Friday, September 08, 2006

How Much Does a Vacuum Cleaner Need to Pull? How Much a Toilet Need to Flush?

Remember that vacuum cleaner commercial from a few years ago, I think it was for an Oreck model, that showed a sweeper sucking a bowling ball?

During a recent trip to one of those mega-hardware stores--places I find intimidating--my wife and I saw an ad perched atop a toilet. It claimed that their product was so good, you could flush ten golf balls down the drain without a problem.

But I wonder, are these P.T. Barnum-like enticements germane to anything? I mean, no vacuum cleaner I've owned has had to suck up anything close to the weight of a bowling ball.

And only once in my lifetime has one of my toilets had to carry away something as bulky as ten golf balls. (That was when my wife decided to flush a batch of my homemade vegetable soup down the commode, not realizing that there was a hambone in there. Fortunately, the apartment maintenance guy thought that it was funny, a vivid foray into food criticism.)

Or, are these ads meant to make another point? Maybe.

Maybe the idea is that after a few years of use, when the vacuum cleaner will only handle billiard balls and the toilet can only flush ping pong balls, the competition's products won't be able to handle the stuff they're meant to handle. "Sooner or later, everything put together falls apart," isn't as compelling an ad come-on as pictures of bowling balls at the ends of sweeper attachments, though.

I have a feeling that I'm probably an advertiser's nightmare. I'm not conscious of making any major purchase in my lifetime based on an ad.

Several years ago, in fact, I instituted a new policy. I decided that whenever I bought a new lawn mower, I would read the consumer reports and find the highest-rated, least expensive product. After I bought it, I would run it until it broke down. If I got three years out of a $150 lawn mower, I figured that I'd spend a lot less than I would have by hiring the job out.

I never applied this philosophy to more major purchases, like cars or big appliances, of course. That's why my wife and I feel fortunate to have found reliable people to maintain and fix those things.

But I have to make a confession: I bought a slightly more expensive mower this year. No mower I owned before had more than 3.5-horsepower. This baby has 6.5! And it's self-propelled, something I justify because of past back problems. But, I can't afford to take the run-it-till-it-dies approach with this mower; it's got to last six years. I guess I'll have to find a good mower mechanic.

As long as it does a good job cutting grass, I'll keep it. I have no inclination to test its ability to chop up a bowling ball.

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