/ Home & Energy

It’s too hard (and costly) to repair our home appliances

Woman fixing a washing machine

How can a £200 washing machine cost almost as much to repair when a £10 part breaks? Manufacturers are making home appliances much harder to repair – leading to fewer being repaired and more being thrown away.

Which? has been investigating product reliability since 1971 and our experts’ comments in our articles over the years suggest that appliances have generally become more reliable.

But impossible-to-repair machines and falling prices mean there’s a growing trend towards throwing appliances away, rather than getting them fixed when they fail. And in some cases, a seemingly simple repair will cost as much as a brand new machine.

£180 to fix a faulty £10 part

Take an example from some recent Which? research. The Beko WM1540W washing machines comes with drum paddles which are fitted from the inside of a sealed drum. This means that if the one of the £10 paddles breaks, owners of the Beko will need to replace the whole drum. This is because the inner and outer sections of the drum are welded together, rather than being bolted.

This pushes the cost of repair up from £10 to closer to £180 for a new drum assembly and two hours of work to fit it. Beko told us:

‘As a result of feedback from our service department, we decided to change the design of the drum. Since the introduction of the new drum, significantly fewer problems with the model have been reported.’

Too much trouble to repair?

In years gone by fixing something like a broken paddle wouldn’t have been a problem for a repairperson, and it’s even something you could do yourself, if you knew what to do. There’s plenty of advice out there on the internet for budding appliance repairpeople, and replacing a part like this wouldn’t cost much; about a tenner for the part.

But these days, it’s not just a broken plastic paddle that could mean a costly repair visit, or a trip to the tip with your washing machine. And it isn’t just Beko that makes its washing machine drums like this.

Sealed drums mean that if anything gets trapped between the inner and outer drum, such as a coin or a stray bra wire, a repairperson won’t be able to take your machine to pieces to retrieve it. Or if the drum bearings need replacing, an engineer won’t be able to access them.

Instead, if you want to fix your machine, you’ll need to shell out almost £200 to buy a new drum and have it fitted. But who in their right mind is going to do that when you can get a brand new machine for the same amount?

Improve these cheap, throwaway models

In terms of average incomes, washing machines accounted for about 8% of our salaries in 1971. That’s down to 1.5% now. So should we be happy with simply having cheap washing machines and not worry too much that they can be impossible to repair?

I don’t think so – it can’t be a good thing that some important appliances that we use everyday can’t even have simple repairs carried out on them and I wish manufacturers wouldn’t make them like this.

Comments
Member

It isn’t in the manufacturers’ interests to sell spare parts. They are already making so little profit on new appliances because the general trend amongst consumers is to want “something for nothing” – i.e. an appliance at an unrealistically low price (in my opinion this is because consumers want to replace appliances like fashion accessories and can’t afford to do so if the prices are realistic).

The whole situation is immoral and unforgivable at a time when recycling and reusing is so essential to our future (our as in the human race I mean).

I think it is significant that my 1957 Hoover Vacuum, which cost my grandparents what was in 1957 about a months wages to buy, is still functioning as well as the day it was new, I can still get all the consumable spares (Belts, brushes, carbon brushes, bearings, bags) from local shops, it uses less electricity to run (because it is built better) than modern ones and it has embarrassed slaes reps from Dyson and Kirby by being able to out perform their machines.

There is a similar story (which I have told before in detail so I won’t repeat it at length here) for my 1979 Glow Worm Boiler (never yet gone wrong never yet needed any spare parts) and my 1983 Hoover Washing machine (never had a major malfunction yet, can still get consumable parts like motor brushes, bearings (which can be fitted relatively easily), door seals, etc). But place them in context again: the Glow Worm boiler cost what in 1979 was about my father’s salary for 3 months (he was a white collar worker but not of the highest rank to give you an idea) and the washer cost me (at that time a retail assistant) almost 4 months’ salary.

Now people expect to buy a washer for under £200 (mine cost £295 from Rumbelows in 1983) or a boiler for not more than a couple of week’s pay or a Vac for certainly no more than a week’s pay. And they expect to be able to chuck all of these out and have a new one every few months or years when it suits them to change for the sake of change. It’s hardly surprising that manufacturers don’t want to bother with repairs.

Member

Thanks for posting Dave – it’s great to hear about your 54 year old Hoover and your 32 year old boiler. I’m glad that you’ve managed to get so much mileage out of both. When researching the “Built to last?” article in this month’s Which? I heard about a sixty year old Hoover owned by a Which? member, so yours isn’t far off.

You’re right Dave, of course. Appliances are much cheaper for us now and I’m sure are seen as being disposable for some. But it would be so much better if the very simple things could be repaired easily.

Repairmen I’ve spoken to are pulling their hair out at the thought of unrepairable sealed washing machine drums.

My gut feeling is that it shouldn’t cost the earth to build domestic appliances that can be easily repaired. What does everyone else think?

Member

“Built in obsolescence” is all part of the business plan. If they built things to last forever then they would go out of business, sad as it may seem.

Having worked in QA for nearly 15 years, testing and quality assurance is merely given lip-service to satisfy the auditors. They all pretend to have “a commitment to quality” when in fact all they want is quick time to market.

As an example, I worked on a project for TomTom whereby the route calculation time was 40% slower than the device it replaced. Not surprising given that all the components were costed down to the lowest amount possible to save costs. Due to the time it would take to re-engineer the software, it was delivered with this shortfall in performance safe in the knowledge that the customer “won’t notice it if they didn’t have a previous device”.

I won’t divulge the model number, but I will always prefer the older models as they were build to last.

Member

Even basic maintenance, to avoid break-downs, is not made easy.

Things like washing machines & dishwashers involve ‘stuff’ & ‘goo’ and so have filters.

I recall our old machine had a ‘fluff filter’ right at the front, which you unscrewed to clean out. Now it seems to be in the guts of the new one.

Member

The cost is in manual labour . Look how handymen operate now wanting to price each job however small. Worst is when you pay for them to assemble & the product is faulty??! Who suffers. Or that when you order money is taken before made . Then if catalogue each item sent one by one to not be delivered summoning you to wait in queues of over 20 at sorting office. !

Member

Sometimes you can get a happy surprise if you do seek a repair. We complained to Pure about our Evoke Flow digital radio which we’d had for two years – then the speaker stopped working. They told us to send it in for a repair and rather than repairing it they sent us a completely new unit. Unsurprisingly I felt that with an after care service like that I couldn’t complain much about it breaking in the first place.

Member

You did better than me, Victoria. The £30 rechargeable battery in my Pure Evoke 3 radio became useless when it was just over a year old. Politely pointing out that a rechargeable battery should last more than a year achieved nothing. I then discovered that a lot of other people had found the same problem and that Pure had redesigned the battery, but a second call achieved nothing.

As a result of the treatment I received from Pure customer service, I chose a Roberts radio when buying one as a Christmas present for a friend.

Member
Sophie Gilbert says:
5 August 2011

My microwave oven has just packed in and I haven’t got it repaired because it would have cost me the same as buying a new one. I have therefore bought a new one, kept the old one’s “turntable” bits as they are expensive to replace, just in case, and the rest is going to my local electrical appliances recycling centre.