/ 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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Comments

Miele have been mentioned more than once in this conversation. They have a page on their website concerning life: http://www.miele.com/en/com/durability-and-reliability-3016.htm
I am only a messenger 🙂 but it does tell about their long-term testing.

wavechange, I see your idea about Which? hosting a conversation about our legal rights. I have been attempting, through Which? Member Community (a little used forum but one where Which? staff generally facilitate replies to requests) to get a view on the application of the Sale of Goods Act (soon to be the Consumer Rights Act). In particular what they will do to support consumers when products are out of warranty. As I have mentioned before I believe we need the strength of Which? (860 000 members) behind consumers to simply help them get their rights dealt with properly and fairly.

wavechange, Which? do not seem to address durability, either on their consumer rights website or in their testing (I don’t know how they assess reliability though). I have asked them whether I have overlooked this somewhere or they don’t really want to tackle it!
I believe strongly that consumers rights should often extend beyond the length of the warranty, and that the law provides for this – but only useful if we exercise those rights.
Which? may say it is a pointless approach. I just wish they would say something. Hopefully it will be Friends United ! 🙂

I complete the reliability surveys – and as I have said they simply do not ask much beyond what Brand do you own of X , when did you buy it, and then a tick list of possible problems.

So if it is something little used the odds are you are going to say it is trouble-free and you would recommend it to a friend. That is where the “reliability” comes from.

I have no doubt there are people who using an item more extensively may have a different reult. But as usage is not asked the durability rating in many cases are simply publishable bumf.

When I signed up for Connect I really thought it would be an improvement on the paper based system but essentially just like so many surveys they just want the basis for an article.

If they wish to dispute this perhaps they can say why a usage question is omitted.

It really gets my goat that any number of firms right about wonderful new kit , then harvest a wad of people saying nice things about it one month after they bought it – BUT who doea the 6 or 12 months follow up.? Which? would seem the natural party to fill this gaping gap in the consumer experience – but it does not organise it.

We are giving a place that readers may or may not add comments. And there we find that all the readers comments seem to be ignored and some bit of tat retains its Best Buy status despite an adverse ratio of 20 to 1. And rising.

I can recall when testing was the reason to support the charity.

I honestly see and understand.

But you cannot impose some kind of open-ended additional warranty on business as, irrespective of a claim being valid or not in the end, they’d be claimed.

That is *exactly* what happened when the press ran with the whole six year thing and, widely misrepresented what it truly was.

That, in turn, led to widespread cries of “these companies aren’t respecting our rights”, rights that people never had in the first place as general run of the mill failures or faults are not covered.

So, business gets a bad rap for it even although they operated entirely correctly until the position was clarified and all got to grips with the new legislation. Soon as they did, they started just bouncing all the claims for the most part as virtually none held any water or met the criteria. But in the interim they had all the costs, hassle and stress of trying to fathom it all out and, no doubt in some cases, got taken for a ride on some false claims.

Customers got more irked because, the press told then it was this and actually it was that. Not as billed or as they had assumed.

In the end, other than the lucky few that snuck through a claim that should’ve been bounced, nobody wins.

Out of all this and through it all, I saw a ton of these kinds of things and learned a lot. The one thing that I did learn from a few solicitors and a judge was, there is no test of durability in consumer law beyond what is labelled as “reasonable”.

In effect there is no mandated length of service for any goods at all, none, zero, nadda.

Every case must be proven and evaluated on an individual, one by one basis.

To me this makes perfect sense, I completely understand why the law is that way. In no small part it’s because it applies to all goods, not just durable goods or, perishable goods.

Look at a tyre.

You go buy a tyre for your car and just for a chuckle, a lot of tyres (one) are more expensive than a washing machine. A tyre will last you what, 10K, 15K or maybe even up to 20K miles? So is that one year, two, three, five, ten?

How do you define of that tyre or any tyre at that price what’s reasonable and what isn’t?

Should it have a one year warranty, two, four, five?

What do you do if the owner drives like a loon but denies it, yet the tyre edges are scrubbed? What do you do if the tyre wears out in a month but you think ti’s been off doing donuts down a Tesco car park three nights a week? Do you just take the driver’s word for it that it wasn’t?

Or how about a floor brush?

How long should it last? What’s “reasonable” use?

A sock?

A pair of shoes?

The list is virtually endless and it doesn’t just apply to stuff that uses electricity. But the same legislation has to apply to all goods or you’re into block exemptions and so on, then it gets really simple or, really complex. Because then you have one lobby saying that “so and so” got that, we want that too or the other way around.

And, before you know it, your head is spinning and you’ve not a clue what way is up.

The law, the SoGA as we have in the UK, is a brilliant piece of legislation, utterly brilliant. Perhaps not perfect but then, what is? The people that wrote it were very clever indeed.

The last incarnation of the new CRA I read was quit possibly a storm waiting to happen as some of the stuff in it, if it pans out the way or in the spirit I think it was intended, will cause some companies to just abandon the UK.

This is why; if you suck enough out of companies they’ll do one of two things, go bust and leave everyone in the cart or, they just abandon a territory as a lot cause, too expensive to operate in. This because, if they can’t turn a profit, it’s not worth or not possible (legally) to trade.

Trust me on this, it has happened several times already with the UK. It will happen again, even if the law remains as is.

In turn, either way, it diminishes consumer choice. So, those that are left can charge whatever they want to a degree because, their costs are the same as the competitions and, if they ramp up the prices and get it, others will follow.

If I’m right and, it’s proven the case elsewhere, then diminished rights may well be the least of your problems.

And again, makes no odds to me so carry on chaps.

Simple economics tells me though, it’s probably not the best idea to over-regulate.

You may well disagree with that point of view and, that’s fine. However, every action will cause effect just as is in the laws of physics and, be in no doubt whatsoever, there will be an effect. What that will be I can’t tell you, what I can tell you is that any business will do what is economically effective and efficient whether that suits buyers or not.

K.

When one buys an item there is an expectation that it will do the job it was intended to do. No one buying a pair of socks at £10 would expect a five year guarantee on them, and unless they were found to be faulty on opening them for the first time, they would be worn for as long as they lasted. Buying a washing machine, car, fridge, tyre etc also brings expectations of durability. A manufacture will issue a guarantee to say that they stand by that product and are happy that it will please the consumer. The guarantee does rely on the honesty of the puplic but I would be very surprised if many of us actually buy expensive items in order to ruin them and claim for another one. Life is too busy for that. We want things to last because we have paid good money for them. Most guarantees exclude “fair wear and tear” and most wear and tear is obvious on inspection. That inspection costs money to do, but it shouldn’t occur too often if the product is fit for purpose and is used according to instructions. Putting metal in a microwave will soon ruin it, no one can guarantee against that. So I don’t accept the premise that manufacturers can not guarantee products for a “reasonable” life time. It should be a selling point. There are false claims out there, research would show how many. There are manufacturers who renege on perfectly good claims and are publicly criticised for doing so. The world is not perfect, but we get along.

I thought that was very reasonable and balanced summary of the position Vynor. The idea of a society that is running on trust and mutual consideration has always appealed more than one where we have to fight for every morsel of our rights and where businesses contest every claim. That is why I choose carefully with whom I trade and what I buy; I subsequently take care of the product so that, even though I have ‘paid’ for a warranty in the purchase price I never have to exercise it.

Your example of socks is a good one. I have some, not in daily service but in the regular rota, that I must have bought thirty years ago. I wish they would unravel in the wash or wear a hole in the heel so I can justify saying goodbye.

It still seems clear to me that there are two separate issues to address – not either or but both.
One, to get longer guarantees (free) or warranties (paid for) that are better-related to the life we should reasonably expect from a product and
Two, in the meantime to improve the ease of getting fair redress for consumers whose products fail outside existing guarantees but well before a reasonable life has been achieved.
The present situation is not acceptable.

WC: “ Age is not usually a problem with tyres covering a typical annual mileage.”

Our youngest, who’s a very highly paid Engineer, tells us that age is relevant, in fact. Apparently, UV leads to marked deterioration over time, and tyres over 5 years old should be treated with extreme caution.

Which? herald their recommendations for solar panels as follows:
“We’ve carried out a unique review of solar panel manufacturers so we can tell you which brands of solar photovoltaic panels you can trust. To find out how good the solar panel brands’ processes and quality checks are, we audited each stage stage of the manufacturing process.

This means we can tell you which brands have strong quality checks in place. You can use the results of our research to choose solar panels that have gone through rigorous checks – so you know you’ll be buying good quality panels.”

Perhaps this might be a good approach to sort out the wheat from the chaff in other products, as a help for consumers?

One big problem is knowing whether it’s actually Which? that’s done the ‘unique review’ or whether – as seems to be the norm – they’ve sub-contracted out that aspect of the testing process to a source which they refuse to identify.

Without reading all of the comments in the time allotted, in a ‘free’ and competitive market, as we have seen in recent events the extent some companies will go to in order to increase their profit margins, so will they continue to churn out inferior goods with short warranties, the main excuse being consumer demand.

Without appropriate regulation this trend will continue. A recent example is a new charge being imposed on plastic bags effective from next month. A similar charge in the form of a recycling tax levied on all goods with a specified warranty period should be imposed. This may encourage manufacturers to produce more durable goods and take the responsibility for the environmental consequences of
waste disposal.

Unless manufacturers are pressurized into taking the responsibilty away from the retailer, I don’t envisage any profound reforms being implemented anytime soon.

A little off topic, but it concerns reliability. I am confused by Which?’s Best Buy assessments.
In their online “news” for 29/9 they announce “5 new best buy washing machines”. The table lists 40, of which the top 11 best buys are Samsung, Zanussi and LG. Yet in their appliance reliability report these come, out of 11 brands, 6th and 7th=., 10% points behind the best. And they are not cheap machines.
In “news” today, 30/9, “3 new Best Buy freezers”. The first 6 in the table includes 2 by LEC – the worst for reliability listed by Which (17th out of 17 brands), 2 by Zanussi – 14th equal worst out of 17 – and one by John Lewis – 12th out of 17.
I do not know how Which? determines reliability but I cannot fathom how a Best Buy can come from an unreliable brand, and certainly not one that is the most unreliable (LEC got 54% rating).
Either I have totally misunderstood these reports, or Which? needs to rethink the way it awards Best Buy. I want value for money as well as good performance. That means lasting a reasonable time without a problem. Maybe I’m on my own in looking for a durable product when I part with my hard earned cash.

It’s the age-old problem that has always bedevilled Which? – rubbish products sold cheap attract a Best Buy label, but, as you say Malcolm, some of these are not cheap.

I wonder if Which? did its own testing whether that might prove an effective reliability indicator? ISTR when they did they would run home appliances for many years, or simulate that.

LEC is now owned by Glen Dimplex Home Appliances, GDHA or GDA commonly in the trade.

They do not manufacture a single refrigeration product themselves. It is completely outsourced.

Many will be Chinese in origin with a smattering of Beko stuff in there, notably for built in/integrated on GDA products.

They’re not very good IMO and expect spares to start going obsolete in the not too distant future.

And if it’s Hisense made units you can buy the same thing under other brands for less anyway.

K.

“Both Sebo and Dyson offer a 5 year warranty”. I find Dyson’s overpriced gimmicky-styled products hard to trust when Dyson continually offer “£100 off” or similar. Why not put a straightforward price on in the first place; they seem like DFS sofas.
Which?s best buy is almost always Miele. A very decent cleaner from them will cost from £150 to £250, compared with £350 for a “£100 off” Dyson. For an extra £50 Miele offer a 10 year warranty – still cheaper. Judging by the performance of my 15 year old model this is not necessary, but for the equivalent of £6.25 a year some may find it reassuring.

Yup, Miele’s are good.

I just have a huge issue with the way that they will not allow anyone access to technical information, spare parts and even spare part info. To my mind, they create their own micro-monopoly around the brand for spare parts and servicing to large degree and, that’s not fair on customers as you are held to ransom by Miele in effect.

K.

Kenneth, as I have posted before on the two occasions I needed to repair Miele appliances – a pump on a 12 year old dishwasher and a catch on a 14 year old vacuum cleaner – I had excellent service from Miele. For the dishwasher they provided a pump repair kit and detailed instruction and diagram on how to fit it. For the vacuum they provided a replacement catch (less than £5 delivered) again with a fitting diagram.
It just seems that if you want a service repair you need to go through their own repairers.

From what the guys tell me, on some of the new machines, you need to tell them that they’ve been repaired or error codes won’t clear. It’s sketchy but plausible and has been mooted by a number of people now.

But in any event, Miele spares are largely ludicrous prices once you go out the comfort zone of the stuff people can replace themselves easily. And, even at that, they are often extremely expensive by comparison to others.

This, I am an expert in. There is no doubt whatsoever that the above is fact.

Even Andy will back me on this and, he loves Miele stuff.

I suspect you’ve been lucky.

K.

Should Best Buys only come from “reliable” brands, or be a product with known high reliability? Or can it come from brands with poor reliability. I’m a bit concerned that Which? chose a LEC freezer (worst brand reliability) – 54% for fridge freezers – on the basis that freezers are “generally reliable”. I would like to know just how reliability is assessed.
Even if it had a long guarantee, the cost and inconvenience of having to lose contents, arrange a repair and have the appliance out of commission does not, in my mind, make up for otherwise good performance.

If Which? have good information on which to assess a product’s reliability then they can make an assessment of the durability of a product – in other words how long it should work for without a failure.
This information is required if we are to give consumers help when a product they have bought does not work as long as it should do. Durability is a key provision in the Consumer Rights Act. So when your guarantee has expired, and your appliance then fails in an unreasonably short time, you should be able to get some assistance and redress.
Which? should be working hard to actively support consumers use this provision in the legislation.

It is important to remember that this is not one – a guarantee- or the other – the law; we require both. A guarantee is written by the manufacturers on their terms. Your legal rights may well be different. For example, under the law:
“Any refund, repair or replacement you arrange with your customer relating to faulty goods must not cause them too much inconvenience and you will have to pay for other costs,for example, collection or delivery.”
Nor is there any likelihood of long guarantees anytime soon. The law gives you rights for 6 years.

I want a choice of decent products not limited by whether the manufacturer or retailer decides to give me a guarantee for longer than a year.

I don’t want to have to pursue a legitimate claim outside of their guarantee through the courts. I simply want retailers to abide by their legal obligations. This is what a consumers’ association should be pursuing on behalf of its members and the wider public. Establishing “durability” is important in this respect so that when a decent products fails early both sides know it needs to be dealt with fairly.

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.

Patrick, thanks. i’ve looked at the EC’s proposals on the circular economy before to reduce waste and their aims are both laudable and essential as resources become scarcer. However they seem some way off becoming effective as proposals seem in the very early stages.

My immediate concern on durability is to do with UK law and helping consumers whose products fail well before they should.

If you read the Ellen McAthur Foundation website I pointed at a while back you’d have a clearer understanding WC. 😉

In effect, so far as appliances are concerned, the goal is to have them last longer by being serviceable and upgradable. Currently the first is questionable for many and the second almost if not completely impossible for virtually all, the ones that could be so insignificantly small they’re not worth a mention. In both instances the financial viability is doubtful for both consumers and manufacturers.

It will not lead to longer warranties. That is not its intent at all.

One of the “big ideas” in it all is that people “rent” a product rather than buy it so that you have an ongoing service agreement and so on in place to try to lever longevity in the products. Fair enough idea but the largest resistance to this is from consumers, they don’t like ongoing costs.

This is why that old things like Hoovercare from the 60’s through to the 90’s were killed off, people won’t pay for ongoing maintenance even if that’s the best option. Plus a raft of cheap imports making machines easier and cheaper to swap out rather than maintain made this the more attractive path to many people. So many that long term maintenance of especially low end products is not economically viable, for both parties.

The market spoke, normal people in the street, that what was wanted was cheap, throw away and largely poor performing products.

Manufacturers catered to that demand.

In part the circular economy seems to redress that but I really do think that will be a long, hard uphill battle as what needs to happen is change to people’s attitudes about a raft of products, not just appliances. Changing mindsets is no easy task.

K.

And once again we are back to that old simple adage of, you can’t please all the people all of the time.

I do agree that moving people from ownership of this type of product to a mere rental if you like will not be an easy task, if even possible. It’s been looked at for the past five years or more as the most viable way forward and, on paper, it perhaps might be. But, in my opinion knowing customers as I do, I doubt they will find that palatable for the most part.

It also won’t be cheap I wouldn’t think. Low upfront short term cost sure, but a higher cost overall.

What is being asked, in effect without actually asking, is that manufacturers or retailers pony up the cash to invest in all these products, to rent or lease them out over a long period and, just as is the case with cars on HP, PCPs and so on, they will look for a significant and attractive long term return for that investment.

Just as people would putting money into an ISA or other investment.

To expect anything else would be, in my opinion, very unreasonable.

If it goes to our great banking and investment institutions to fund, it’ll get still more expensive I’d expect.

Either way, if you increase the quality by this mechanism or by upping the build spec you end up with the same outcome, the prices will rise and quite probably that will be significant.

Keep in mind, before comparisons are drawn to the car industry as seems to be happening a lot here, cars have a value of about 50% after three years and a large second hand market. Appliances and many other products do not, the value of a three year old washing machine to trade is less than £20 and a far, far smaller second hand market.

Car manufacturers are only funding the 50% over three years, not the whole value. It’s a completely different equation making a comparison at best unfair but I think not sensible.

If the manufacturer/retailer is looking to recoup the whole cost plus interest over a three or five year period, relatively speaking, the cost will be substantially higher in relative terms to a PCP for example.

I think that this alone will make people hostile to the idea, especially on what are in essence low cost products that most people can probably afford to buy outright. Some more easily than others, granted.

My take is simply that, unless more fundamental issues are addressed and solved first, this cannot succeed in the appliance industry. To me, it’s a bit like trying to build a grand mansion but forgetting to lay the foundations. I think most here can imagine how that will probably end.

As to what involvement Which? has with this, if any, I honestly do not know.

K.