Sometimes a brand’s reputation is misleading

Maytag window air conditioners sound like a good investment. After all, the Maytag Corporation is over 100 years old and built a solid reputation for itself as a top-quality manufacturer of washers, then dryers, then a brand selling countless other appliances. Many of us grew up on the TV and magazine commercials showing a bored Maytag repairman who has absolutely nothing to do.

Unfortunately in the case of Maytag window air conditioners, the product doesn’t always live up to people’s expectations of the brand. And it’s not hard to appreciate why: Maytag window air conditioners actually have nothing to do with the Maytag corporation, other than the fact that Maytag earns licensing fees from the sale of their brand name.

Fortunately, Maytag window air conditioners aren’t sold anymore, at least not new; if someone is trying to sell (or give) you a used one, I recommend you try another brand. See my page Window AC units for information on how to choose a window unit (and what to avoid).

Maytag window air conditioners are actually made by a company that filed for bankruptcy protection in the summer of 2007. Fedders had been one of the largest room air conditioner manufacturers in the US since 1947, and in the late 1990’s, after a number of turbulent (and not all that hot) years trying to make a profit selling room air conditioners, Fedders began outsourcing parts and the manufacture of entire air conditioners to other companies based in China. This actually helped improve their bottom line during the Asian financial crisis because the cost of Asian-sourced parts and Asian-manufactured units declined significantly in US dollar terms. Unfortunately, at the same time that Fedders began outsourcing room air conditioner manufacturing and parts, it also started on an ill-fated venture to produce commercial HVAC systems, and took on significant debt to do so. It survived its brush with bankruptcy only by divesting much of its product portfolio, and it appears to have stopped making window air conditioners altogether.

In 2001 Fedders entered into a license agreement with Maytag, allowing Fedders to sell its air conditioners (or in many cases, the air conditioners it designed and had companies in China manufacture) under the Maytag brand for a 10 year period. Initially consumer experience with these Maytag window air conditioners was positive. Many of the models appeared to be highly efficient and operate quietly and dependably for years. But the financial pressures Fedders was under by the first few years of the 21st century seem to have caused it to cut many corners in terms of quality. While some recent customers of Maytag window air conditioners rave about how quiet their window units are and how effectively they can cool a room, just as many customers have complained of failing compressors or fans within the first few months of operation, failing circuit boards, or extremely noisy operation within a year or two of purchase.

And those who were planning to take advantage of Maytag’s excellent reputation for customer service when they bought Maytag window air conditioners, were in for a rough surprise when they tried to get warranty support. In many cases, consumers reported that the 1-800 number and the website address given to register the product or get warranty service were no longer in operation. Many customers contacted Maytag directly to complain, and the response from Maytag was that Maytag itself was not responsible for these units, as they were made by another company. Where customers were able to get service, the turnaround time was excessive (some reporting a wait of up to 4 months to get a unit replaced or serviced – long enough that the cooling season is already over in many northern states and in Canada) or that the replacement or repaired unit broke down soon after it arrived.

Maytag window air conditioners are not particularly ambitious on the energy efficiency front either, although some of them managed to achieve an ENERGY STAR rating – which simply means they were at least 10% above the minimum allowable efficiency of an air conditioner of their capacity sold in America.

Notes on a few specific models

The Fedders corporation sold its air conditioning business to a European company called Airwell, and if you visit the Fedders website now you will see they now call themselves Airwell-Fedders. On that website you can search for warranty information by serial number but not by model number, making it difficult for you to ascertain whether a model you are considering buying will actually be covered under warranty. When a company goes bankrupt and sells its brand to another company, it is not always the case that warranty obligations for products made by the bankrupt manufacturer are carried over to the new company (the purchaser usually prefers to acquire only the assets of the bankrupt company, not liabilities such as warranty service).

Some of the Maytag window air conditioners I’ve been reading up on have their fans, but for every customer raving about how quiet they are, I can find two or three who have had bad experiences with noise, failure, or other quality concerns. Let’s look at a few selected models.

5,200 BTU Thru-Wall/Window Air Conditioner

The Maytag window air conditioner M7X05F2B is an ENERGY STAR qualified, 5,200 BTU air conditioner. This unit is suitable for cooling a small room of under 150 square feet (for example, a room of 12×12 feet or smaller). Unfortunately, the problem with using it in a small room is that, no matter where you are in the room, you will be within a few feet of the unit, and many customers report the usual major problem with Maytag window air conditioners, namely that the unit is very loud. (One reviewer found the unit to be quiet, which suggests, as with other Maytag units, that the problem is one of quality and consistency.)

6,000 BTU Window Air Conditioner

This unit, model M6X06F2F, is a 6,000 BTU model with an energy efficiency ratio (EER) of 9.7, which is the bare minimum required for a unit of this size to be sold in the US. You can do much better than this, with 6,000 BTU models having efficiencies of up to EER 12.0 for as low as $179 (see 6000 BTU air conditioners for example). You’ll also avoid the problem customers report with this model, as with so many other Maytag window air conditioners, of it being extremely noisy.

8,000 BTU Thru-Wall/Window Air Conditioner

This model, the Maytag window unit M7Q08F2A or M7Q08F2C, has an energy efficiency ratio (EER) of 10.8, which is respectable for an 8,000 BTU air conditioner. As with other Maytag window air conditioners, owners rave about its quiet operation and its apparent ability to cool a room effectively (this size unit is suitable for a room of 250 to 400 square feet; smaller than that it will rapid cycle, and larger than that it may never get it comfortably cool on the hottest days).

However as with other models, the fans on these units are prone to give out. In some cases it appears that the fan actually comes loose from its housing and strikes the air conditioner cover, although some customers have been able to fix it themselves by removing the cover and pushing the fan back into place.

8,000 BTU Window Air Conditioner

The M6X08F2D model, a Maytag air conditioner with an 8,000 BTU capacity and energy efficiency ratio of 9.8, does not meet my standards for energy efficiency. It’s what I would call surface-cheap: it seems cheap on the surface, but over time as it burns considerably more electricity than its more efficient M7 sisters (see above), you’ll wind up paying more in the long run.

Unlike some other units, not many reviewers rave about how quiet this Maytag window air conditioner is when they first install it. But most people do complain about how noisy it is – either right after purchase or at some point later. If you like a lot of white noise to go to sleep to, you might want to consider this unit. One customer even compared it to a freight train!

12,000 BTU Window Air Conditioner

The M6Y12F2D 12,000 BTU Maytag window air conditioner has an energy efficiency ratio of 9.8, meaning it uses roughly 1,200 watts when operating at full throttle (the equivalent of about 100 low-wattage compact fluorescent bulbs!). It is not ENERGY STAR qualified as it is just at the minimum acceptable efficiency, not the 10% more efficient required to achieve ENERGY STAR certification.

In general I don’t recommend purchasing air conditioners that just meet the minimum required standard for efficiency, but this is one of the few Maytag window air conditioners that seem to live up to our expectations of Maytag quality (remember, Maytag has nothing to do with this product other than its earning money for licensing its name on the product). Customers are generally very upbeat on this product and there are few reports of quality problems. It is a very quiet unit and I did not find any reports of the usual gamut of problems with Maytag units – no fan problems, motor failures, circuit board failures. You can probably pick one of these up for a good price on an over-stock website – they are not that efficient, and you may be buying something with limited or no warranty support – but at least it seems you may not need that support.

Another, older model in the 12,000 BTU category is the Maytag M6Y12F2A (notice only the last digit is different). This one has had its share of quality problems but you are unlikely to find new units for sale at this point – they appear to have been pulled off the market in about 2004-2005. It has the same EER as the F2D.

Just remember that you will pay more for electricity buy buying a less efficient unit such as this one.

14,500 BTU Thru-Wall/Window Air Conditioner

This unit, model M7Y15F2A, is an ENERGY STAR qualified Maytag window air conditioner with an EER rating of 10.7. It does a good job of cooling, and is quiet when working properly, but unfortunately it is often not working properly even out of the box. Customers report a very noisy fan, with the noise level varying between loud and ‘even louder’ for a single customer who returned their product to the store for replacement. Another problem with this unit is that it has a remote control and an onboard computer to help control it; unfortunately the computer can get into a hung state and it seems the only way to reset it is to call a service technician (and then wait several weeks for warranty service).

18,000 BTU Thru-Wall/Window Air Conditioner

This covers two similar model numbers: the M6Y18F7A and M6Y18F7C. This is a very high BTU model for a window air conditioner, and has an Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) of 9.7, which means it is (just barely) ENERGY STAR qualified. Because of the high BTU output of this unit (enough to cool a 700 to 1,000 square foot space) it has high electrical demands, and therefore runs on a 220 volt plug, so don’t go buying this unit unless you are prepared to do some rewiring!

Generally people are satisfied with the very quiet operation of this unit when purchased, however a significant percentage of customers reported that the fan became very noisy within a few weeks or months of purchase. Some users also report fan motors failing, and even failing a second time after they are rebuilt under warranty. Finally, a few customers found that while the unit remained quiet, it did not actually cool the room effectively.

This unit, like many other Maytag window air conditioners, includes an ‘Energy Saver mode’, but don’t be fooled by this marketing gimmick. It doesn’t mean the unit becomes more energy efficient when you put it into this mode – it just uses less energy, because it’s providing less cooling. Air conditioner energy efficiency is always measured as a ratio between BTU/hour of cooling and watts of electricity; so a 9.7 BTU air conditioner at 18,000 BTU produces the equation 18,000 BTU / x = 9.7, or x = 18000/9.7, or x=1855 watts. In other words, this air conditioner uses almost 2 kilowatt hours of electricity per hour of full operation. In Energy Saving mode, it might use half or a third that much – but it will provide half or a third as much heat.

That, of course, assumes it is working properly, which as you have gathered by now, is open for debate.

If not Maytag, then who?

In general, if you find a room or window air conditioner for sale on an overstock website, or at a big discount at one of the big box stores, you are probably getting a combination of low quality and very modest efficiency. That means you’re fairly likely to need warranty (or post-warranty, fee-based) service at some point within the first few years of owning the machine, or that, when the machine inevitably fails within the first few years of operation, you’ll just toss it, figuring you already got your money’s worth.

But buying a cheap room air conditioner also means you’ll wind up spending a lot more money operating the unit than if you had bought a high quality, energy efficient unit, and then there are the added environmental costs – not only the extra energy you consumed operating the unit, but the environmental costs (energy and raw materials) of manufacturing it, and the environmental disposal costs for the refrigerant.

I would recommend buying air conditioners of the following brands, all of which get relatively strong, consistently positive reviews. I’ve ordered these from highest quality to lower (but still solid) quality:

  1. Friedrich
  2. Danby
  3. Kenmore (brand)
  4. Sharp
  5. Frigidaire (brand)

You’ll notice the word ‘brand’ above. That means the brand name is not necessarily the manufacturer. Friedrich, Danby and Sharp are all original equipment manufacturers or OEMs – they tend to make what they sell. Kenmore is the brand for Sears appliances, and the Kenmore brand appears on products made by hundreds of different manufacturers. Unlike Maytag, however, Sears does not sell the Kenmore brand for others to license, so it has to be very careful about maintaining its reputation for good quality.

Frigidaire is both an original equipment manufacturer and a company that rebrands other manufacturers’ products to take advantage of its own reputation for quality, and then sells those brands itself. This is unlike Maytag which does not make air conditioners itself. Instead, in one case it actually licenses the use of its name for these apparently low quality room air conditioners, while in another case Maytag sells what is actually a very high quality, high efficiency whole house air conditioner, the Nordyne air conditioner. Frigidaire is another company that sells both room air conditioners and its own branded version of the Nordyne, but as far as I know Frigidaire has not sold its brand name to a low-quality room AC manufacturer, and will stand behind any Frigidaire window air conditioner they sell.

You can check out the efficiency ratings and prices for many room air conditioners by the above brands from my Buy room air conditioners page, which contains air conditioners offered through Amazon.com. I have carefully selected those air conditioners based on energy efficiency, and ordered them by capacity so you can quickly find the small set of energy efficient room air conditioners that are suited to the space you are trying to cool.

2 replies
  1. Dave Taylor
    Dave Taylor says:

    I have a 12,000 BTU Maytag window air conditioner with an Energy Star sticker on it. It is in its eleventh year of operation – so far, trouble free. It is quiet and cools extermely well. Your description of Maytag units seems at odds with my experience. I have recommended Maytag to others. In my opinion, it is the best.

    Reply
  2. Robin
    Robin says:

    Of course, an individual owner’s experience with one air conditioner may be positive, while the overall quality of manufacture may still be low enough that many owners experience problems. The overwhelmingly negative comments from users of these air conditioners are a pretty strong indication that quality was a big problem.

    Your recommendation of Maytag window air conditioners to others is well intended I’m sure, but unfortunately even if they were the best ones around, it won’t help anyone since these air conditioners haven’t been made for 8+ years and the manufacturer, while it survived its brush with bankruptcy, sold off many of its divisions, and no longer makes window air conditioners as far as I can tell. Any such air conditioners still around are likely to be used or reconditioned. Best case is they have been sitting in unopened boxes for 8+ years, but I personally wouldn’t recommend anyone to buy any appliance that has been sitting around unused that long.

    Reply

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