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.