/ 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

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.

“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.

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.

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. !

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.

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.

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.

I bought an AEG washing machine in the mid-90’s. After about 5 years’ of hard use, the drum started spinning intermittently. I do my own repairs and on investigation, I found the carbon brushes had worn out. I called AEG spares with the relevant model number and was told it was not possible to buy the brushes separately as they were riveted to the motor casing and I would need a new motor assembly costing £180!

Not to be fobbed off with this, I took the brushes to a large spares retailer near here and asked if he had anything similar. He said they looked just like Hotpoint brushes, but checked his microfilm and said he had a part number for the AEG brushes. He couldn’t supply these, but he kindly wrote down the part number.

I rang AEG the next day, quoted the part number, and a new pair of brushes were ordered and delivered for less than £10 – no questions asked. They fitted perfectly, being identical to the “unobtainable” brushes I had tried to order the week before. I’ve never bought an AEG applicance since.

This might have been a genuine mistake by someone in the parts department. The fact that you managed to obtain replacements suggests that this is the case.

The cost of production versus the cost of maintenance is skewed by the labour costs involved.
Goods are manufactured and assembled using relatively low cost labour.
Repair and maintenance in the UK uses high cost labour + travelling time.
Then factor in:
Product design for easy assembly rather than easy disassembly and repair,.
The cost of stocking and supplying spare parts.

Brian Watters says:
7 August 2011

Simple, durable, easily repairable appliances are better for the panet as well – and our pockets in the long term.

It’s what I call “the Morris Minor principle”. The trouble is that there’s very little in it for big business.

About the only such thing you can buy today is the Dualit toaster. Not cheap but once you’ve bought one that’s it – toaster for life. It comes to bits like Meccano and every bit likely to break is replaceable. I’m leaving mine to the children in my will…

Dualit toasters are very expensive. Yes they can be repaired easily, but you could buy a cheap toaster for the cost of replacing the heating elements on a Dualit.

What we need are affordable products that can be repaired easily and economically.

I think the solution could be to look for appliances with extended parts & labour warranties.

Manufacturers that produce appliances that are durable and/or easy to repair should be praised and others named and shamed for producing machines that contribute to the mountain of domestic appliances that have to be disposed of as uneconomical to repair.

Routine replacement parts (e.g. motor brushes and door seals for washing machines) should be available for a minimum of ten years for a manufacturer to be allowed to sell appliances.

In general “cheap” and “cost effective repairable” are incompatible terms for domestic electrical goods.

Christopher Ninnis says:
12 August 2011

I have an Hotpoint washer dryer that I bought in 1978 for about £580 back then
it has only just started to give up the ghost..sometimes it works sometimes it dosn’t.I think the control unit is worn out if I knew how to find the model number which has worn off..I would try to get it repaired..I asked my local Hotpoint dealer if he could help,he said buy a new one..seems a shame to lose a trusty old friend

Does it seem to anyone else that suppliers are also taking the route of designing in as features things that feel like faults? I phoned BEKO to complain about my new washing machine not spinning when I washed the doormat and was told it was designed that way to avoid damage to the drum and I should add to the load so that it would balance (no suggestions as to what I would wish to have in the same wash as a doormat). My sister regularly (25% of the time) fails to get a spin on a full load of sheets “so that an unbalanced load won’t damage the drum”. Her vehemently expressed opinion is that she can’t wait for the drum to fail so she can buy a new machine that might actually do what she needs it to do (and that her old machine did for years before failing)!
Talking to the company that provides maintenence, all brands are now the same – yet washing machines used to work, and last for years!
Does anyone know of a make that will do its job without this so-called design feature?

I bought a Bosch Gas Hob and the (lift-off) pan supports are not quite straight, and wobble.

They’ve sent umpteen ‘replacements’ but they’re all the same, or worse.

Their only suggestion now is that I should get a different make hob!

But since theirs needs a bigger worktop cutout, it would mean getting a new worktop – all because they can’t supply straight supports.

(Might they have a Siemens or Neff branded alternative since they’re part of the same group? Yes, but they’re even more lopsided!!)

You could try exercising your legal rights but you could get nowhere fast.

Is it not possible to modify the supports or get a handyman to do this?

My Toshiba microwave I bought in 1983 for £299 is still going strong
apart from a bulb replacement done free within the 5-year
guarantee period.

Panasonic automatic rice cooker bought in 1979 is functioning well apart
from pilot light not working: not a problem.

They don’t make stuff as long lasting as in older days, friends
of mine have said so too.

When buying appliances/ products, I generally buy the more
reputable brands, paying more if necessary…works out cheaper
in the long run… and as to cookware too like Le Creuset
that I’ll swear by.

Craig Miles says:
26 November 2011

I am looking into starting a business repairing & recycling ‘white goods’ & some other electrical devices, and was wondering what people thought of buying refurbished white goods (washing machines etc).

What length of guarantee would persuade you?

What price would make it worth considering, compared to new machines?

Young says:
8 February 2012

We bought a (Which? recommended) Miele S4210 cylinder vacuum cleaner a few years ago. It performed well but then suddenly – without warning – it died on us. The repairer confirmed that although still mechanically sound, it required a replacement circuit board costing around £80. A new cleaner – with at least two years’ guarantee – could be purchased for not much more than this.

So we bought one – a Bosch BSG71266GB (also Which? recommended). Again, this did an excellent job for just over 24 months before suddenly conking out last week. And again, the diagnosis is that the motor is in good nick, but requires a replacement electronic component costing £80(+).

Bosch and Miele both make much of their environmental credentials. But there’s nothing very green about a pricing policy which encourages customers to chuck out (almost) perfect machines and buy brand new ones when a minor component fails.

By contrast, my grandparents were still happily using in the 1960s an Electrolux cylinder cleaner that they’d bought some 40 years earlier. Any repairs were straightforward and inexpensive.

So much for technological progress…

DRUM RICE COOKER says:
23 February 2012

Indeed a nice post I m also related to this field thanks for giving a nice post .I hope that in future you also give some nice post .

JamesAard1 says:
24 February 2012

If you have any intelligence, you would firstly buy a decent product. Secondly, the ‘Mr. Fixit’ man/woman (from home or elsewhere) can easily fix most things, just as I do. All the parts for my old and new things are available on the net somewhere. A simple toolkit and knowhow fixes it all. Mind you, some ‘Mr. Fixit’ people are just greedy amateur thieves and should be shot!

Young says:
24 February 2012

Re comments by JamesAard1 – I don’t think “a simple toolkit and knowhow” are enough to fix the kind of modern product – like our Miele and Bosch vacuum cleaners mentioned above – which require a small but incredibly expensive electronic component to be fitted before they’ll return to life.

So customers end up lumbered with machines which are mechanically quite sound, but without (for example) a replacement printed circuit board – costing £80 plus – totally useless. Faced with this choice, most people will opt to buy a brand new cleaner.

As Miele and Bosch’s crazy pricing policy on electronic spares is clearly designed to prompt customers to chuck out old products and buy brand new, it makes these companies’ “green” credentials look pretty bogus.