Washing machines aren’t lasting as long as you expect, and in recent years we’ve heard from customers and repairman about models that can’t be repaired. We found that a change in design has had big consequences.
Let me set the scene.
It’s 1985. Madonna’s ‘Into the Groove’ is top of the charts but, over the clamour, you hear the washing machine that you bought for £314 is making a worrying noise. You call out the engineer who confirms the bearings have gone. It will take an hour or so to fix, but not to worry – the machine will live on.
Fast forward to today. Madonna’s still into the groove – despite the occasional problem with stairs. But the modern washing machine you bought a few years back for £395 is making a worrying sound. But this time when the engineer tells you the bearings have gone, he says you may as well buy a new machine.
What on earth has happened?
The culprit: the washing machine’s sealed drum
We found that washing machines have changed in a crucial way. The metal drum of your machine, which rotates on the bearings, used to sit in a metal tub and everything could be stripped down. This meant your engineer could get to the bearings – bearing failure is one of the top five issues reported in our annual reliability survey.
But today, a huge number of washing machines have sealed drums. That means the metal tub surrounding the drum has been replaced by a plastic one – welded shut.
So the bearings are now inaccessible and if they become faulty, the entire assembly needs to be replaced.
It also means that if a small metal item (£1 coins and bra wire being the oft-quoted examples) falls between the drum and tub and gets stuck, you again have to replace the entire drum assembly. Just for a £1 coin.
Why make sealed drums?
So why are machines designed like this now? Ask manufacturers and the common answer is it improves reliability.
But it’s also likely linked to cost. As customers, we want cheaper machines. That £314 machine in 1985 sounds cheaper than the £393 machine bought in 2012/13 – but if we adjust the 1985 figure for inflation, it comes out at £672.
If sealed drums are cheaper to make, this could be a way companies are meeting demand.
Have you found something that can’t be fixed?
Have you had a washing machine where the repair bill outweighs the cost of a new one? What about other products – for example not being able to fix a broken headlight bulb in your car, as the design means you’d have to remove the battery first.