/ Home & Energy, Money, Shopping

Wavechange: would better quality warranties mean better quality products?

Broken washing machine

Wavechange, one of the original Which? Convo community members, argues it’s time to demand that products come with lengthy warranties and to put the onus on manufacturers to build products that last.

When we buy new goods we expect them to work properly and to be trouble-free. Unfortunately, most of us will have had problems with washing machines, TVs, computers or phones failing prematurely.

It can be annoying and inconvenient to return faulty goods, but it’s a lot easier to return them while they are still within their warranty period. If a product develops a fault once the warranty expires it’s much harder to get support.

Returning faulty goods

Of course, outside the warranty period, consumers have legal protection for faulty goods for six years (five in Scotland) under the Sale of Goods Act. Somewhat confusingly, that doesn’t mean that goods have to last this long because wear and tear and damage caused by misuse are excluded. Plus, the Sale of Goods Act requires products to be durable, even though ‘durability’ has never been properly defined.

If it’s been more than six months since you bought a product, the retailer can ask you to provide evidence that a fault existed at the time of sale, but in my experience, most retailers just push you to contact the manufacturer or point out that you should have taken out an extended warranty. It can also be hard to prove that a fault is inherent in the product, meaning lots of people can give up at this stage.

Of course, we can pursue our legal rights through the courts but that can be quite daunting. Personally, I prefer to try to repair things myself, but over the years household goods have become much harder to repair.

Should extended warranties be standard?

In the 80s, large electrical retailers started pushing us to buy costly extended warranties. Since then, Which? has correctly been pointing out that these warranties are often poor value and that it may be better to save the money for repairs or replacements.

But car manufacturers have led the way; warranties for three years or 60,000 miles are commonplace, with some manufacturers offering cover for five years or more. The length of warranty can be an important selling point. Cars are generally reliable these days despite having become much more complex, but having a warranty means that motorists will be protected from the possibility of expensive repairs for a few years.

So isn’t the way forward to look for household products that come with extended warranties at little or no extra cost? For example, John Lewis decided to offer a minimum two-year warranty on all electrical goods in 2013.

For me, the length of the warranty is a big factor when choosing a new product. My new laptop came with a three-year warranty for no extra cost. I’m planning to buy a TV with a five-year warranty and when my old washing machine dies I will look for one with a 10-year warranty.

The hidden advantage of decent warranties

Electrical goods are often designed for ease of manufacturing, but that can make repair more difficult and much more expensive. For example, most washing machines are now manufactured with ‘sealed drums’, so that the task of replacing bearings has become much more expensive and modern machines may not be worth repairing.

If a product is covered by a warranty then the company, not the consumer, will be responsible for the cost of repairs. If enough of us push for longer warranties, surely it would encourage manufacturers to go back to making goods that can be repaired economically, making the likes of ‘sealed drums’ a thing of the past?

Do you look out for products that have longer warranties at little or no extra cost? Would you like to see all major household purchases with at least a five-year warranty?

This is a guest post by Wavechange, long-term community member on Which? Conversation, picked from our Ideas lounge. All opinions expressed here are Wavechange’s own and not necessarily those of Which?

How long should a manufacturer's warranty last for most products?

Five years (44%, 939 Votes)

Three years (23%, 502 Votes)

Longer than five years (20%, 419 Votes)

Two years (9%, 194 Votes)

Four years (3%, 65 Votes)

One year (1%, 24 Votes)

Total Voters: 2,143

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BEUC organised a conference in Nov 2014 “Towards a sustainable economy”. Some objectives were durability, addressing products that were too complicated to repair, and how to enforce the EC’s 2 year “guarantee” (not, I don’t think, what we consider a guarantee but their equivalent of our 6 year CRA).
Did Which? attend and is there a report on the outcomes?

Just adding this update for the new page of comments (thanks Wavechange and Malcolm for your replies): Hi all, I have an update for you on the durability aspect. The European Commission is making plans for the “circular economy”, which is all about generating less waste and creating more durable consumer products with longer lives. We’ve very much heard what you think about durability and so in response to a recent consultation, consumer groups including Which? called for the useful lifetime of products to be prolonged by designing for durability, accompanied by longer guarantee periods that are easier to enforce. The Commission is aiming to present its new circular economy strategy in late 2015. I’ll let you know when we know more.

“People want cheap poorly performing appliances”. some might but I think that is a very dubious generalsation. I think it is chicken and egg – manufacturers try to gain more market share by reducing price, consumers think its OK, but don’t realise the price they pay – poor reliability and poor performance. I don’t believe if given the whole of the information that is what everyone wants. Otherwise we’d all be buying cheap cars.

To get less waste – products that last longer – may well need a change of mindset in some people. That may have to be enforced by product legislation. Like wearing seatbelts. I hope the EU treat it with some urgency. I live in hope…………….

I don’t think it is Malcolm.

I’ve watched and analysed the appliance market for many years and it’s all too clear that downward pressure on pricing and, the inevitable reduction in quality and durability that followed, was as a direct result of lower cost entrants to the market.

First it was the Italians in the 70’s, then the move by them to former Soviet states in the 90’s, then the adoption of Chinese production facilities and more recently moves into Egypt and so on. Meanwhile US manufacturers moved to Mexico to compete with Korean and Chinese entrants into the US.

All through that, the largest sectors by both volume and, consequently, value were at the low ball end of the market. Because, that’s what people were buying, they seemingly cared little about the higher quality of the existing market leaders.

Those leaders have historically tried to avoid cutting costs with some holding out for quite a while but in the end, they usually have no choice but to follow the trend demanded by the market.

I would suggest as does almost all research that most people see appliances, like many other products, as a necessary evil that they *have* to pay for and have. They all do the same thing, why pay more? So, many think that way and pay as little as possible.

I am sorry but hard data over the past forty years or so bears that conclusion out time and again.

So the incumbent manufacturers that were perhaps producing better quality products are forced, in order to survive, to compete at the lower echelons of the market that they operate in. They have no option but to do so or, they go bust through lack of sales.

The same thing can be seen with cars but, people research a lot more when buying a car then they do when buying a kitchen appliance.

For examples look at the likes of Rover but in the car industry just look at the things that have happened to either halt the demise or the company value has dropped far enough that another big fish snapped up the brand… Seat, Skoda, Citreon, Mini, Range Rover, Jaguar… the list is almost endless. Whilst this isn’t the company “technically” being bust, it’s often more or less the same thing just that’s it has been rescued by a takeover before that happened, usually to maintain any value in the brand I imagine.

The same thing has happened with appliances.

And with cars, it’s so as the production can be made profitable as they need the scale and volume of sales to maintain cost effectiveness.

If that doesn’t happen, they go bust.

If people don’t buy the products they produce, they can go bust just like everyone else.

And, if they have a big off as VW just did (depending on which analysis you choose to read/believe) then that can also lead to their downfall, in which case nobody wins. But it demonstrates in a manner why there is a massive reluctance to try new technologies or business models as, on a mass scale, if it goes wrong it’s extremely dangerous to the business.


Which? say: “We’ve surveyed thousands of owners of washing machines to find out which brands you can rely on, and which need to be avoided.
Washing machine reliability scores are calculated by the proportion of a brand’s machines that have faults, against those from the same brand that do not. The faults are weighted so more serious problems have a greater effect on the score. The resulting star rating shows a brand’s reliability compared to others in that category. So that newer or older models do not influence the score unfairly, we adjust scores to account for age.”

It seems to me that this large set of data should lead to Which? being able to report on the durability of brands – how long they will generally last without a fault (or without a disabling fault). This information is needed if you have a machine that, in normal use and without abuse, fails in what you regard as an unreasonably short time. Check this time against what the brand generally achieves and if it is significantly less I’d suggest you have a claim that can be supported. Material to discuss with the retailer, or to take further if necessary.

Also of interest is Which?s statement that if a washing machine from a poorly-scoring brand is to be considered for “Best Buy” status it must have (at least) a 5 year labour and parts guarantee. This infers that all Best Buy washing machines should last at least 5 years without fault, or with a guarantee. So we are getting somewhere in a roundabout way on durability. WRAP incidentally believe a washing machine should last at least 6 years.

From memory, the average, last numbers I have, is the a washing machine will last about seven years.

Down from about 10 or so about a decade ago.

It is important to keep in mind however that these are averages, not numbers of what should be cast in stone. They are however good market data analysis across the EU and beyond so, using that as a yardstick, even with the low prices, the manufacturers are beating the expectation of WRAP among others.

Again though, no numbers can account for a simple failure, breakdown or a machine used until it simply wears out