/ 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
Guest

I’ve recently been researching new washing machines having sold our last one with our house and I was very interested to read about ISE washing machines that a designed ‘like the good old days’ so they can be easily and cheaply repaired if and when parts break. They are a similar price to the Best Buy Miele washing machine but I am surprised there is no review of them on Which?

Guest

I agree, Lucy. It is important that consumer ‘durables’ should be designed to be repaired easily.

It is crazy that appliances are regarded as beyond economical repair because of small faults. There is no shortage of people seeking jobs and it is about time to start doing something about the mountains of waste washing machines that are disposed of after a short working life.

I would like to see repairability mentioned in Which? reports. There is a recent Conversation about the big differences in running costs of fridge-freeezers etc., and that is another important factor we need to consider, at least for appliances in continuous or frequent use.

Guest

The cost of electrical goods has come down significantly in real terms especially in relation to cost of technical labour over the last 50 years.
Therefore for many smaller and cheaper electrical items even an hours labour will make a repair uneconomic especially if it involves a call-out.
It doesnt help that many items are designed to be assembled easily and quickly and this often precludes quick dis-assembly for repair.

Guest

Dismantling faulty equipment can be very time consuming since – as Rarrar says – it is often designed for easy assembly and no thought given to repair. A DIY enthusiast can often do their own repairs. For example, it is usually easy to replace a damaged mains lead.

Security screws and awkward plastic clips can be dealt with, but the increasing use of adhesive and solvent welding to hold plastics together can make repair impossible.

Guest
James Harrison says:
1 February 2013

Surely the ‘green’ issue has a lot to play in the future for such businesses and practises? To make items ‘built to last’ only a few years, whilst at least 90% of each item is working perfectly and recyclable, makes throwing such goods away almost criminal! Surely a washing mashine (for example) which can be easily repaired or is composed of many parts which can be – and are re-used, will be a major USP? Has anyone built their own washing machine (or other household machine) out of other working parts?

Guest
Mr Try and Fix It First says:
3 February 2015

From the comments above someone should start a spare parts library and fix it tips database. Most of fix it types remove usefull looking still good parts from their appliances. Like how we all used to save the plug – no longer needed as everything has a plug. We could all register and have free or lo cost spares for postage.i’ll start. I have a bosch fridge freezer digital stat and beko WMe brushes and whirlpool tumble dryer heater and panasonic microwave pcb. Every scrap metal dealer who strips stuff down would love it.and i really could use the stuff in the shed that one day will come in handy (only for someone else)
Apologies if already exists -send me the link!

Guest

have you not heard of the circular economy , dame helen mcarthur is fronting..its a great idea
not sure how it works but it could be set up like the following and if some major manufacturer wants
to take note my idea is based on the circular economy format.see link
http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/interactive-diagram
it would be that you dont buy items you rent them long term from a company and when its
by its sell by date they will take it back give you a recycled new appliance and your old one will be
repaired upgraded and ready for next customer so nothing goes to landfill…if the
government are so keen on the carbon footprint this should be the way to go it could work for most appliances and would keep lots of people in jobs and ensure products are built to last the cost to rent
should be minimal as products would be expected to last for years with no maintenance costs

Guest

The EU have circular economy proposals: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/circular-economy/index_en.htm
How long will they take to implement……?
I think renting usually works financially in the renters favour, so prefer purchasing where possible. If we make sure that products are both durable and repairable we would begin to reduce waste.

Guest