In October 2018, I bought my first robot vacuum.  Given the moderately hefty price tag of these machines, both then and still now, I researched the robot vacuum market, thoroughly or at least to my own satisfaction, before I committed to a brand and model.  After a few weeks of analyzing reviews and formulating my personal requirements, I purchased the Neato Botvac D7.

Over the next three and a half years, the robot, which I named Roger (after my all-time favorite galactic sanitation engineer and janitor, Roger Wilco, mostly because he's the only galactic sanitation engineer and janitor I know of), tirelessly vacuumed my home's floors.  Every weekend, that I recall, since Roger's 2018 setup, he cleaned my house, always my living room, office, master bedroom, and both bathrooms.

(On very rare occasion, I would use Roger for my kitchen and dining room as well, though I found it easier, due to the configuration of those rooms, to manually sweep them.)

In those three and half years I had barely a problem with Roger's performance.  Battery condition remained excellent, as far as I could tell.  I regularly cleaned the main brush, wiped the sensors with a Q-tip as recommended, and frequently changed the filter.  A variety of scratches from baseboard and furniture collisions are Roger's only war wounds, who otherwise performed exemplary and affirmed my choice of Neato over their competitors.

Roger's service came to an abrupt end on the evening of Sunday, May 29th of this year.  His cleaning routine was proceeding with no indication of problem.  I was in my living room, and I could hear Roger's vacuum engine running through the wall, in my bedroom, when his operation completely ceased and a familiar chirp indicated a problem.  These halts were rare but not unusual, and I would always see a "Help, I'm stuck!" alert on my phone.  In those prior cases, I would simply pick up Roger, move him slightly away from the problem point, hit the power button, and the robot would resume his assigned course generally with no further issue for the day.

But this night was different, as I immediately ascertained from the alert on my phone.  I do not recall the exact wording, but it was something along the lines of warning of an unknown fault.  I found Roger in an empty corner of my bedroom, clear an any obvious obstruction.  Normally, he would get stuck under the bed, at an odd corner of the bathroom, or lodged nestled by the leg of a piece of furniture.  Not this time, and the steady red light let me know this was a different problem than than I had ever seen before.


At this point, I should mention how grateful I was that Roger lasted a little over three and half years.  I had no idea, since I had no frame of reference, for now long a robot vacuum, working weekly, should continue to function before a serious fault.  The manufacturer's warranty was for one year, and I assumed anything after that would be a bonus.

Troubleshooting

Hoping for a simple, minor glitch or bug, I carried on with the "stuck" routine several times, of lifting Roger and restarting him.  But all times, he never moved from the location I set him.

Next level of troubleshooting was to put him back into his base and attempt a "manual" start by pressing the power button while Roger was docked.  Normal procedure, for me, is to use the Neato app on my phone to select a zone/room to clean, and initiate cleaning from the app, never having to touch a physical button on the robot.  In this scenario, Roger's vacuum would start, he would roll about two feet from his dock, pause, and then stop, with the same critical error.

This sequence provided me with my first clue of the issue.  The vacuum started, and in over three years I learned to hear a second motor start within the robot once Roger has departed from the docking station.  This second motor, as I would learn through investigation, controls the robot's lidar i.e. navigation system.

After a variety of research on my own based on Roger's behavior, I came to learn that something was definitely wrong with his lidar.  But what?  There appeared to be two common problems with a Neato Botvac lidar - the rubber band that turns the lidar turret, and the lidar motor itself.

There are only a handful of YouTube videos explaining Neato Botvac lidar issues, but this was my favorite by Scrap Metal Works.  He does a good job explaining how he troubleshot a condition very similar on his D7 model, and ultimately shows how the lidar motor was not spinning.

From watching this and other videos, I learned how to take the main covers off of Roger.  It is not hard, just a lot of screws that require a T10 screwdriver (first time, ever, I had to use a T10!).

Before proceeding, I should note that there is no indication that opening up a Botvac D7 in any way voids the warranty.  There are no seals to break, it's just screws and more screws, about 14 in total to get into the circuit area.

Inside Roger, I saw no visible problems.  All cables looked fine and hooked in.  the lidar rubber band was a little worn, but a quick manual test convinced me it could still spin the lidar turret on its own.  I rescrewed all covers, tried Roger again from the base, and he still exhibited the same lidar problem.

Options

It was around this time that started to admit to myself that Roger's cleaning days might be over.  It definitely appeared that the lidar motor was broke.  Could I fix it?

The "rubber band" fix, if the motor was still working, would be an incredibly easy solution.  Amazon sells replacement motor bands for the Botvac.  Installing the new band would simply be a matter of wrapping it around the motor and lidar turret.

Though replacement motors are available for sale, the procedure to remove the lidar and install the new motor is a bit intricate, at least to the point I questioned if I really wanted to invest the time, given all my other house project going on in the Spring and Summer of 2022.  And there was no clear evidence the replacement procedure performed by me would be successful.

So did I have any other recourse?  Here, finally, it dawned on me to check if Roger was still under warranty.

Researching Past Buying Decisions

Here in mid 2022, I could not recall if I had purchased an extended warranty for Roger in 2018, or if it would still be valid almost four years on.  I was pretty sure I purchased the extended warranty option from Amazon, but I wasn't sure.

So into my email archive I went, looking for notices from October or November of 2018.  Sure enough, there was an extended warranty!  Offered by a company named Asurion.  To summarize the conditions at the highest level:

  • 36 months of coverage after the manufacturer's warranty expired
  • Asurion would perform the needed repairs or, at their discretion, refund the original purchase price

Neato offered (and still does) a one-year limited manufacturer's warranty.  I purchased Roger in October 2018.  So in May/June 2022, the extended warranty coverage appeared still valid with about four to fix months to spare.

All I had to do was open a claim.  Asurion sent me a pre-paid UPS label.  All I had to do was package up Roger per Asurion's instructions, and drop him off at the nearest UPS store.

Too Good to Be True?

The Neato Botvac D7 cost in the $700 US range back in 2018.  Would the extended warranty service really refund a $700 purchase near four years on?  Frankly, I did not believe they would, or would at least do everything possible to avoid such a refund.

But a refund was not my goal, I simply wanted Roger fixed.  I figured if Asurion could replace the motor with professional service that I pre-paid for, and he lasted, say, another year or longer, then the $82 dollars I originally paid for the extended warranty would have been more than worth it.

The return and process was "free" to me outside of packaging my Neato Botvac D7 and the time traveling to the UPS store to drop Roger off.  All I had to do then was wait.

A few days after drop off, I received an email that Roger was received by Asurion and I would get status updates on the repair.  About a week later, I got notice that repairs were complete and my Neato Botvac D7 was already shipped back to me.

They fixed Roger?  Excellent, I thought!  But this was the last of my optimism.

The Zombie Botvac

Roger arrived a few days later.  He was nicely wrapped and surrounded in bubble wrap.  And it was definitely "my" Roger and not a replacement product, as I could tell by the scratches and overall condition.  The notes on the packaging slip even said the lidar was fixed (as expected).  The slip also said that "all function tests passed."  And this was all great news.  I reconnected Roger's battery, and let him fully recharge overnight.

The next day, full of elation for the miracle of extended warranties, I turned Roger on.  I pressed the power button.  What happened next was absolutely NOT expected.  His vacuum motor never turned on, but he took off, or tried to.  Roger's right wheel was clearly stuck, and all he did was quickly drive in a circle to crash into the wall!  Horrified, I picked up Roger so he would stop attempted to break through the baseboard.

Hoping for another one-time glitch, I decided to try turning Roger on in the open, away from his dock.  Same problem - no vacuum power, and he just spun himself in a circle.

This behavior never, ever happened before.  The stuck wheel problem was completely new.  It is accurate to say that Roger was now in worse condition than when I sent him to Asurion.  Before, he could at least leave his docking station normally, and perform a basic maneuver to back into his charger.

Yes, I was pretty bummed out at this point.  But what to do?

A Second Chance

The packing slip said to go to https://www.asurion.com/amazon for questions.  But going to that site yielded no way to contact customer service, that I could tell.  The entire website is geared towards automated claim generation and tracking, with no human interaction (I know, welcome to the 21st century).

I chose to attempt a second Asurion claim.  I used the claim to explain the situation as best as I could, how Roger was no longer functional after being returned from Asurion. I wanted to give Asurion the benefit of the doubt of an honest mechanical mistake.

Same process as the first time...created a claim, got a UPS label, packed up Roger, and shipped him again via the UPS Store.  In an attempt to avoid Groundhog Day, I decided this would be the second and only time I would do this, again.

Was the Second Time Better?

And just like the first time around, Roger came back to me about two weeks later.  Packaging, again, was excellent from Asurion, as shown in the title card of this article.

The packaging slip stated that loose connections where "adjusted" and again, that all functional tests past:

I started to get the feeling I had seen this show before.  But still I carried on, hopeful Roger truly was fixed this time.

After an overnight recharge, I tried Roger again for the final time.  To my surprise, Roger's vacuum was working again, and the lidar appeared to turn on again, but then when he started motion, he only went BACKWARDS and the same right wheel was still stuck.  It was a tragically comic scene of how far my poor Roger had descended into the spare parts bin.

It was abundantly clear by now that Asurion had not idea how to fix a Neato Botvac, and they certainly were not going to pay out the $700+ as I felt they should have.  How do I know that they don't know what they are doing?  A simply 30 second test of turning a Botvac on is more than sufficient to show normal operation.  Dozens of YouTube videos show this easily.  That Asurion could not be bothered to perform such a basic test says a lot about Asurion.

As a final ditch effort, I opened Roger one last time, to check for loose cables on my own.  Everything appeared in order, so I have no idea how Asurion, assumed to be a professional service that should know how to repair a product they put under warranty, or at least to refund the purchase price if they don't, could demonstrate such incompetence.

Verdict

A few days ago, I received a "customer satisfaction" survey on behalf of Asurion.  Needless to say, I made it very clear my problem was not fixed, and Asurion actually made the Botvac worse.

I also told them I will never buy another "protection" plan again, and will instead save the money for either DIY repairs or eventual lifecycle replacements.

The only scenario where I will buy a protection plan again is for guaranteed replacements or credits, with sufficient customer reviews showing the protection plan offerer is faithful to their agreement.  A good example is when I bought my Xbox Elite Wireless Controller from Best Buy.  Though I never had a problem with the controller, it seems reasonably clear to me that Best Buy would, at the least, offer a refurbished controller if the original purchased product failed under the warranty period.