be paid before we could reclaim the computer. I again disputed this charge: I had returned the computer for warranty service; I was not informed at the time of any service fees, I had not been contacted with an estimate, and I certainly had not approved any such expense for repairs. She said she had no authority to rescind it. When I asked who could rescind the charge, she said "Neville" and agreed to telephone him (at the Barrie store). Neville repeated his claims of the day before (also in his memo, attached), and, when I began to dispute their veracity, hung up. When my wife attempted to call him to ask if future warranty service would be provided, Andrea was instructed (presumably by Neville) to call the police and have us removed from the store. To the credit of the Ontario Provincial Police, when they arrived they insisted that we be allowed to pay the disputed charge and leave with our computer.
I believe this action indicates that this store is not willing to resolve this conflict. I feel also that United Computer Superstores is attempting to fabricate a fraudulent pretext to deny warranty service on this machine, namely that I had installed software "improperly." Most of the "improper" software was in fact installed by United Computer Superstores. Regarding the application programs Netscape, Microsoft Office, etc., I most emphatically deny that these were improperly installed, and I dispute the spurious claim that these programs -- which I have installed successfully in three other computers -- are capable of disrupting or damaging the hardware in the manner asserted by Neville.
We have not been satisfied with the computer we purchased from United Computer Superstores, or with the repairs carried out by them. Based on the experiences I have described above, I believe that United Computer Superstores is selling inferior quality products, is not competent to install or service those products, and will attempt to dishonor their warranty and refuse their obligations to their customers.