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How long should your washing machine last?

Wrecked washing machine

How long your washing machine lasts is one of the main considerations when shopping for a new model – so how about putting expected lifetimes on washing machines?

According to research by WRAP, the average consumer expects a washing machine to last six years before it needs replacing.

It has also found that a product’s lifetime is one of the highest buying considerations, just behind reliability and quality, but more important than price. It’s something that the Which? Convo community has been discussing at length on this faulty washing machines debate.

Manufacturer warranties too short?

While washing machines do not currently come with lifetimes, they do have manufacturer warranties. However, these often cover just a one or two year period. Would you feel hard done by if your machine broke just outside this warranty period?

I would. Two years seems a much shorter time than a washing machine should last, even if I’d paid a relatively small amount of money for it, say less than £250.

Lifetimes for washing machines

One solution could be to decree that all washing machines should have a minimum lifetime, perhaps three or four years, ideally with a manufacturer warranty to match?

Or perhaps it would be better for manufacturers to apply expected minimum lifetimes to their own machines – and have the freedom to give different life expectancies to different machines?

That means if I’m in the shop, I might see a cheap washing machine for £250 that the manufacturer expects to last a minimum of two years. But next to it could be a near identical machine that costs £450 and has an expected minimum lifetime of five years. That would give me a clear basis to consider paying more for the pricier model, or to save some money but lower my expectation as to how long it will last.

Manufacturers on lifetimes

So why are lifetimes not already in place? We asked LG, Bosch, AEG, Miele and Indesit how long they would expect their own washing machines to last.

The responses vary but almost all mention the same problem – there are a lot of factors that affect the potential lifetime of a washing machine, making it very difficult to predict. Such factors include:

• Correct installation.
• Where in the house washing machine is installed (a machine may not last as long as it could do if placed in a garage without central heating).
• Over/under loading.
• Frequency of use.
• Detergent usage.

Of those that provided a figure, Miele came back with the strongest answer, saying that all their machines are tested to last 20 years. But Miele does not offer a free 20 year warranty. Instead, a small handful of models have a free 10 year warranty. Five year warranties are more common, but the remaining machines have the standard two year Miele warranty.

Indesit, which also owns Hotpoint, came back to say they’d expect their washing machines to last seven to eight years, with consumers looking to replace within five to six years to pre-empt the need to replace. The standard warranty for an Indesit/Hotpoint model is one year.

When I asked why the warranty length was so much shorter than the expected lifetime, a spokesperson from the company said that warranty length is an ongoing discussion, ‘but there are some retail outlets who like to sell their own extended warranty’. Of course, a documented expected lifetime will be very helpful when exercising your rights under the Sale of Goods Act once the warranty has expired.

Do you think that all washing machines should have a minimum lifespan, or that manufacturers should be able to set their own life expectancy? Or both?

Do you think manufacturers should give minimum lifespans to their washing machines?

Yes - manufacturers should provide minimum lifespans for their own machines (85%, 1,741 Votes)

All washing machines should have the same minimum lifespan (11%, 228 Votes)

No - manufacturers should not have to prescribe a product lifespan at all (3%, 70 Votes)

Total Voters: 2,039

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Comments

Prompted by some of Beryl’s remarks I have been wondering, on and off, whether there is any way in which the length of a warranty can be linked to the purchase price of the product. I wouldn’t expect more than a two year warranty for a washing machine priced at under £200, but I don’t see why it is unreasonable to expect a ten year warranty for a machine costing over £700. I have no idea how this sort of system could be made to work in practice – each product type [and there’s an opportunity for disagreement if ever there was one!] would have to have its own protocol presumably based on price bands rather than actual amounts. And the system would have to be sensitive to the fact that some appliances are more expensive because they have more bells and whistles [plus fashionable design features] and not necessarily because they are built better. It would be difficult to compel manufacturers to make longer-lasting machines [consumers must retain the right to buy cheap short-life “durables”] but it might not be too difficult to require retailers to tell the whole truth about the products they choose to sell. When buying such white goods, we should be asking “Why is the manufacturer not offering a longer warranty? How unreliable is this appliance?” This kind of interrogation is increasingly out of the question since so many purchases are made on-line with buyers merely reading the promotional blurb included on the website and a few customers’ reviews submitted shortly after purchase. I notice that there are 516 current product reviews [or overviews of untested models] of washing machines on the Which? website. This must be part of the problem – far too many different models for the market. Moreover, there is absolutely no product/price consistency across the most popuIar brands: it is interesting to see that a Samsung ‘Best Buy’ costs £549 and gets a top score of 80% while another Samsung costs £724, only scores 37% and is slammed with a ‘Don’t Buy’ recommendation.

John – There are some people who use a washing machine only once a week. I think they deserve a long warranty. If we have a time/cycle warranty that will help the infrequent user and also make sure that heavy users are covered only for a a reasonable number of cycles. The problem is that faults can occur with even the best of machines, as Kenneth has rightly pointed out. That’s why we have warranties – to protect us from the cost of unexpected failure.

We need every single manufacturer to tell us about the number of cycles their products are likely to work for if not abused. With refrigeration equipment a warranty based on time is sufficient because it is in continuous use.

It is not uncommon for the same brands to appear in Best Buy and Don’t Buy categories. I spotted the same example.

John, a guarantee should be a manufacturer’s declaration of faith in their products. They should also best know the likely failure rate for different time periods, and be able to price in the risk of having to make a repair. So they are best placed to set a realistic guarantee and, perhaps, give the option of purchasing a manufacturers extended guarantee (as opposed to the poor-value commercial ones). Miele currently offer some white goods with 5 year and 10 year guarantees, and the option of extending the 2 year and 5 year warranties on some products to 10 years for a fee. I wonder why they are selective about this? I would have guessed that the inherent quality for most products would be similar; perhaps it is to help in shifting slower-selling stock? Or perhaps they simply adjust the prices of different models to reflect the guarantee and give us a choice?
I doubt we will see generally unrestricted 10 year guarantees for many products – it has to be related to product quality, and thus purchase price. But we do have to pursue realistic aims to get consumers a more sensible deal.

wavechange, agreed about cycles or hours used, except a little-used machine (someone earlier uses theirs once every 2 months) might suffer additionally from lack of use? Examples might be in holiday homes. Perhaps Kenneth can comment?
I presume the vulnerable component in a fridge-freezer is the compressor which is not on continuously, and its operation will depend upon the temperature of the environment. So maybe a reralistic criterion would be compressor operating hours (easily measured with an hours meter)?

I did not want to complicate matters but compressor hours would help manufacturers be aware of owners who ignore the instructions about the need for proper ventilation or site their fridges alongside sources of heat, thus making the compressor work far too hard.

Recording operation time/cycles could also help manufacturers that are using domestic appliances for commercial purposes – which will usually invalidate the warranty – and then filing a claim.

Not really, most are okay if not left for an inordinate period.

The biggest problem in situations like that are where heating is off and it turns cold as you get condensation forming on elements and electronics and that can have very serious implications. It is sadly very common along with water valves burst, hoses and so on as they freeze and split.

Modern machines are designed to be in a normal heated home and react badly to adverse conditions.

Other issues are of course the likes of mould and so on forming and there’s little you can do about it if the machines are not in use.

WC is correct on compressors. We see loads that fail due to exactly that.

They will also run for extended periods of, in the case of new linear compressors, under heavy load if you open the door a lot, fill with fresh food a lot or have the machine in a very warm environment.

Cooking and refrigeration products are seasonal to a degree. Moe repairs in summer on refrigeration as they come under load and cooking in the winter as people use them more then.

What I think WC is getting at but, I’m more blunt, is that you can measure an “estimated” life under ideal or lab conditions but as I know only too well, once they get into the field that can easily be turned on its head.

Commercial is due to multiple users and the abuse that brings. You would not believe some of the things we see in commercial properties, even I’m shocked by some of the stuff they do. But then, some staff very often don’t give a monkey, it’s not their problem and they’re not footing the bill for it, just ask any employer.

K.

Commonsense suggests that product life should be assessed under conditions that the householder could reasonably be expected to comply with rather than ideal conditions. So, for example, it would be reasonable to estimate the life of a freezer if built-in providing that some ventilation is provided. Manufacturers are usually good at specifying the amount of ventilation needed and it’s a good idea to follow the instructions.

One issue that has been overlooked is the impact the recession has had on consumer spending on non-discretionary goods. (This was raised in a previous Convo.) In their press report dated 17th March 2013 Which? lists household appliances and repairs as non-discretionary. When budgets are tight some consumers would have little choice other than to opt for the cheaper non durable option in an emergency breakdown situation which could be responsible for the flood of cheaper appliances entering the market, thereby increasing demand. Such legacies can sometimes trigger a pattern that is hard to break once established. The huge increases in energy and household bills has left a lot of people struggling to make ends meet leaving little or no disposable income to spend on larger type appliances..

When people can afford to spend a bit more on a more durable product as the economy improves we may see a return to wiser spending choices. Once established consumers will become more discriminatory in the way they spend their hard earned cash demanding longer warrantees, repairability and durability. Well that’s the theory?

Many of us don’t buy new cars and most of us do not buy new houses. Many even see buying new cars as a rather foolish waste of money because of the instant depreciation when they leave the showroom.

Secondhand washing machines are not expensive and if they are reasonable quality and sold with a guarantee they could be a wise purchase.

I absolutely agree that we need to think of those who don’t have much money but buying a third rate budget washing machine may not be the best solution.

I couldn’t agree more Wavechange and what you say makes perfect sense. My thoughts go back a few years when I was raising a family with all the washing that involves and the ramifications and disruption that causes when the machine breaks down. 4 children and a broken down washing machine is not a desirable combination and people have been known to resort to regrettable things when they find themselves in such a situation. Oh happy days!

I forgot to say in my earlier comment about Miele washing machines… Miele should offer a minimum 10-year warranty for FREE on ALL of their washing machines. This should give new customers peace of mind when spending extra on a Miele washing machine compared to the cheaper competition. I don’t understand why Miele only offer 5 or 10-year warranties on some of their machines and it’s only for a short time, before it’s changed again to apply to other selected models (but not all of them).

If Miele washing machines are built to last 20 years, they should guarantee them for half that long i.e. 10 years. I know Miele make their washing machines in Germany and the tumble dryers and dishwashers I believe? Some washing machine manufacturers have gone to poorer countries and even source production from China – need I say more about that?!!!!

There is a strange twist in that though David and, I know Miele and others have found this.

From a member of the general public’s perception I can understand that seems a brilliant idea, problem solved but, it really isn’t that simple and there is a minority of people to blame for that, not the manufacturers.

What happens is that you offer a long warranty and it attracts people that want that reassurance that the product is good quality. All well and good, no issue.

But it also attracts a minority who know in advance that they are heavy users and use the warranty to offset their liability.

It is also fair to say that a number of people think or assume that any warranty is a “catch all” and will cover anything at all, including where the goods are not used correctly, abused and so on.

Then you have another group in some instances that are just out and out fraudulent, for example registering for a domestic warranty yet using the goods commercially.

It is a minority that do this but it forces manufacturers, brand owners and retailers to consider very carefully the implications of a warranty and the terms under which it is offered as well as what it will cover.

This is very unfair to the majority of people who are never an issue and completely get it and do not abuse the systems used but, in business, you are forced to work to the lowest common denominator sadly.

In addition, quite often, it is these very groups who are the most vocal about their “consumer rights”, the abuse thereof and who harden business against what is, in essence, fraud or the attempt to defraud.

I appreciate that many people may not see that but, just like any business be it insurance, banking or whatever any business will do it’s utmost to limit liability to a reasonable extent but try at the same time, on balance, to deliver on the terms and conditions.

Sometimes, that’s why long warranties are, for some, a very bad thing.

K.

“But it also attracts a minority who know in advance that they are heavy users and use the warranty to offset their liability.”

Has any manufacturer of domestic washing machines or other appliances done what I have been suggesting – a warranty that covers a fixed time or number of cycles, whichever comes first?

If not, whose decision is it to decide that a failure is as a result of fair wear & tear?

“This is very unfair to the majority of people who are never an issue and completely get it and do not abuse the systems used but, in business, you are forced to work to the lowest common denominator sadly.”

Yes it is very unfair, and no doubt the same applies with purchased extended warranties, where the majority lose out.

More than ever, I want a long warranty to be provided by the manufacturer and leave it up to them to defend themselves against those who set out to cheat.

“Has any manufacturer of domestic washing machines or other appliances done what I have been suggesting – a warranty that covers a fixed time or number of cycles, whichever comes first?”

Yes, Miele.

I have seen complaints about that as well where people “assumed” that their warranty was without limit. One person even accused Miele of altering the run time of the machine. There’s little love lost between myself and Miele but that was just a completely ludicrous assertion and Miele were quite right to not resolve the issue for the customer as the machine had clearly been exposed to almost commercial levels of use.

“Yes it is very unfair, and no doubt the same applies with purchased extended warranties, where the majority lose out.”

Not so much, you’re an ongoing source or revenue, different equation. Still with limits, just not so many.

“More than ever, I want a long warranty to be provided by the manufacturer and leave it up to them to defend themselves against those who set out to cheat.”

Good luck with that, you appear to have little concept of the commercial reality of such an offer.

Yet it is a common point of view where you don’t think that the customer should be responsible for any risk when that is not, in my opinion, a reasonable view at all. Or, as I have said repeatedly, you can pay someone or business to accept that risk on your behalf, you’re choice, free market.

Even you’re idolised car warranties have limits, I know this only too well as I know several people that work and have worked in the industry on both the sales and service side.

In the end though, there’s no demand for it apparently so few offer it. Probably due to the costs involved in making such a warranty as you wish for available.

But by all means keep pushing for this if you wish and completely ignore what I’ve told you. Makes no odds to me.

K.

If the manufacturers offer long warranties/guarantees, there are always terms and conditions. I had a look at the “conditions” of Miele warranties and it says this in the “Exclusions” part:

“Use that extends 10,000 operating hours for appliances or 1,000 hours for vacuum cleaners”

I won’t try and post the link otherwise my comment may not show.

Are the usage hours recorded by the electronics? How else would they know if the owner has used their washing machine for more than 10,000 hours? That’s a LOT of usage though; remember there are only 8760 hours in a whole year!

Long warranties should be offered on washing machines for free, but the user will have to abide by the terms and conditions of the warranty for free repairs.

Yes, they are logged electronically.

To my knowledge and, it is second hand as none other than Miele have access, it is accessed via a laptop and software specific to Miele.

Roughly, two hours per average cycle so 5000 cycles, average use. About double the norm for mid-market and several times that of a low end machine.

Normal family use for four, about ten years before the warranty would expire or thereabouts, depends on use and cycles used etc of course but serves as a ballpark set of figures.

So, the customer I spoke of earlier used more than the 10,000 hours in little over five years.

Is it reasonable that the manufacturer should be forced to pick up the tab for a level of use that the product was never designed for? Or, in some cases, even a purpose?

Yet this guy goes online and berates Miele, how is that fair?

Which I hope allows you to understand why these limits or restrictions have to be in place.

Not to have them would be commercial suicide for virtually any business.

K.

I do think there’s an important point here. It is easy to think of the cost of warranties as being incurred by the supplier. In fact, the cost is largely borne by consumers, assuming the supplier is not prepared to give up any element of their profit. (At least, this is what economic theory would say.) Thought of like this, consumers who claim on their warranty are being subsidised by those who do not. This may not matter if your chance of a machine breakdown is purely determined by luck (or bad luck, perhaps I should say). But if the chance of machine failure is significantly affected by patterns of usage, you might say “I am a careful light user of my washing machine. Why should the price I pay be increased just so that some other careless heavy user can mistreat their machine and not bear the consequences?”

The longer the warranty the more likely this cross-subsidy effect is to occur.

So, surprisingly enough, it is possible to conclude that long warranties actually work against the consumer interest! I am starting to see that this topic really is quite a minefield.

I wonder why Miele does not just display the cycle or hour count on the front panel. Had they done that the owner of the heavily used machine could have realised that their warranty cover had expired.

No idea but I expect that like most things there will be good reason.

I know that on some, that have this facility, it can only be accessed via service menus and allowing owners access to that can be fraught with issues. It is very easy to cause harm playing around in some of those as I know only too well.

K.

“The longer the warranty the more likely this cross-subsidy effect is to occur.”

Or the tighter the control of the warranty has to be and the scope kept in check.

But your basic premise is correct Jak as the cost of it is calculated on average risk so, the more users that abuse the system, the higher the cost rises.

My take is, I hope like most reasonable people’s, that the majority should not be forced to pay for a small minority’s issues. That does draw criticism however and often doesn’t look good when some people are told that the warranty will not cover things like abuse or a warranty is revoked due to a breach of terms.

But again, you go back to, no reasonable company is going to waste time and effort or risk reputation by getting into an argument or whatever with a customer without very good reason to do so. For the company they are often placed in an impossible situation, they can answer and cause significant embarrassment to the owner but they look bad doing so and are likely to draw fire or, just let it be and take the pain.

K.

Weaving my way through this thread it appears to me that, for want of anything better at the moment, purchasers should at least be given a comprehensive set of information on the types of use for which a product is designed and its design-life under those conditions. Logically, it would also include a list of things for which it is not designed and which would automatically void the warranty in total [even across malfunctions that were not attributed to misuse or overuse]. This might then put a floor under the Sale of Goods Act.

As jak says above, this certainly is a minefield and I can’t see a clear way through it. I have as much concern for those who can only afford [or only need] a basic appliance and those who have spent over £700. Both groups are entitled to better support from the trade when it packs up. Perhaps it’s only my interpretation, but I detect a certain disdain for the consumer on the part of the industry. Allegedly we are not prepared to spend enough to get quality and only want cheap goods. I have challenged that elsewhere since I see plenty of examples of people being prepared to spend a small fortune on their kitchen appliances. Of course, it might not seem a lot to people in the business who can get their kitchens fitted out at factory prices, but I prefer to see it from the point of view of people who have saved hard or squeezed their credit card to the limit.

I see your point John but I can’t agree entirely.

It’s not disdain, it’s just experience and facts. I get on great with 99% of customers, help them and often save them money but, boy does that other 1% wreak havoc.

As for buying at factory prices, it’s often cheaper to buy from online suppliers, even for me. For example I saved and got myself a Mercury range cooker a number of years back and, even with my contacts, it was cheaper to buy from an online supplier than at the supposed “trade” price.

The retail margins in appliances, even expensive ones, are desperately low. Very few are rolling about in bales of cash, certainly none that I know.

K.

A guarantee is, like a warranty, a form of insurance. Both are paid for – one in the appliance purchase price, the other – if you choose one – after the guarantee. They spread the cost of claims across all purchasers even though only a minority will make a claim. Just like your car or household insurance. So it is cross subsidy, but simply limits everyone’s risk, for a price.
The length of the guarantee must be determined by the quality of the appliance, and the amount of use it gets; so they will vary from one appliance to another.
As I see it, the advantage of a manufacturer pricing in length of guarantee is that they know best the quality and likley durability of their product. If you buy an “aftermarket” commercial appliance warranty as far as I can see they are generic – do not take into account the particular appliance make, therefore cover the rubbish as well as the quality products, and may well be taken out by less careful heavier users, hence inevitably a greater risk and consequently expensive.
A compromise might be for a reasonable standard guarantee from the manufacturer with the manufacturer also offering an extended guarantee at a price – choice for the purchaser. All this needs to be accompanied by information on the appliance features – economic repairability, availablity of spares, expected minimum life to first failure based on usage (cycles, hours).

With regard to the length wahsing machines should last I purchased my Zanussi top loader model TJ1043 in March 1991 and it is in regular use. About 12 years ago I had to have a new pump fitted, but apart from that it has been trouble free. Perhaps this machine was built in the days before built in obselesence and over complicated programmes, so it is possible to have a machine for over 20 years, or in this case 23 years.

Sounds like older washing machines (like many other older things) are more reliable and cheaper to repair. Maybe older washing machines are not so bad after all? If only they had bigger drums (6 KG and above) and spin at least 1200 RPM, preferably 1600 RPM – important if you use a tumble dryer a lot.

I am often quite surprised by how many older machines are out there, some should have shuffled off to the recycling centre long ago.

More surprising is that many of them were considered to be not so good in their day.

I would point out though that, ever increasing capacities seems to have adverse effects in more ways than just one but the major ones are imbalance issues and strain on the bearings.

Couple that with fast spins speeds and I suppose it’s common sense that things could well go wrong there.

For information, the optimum spin speed for water extraction and minimal creasing on normal cotton is 550rpm. Over about 1000-1200rpm the water extraction drops off quite significantly and, above 1600rpm is really not worth the energy although spin speeds have been tested and sold of 2200rpm.

It is important to note however that the drum design has a huge bearing on this, it most certainly is not simply a case of, go faster get more water out.

On other fabrics creasing tends to be more severe at higher spin speeds and you risk serious and sometimes immediate damage to some fabrics.

It is generally held that the faster you go, the less efficient the process is (energy/wear/tear/creasing/damage) but the faster stuff dries after completion, but then only to often spend longer and more time and effort ironing it.

Pros and cons, the best option is the one that suits the user, the best balance to suit their particular requirement or, the best spread of options and and explanation of why they are there. 😉

K.

David – One of the reasons that older washing machines were more reliable was the lower spin speeds.

A doubling of spin speed means four times the centrifugal force (which is what is needed to remove water from fabrics) but it also means that the rotating drum has four times the kinetic energy when rotating. There have been a few cases where machines have ‘exploded’ because the drums have torn themselves apart because of the forces created with high spin speeds and there is at least one Conversation about this.

I’m happy with my elderly washing machine which has an 800 rpm maximum spin speed. It removes enough water for me. I’m confident it won’t explode and comfortable with the fact that the motor and bearings are less stressed than in a modern high speed machine.

David – You mentioned the desirability of larger drums. Unfortunately, the larger the diameter, the greater the forces and and a large drum will flex more than a smaller one unless properly braced. This is not as important as the effect of speed but drum diameter must be taken into account when designing a washing machine.

Before we are too critical of newer machines, it is worth recognising that there has been real progress in some areas. For example, newer machines are probably a lot lighter than old ones. That means they use less material in manufacture and less fuel in transportation. I looked up a Bosch brochure from 1999 (when I bought ours) and a built-in machine then weighed 82kg. An equivalent Bosch now weighs 75kg – a 10% reduction in weight. One could regard the ability to achieve better performance while cutting materials usage to be very worthwhile. And cost has come out too. So it’s not all doom, and gloom.

True. But.

More plastics, less metal.

More integrated components, sealed tanks a perfect example.

All = less weight.

Why?

Less weight means less WEEE costs. Integrated components saves build costs. Reduces spare part holdings in less lines to stock thus reduces costs.

It doesn’t really affect shipping costs in my experience as that’s done on a container rate so, the weight isn’t really all that relevant to most.

Where it hurts people is on repair costs as these ramp up as, as is the case with sealed tanks and many motors you can’t buy carbons for now, you need to replace the full unit at a hugely higher price. Or, you scrap it and buy another one as replacement makes more economic sense than repair.

In 1999 a Bosch would probably have an enamelled metal outer tank with a separate bearing spider on it, bolted to the back. Now, you will have a polypropylene tank with the bearings pressed into it or, a sealed tank unit that you cannot change the bearings on at all, even if you wanted to. But, it weighs a whole heap less and costs a lot less.

To repair failed bearings, it costs considerably more, by an order of magnitude on spares cost.

Everything has pros and cons in my experience.

K.

It would have almost certainly had the facility in 1999 for a hot and cold water fill. Extra weight.

The EU, in its desire for standardisation and the reduction of water and energy used, seems to fail to make a distinction between countries with a plentiful supply of water, and those where the sun can provide plenty of “free” solar hot water. The European consumer umbrella body has been party to this and it is a very disappointing state of affairs.

I have mostly used the 800 spin on my machine although it does have a 1200. I rarely use it which could explain its faultless longevity, or go some way to explain it.

Is it still possible to purchase top loaders. Does anyone know?

“Is it still possible to purchase top loaders. Does anyone know?”

The answer is, sort of.

You can get cheap Chinese imports of top loading twin tubs and, I believe, top loaders in the UK. I would strongly advise people avoid these.

You can get European ones that are essentially a front loader turned on its side with spring doors on the drum. Good enough if you need the space otherwise, not worth the trouble and extra cost.

You can sometimes see the large US style ones but, I think most are now withdrawn from general sale. Largely these will only be used in a semi-commercial setting.

The reason is that that are hugely inefficient in both water and energy use and, I was informed, the US ones cannot meet the EU demands in that respect. Hence the non-availability.

K.

Beryl – Spinning at 1200 rpm more than doubles the forces that your drum experiences and puts considerably more strain on other components. I’ll bet that the manual does not tell you that your machine could last longer if you use a lower spin speed.

I don’t run my vacuum cleaner at maximum speed because it does an adequate job at lower speed and I want it to last.

American top-loaders do not have heating elements and rely on the household water supply. You can appreciate that where you have a regulated top tap temperature that is also your maximum wash temperature. The US advice is for tap temperatures to be 120F or 49C so washes would be at lower temperatures.

I hope they use washing powder using bleach or they won’t have much chance of preventing their machines from becoming homes to slimy microbial biofilms. 🙁

The HSE guidances specifies a temperature of 60C for storage of hot water to avoid problems with Legionnaires’ disease.

Actually in the USA, for white washes, it is very common place to use chlorine bleach, for sanitation and whitening.

Much to the dismay of manufacturers of FL machines (known as HE over there), they have put bleach dispensers in the detergent drawers. Such as it is habit, Americans won’t be parted from bleach for laundry.

Thanks Liam. Can you tell me if the machines use liquid bleach or a powder?

I don’t expect there will be much of a problem with the insides of US washing machines becoming coated with smelly bugs if bleach is used regularly.

Many faults are irregular. For example, your burglar alarm or car alarm may function perfectly most of the time but sometimes it malfunctions. Your computer or phone simply freezes occasionally but works when it is restarted. Or your washing machine works most of the time but stops working periodically. This is what is known as an intermittent fault and can either be very easy (e.g. a loose electrical connection) or very hard to diagnose and repair. You may find that the terms & conditions of your warranty mean that you will be charged for a service call if no fault is detected by the engineer. Most people will be familiar with intermittent faults with electrical goods and/or cars.

From the point of view of the company, it could be costly to keep sending out an engineer until they are there when the problem occurs. They cannot reasonably be expected to accept as evidence that Aunt Bessie or the chap from No. 48 confirms that they have seen the problem. They cannot be sure that the fault has not arisen from the user doing something wrong.

From the point of view of the consumer, there is a very definitely a problem, even if it occurs infrequently.

The obvious solution seems to provide evidence that there is a fault, for example by making a video that ideally shows the machine working and going on to show the fault occurring in a single video. I don’t know how the company or insurance company would regard this sort of evidence.

I guess that this is a question for Kenneth, but would appreciate views from anyone.

I am not a believer in “intermittent faults” as such so probably a bad person to ask about such things as I think there’s always a reason or cause for it, finding what it is can be challenging though.

For me, it’s either broken or it isn’t.

Before people say that they’ve had an intermittent fault on a whatever appliance etc, let me explain why this is and I’d ask you try to see it a little differently.

A machine is just that, a machine. It is to automate a task and to do that same task over and over usually with as little variance as possible depending on how clever you make it. It is, for appliances, an electro-mechanical device that isn’t exactly the complexity of a space shuttle so, not a lot to break.

They are built using modular components that are all the same across a range or model, no variance.

If a component goes faulty, it stays faulty. It doesn’t heal itself and, given that they are built to do the same thing time and again, spotting a component that’s faulty is usually relatively straightforward, assuming you diagnose correctly.

What varies are things like what people put in them, where they put them, what they hook them up to and how they treat them and, in 90% plus of cases you will often find the cause lies somewhere in there.

In the remainder, as you rightly say, a dodgy connector or something of that ilk and, on modern machines with electronic sensors that rely on resistance, even the likes of condensation or oxidation on the terminals can cause errant readings sent to the controller. You can usually find these things but, it can take time and for a field engineer is a total pain to get to the bottom of.

It is rare though as most manufacturers use locking connectors and so on now as they learned about these kinds of things many years ago. If it happens its more often than not an environmental thing.

Another one is pressing buttons too fast, confuses the electronics at times as they can’t process the commands fast enough.

For most a simple reset sorts it. Many manufacturers will now tell you how to do that either in the handbook or on their website to try to help.

When we call out we run what is known as a “spec test”, this tests every basic function of whatever machine it is and, if all that works then it will generally be considered that there is no elect-mechanical failure as, it works. There are a few things that can escape on that but we all know what they are, like elements going to earth when hot and so on but, for the most part this proves a fault or not.

What it cannot do is replicate exact circumstance with load etc as well as power spikes and so on. It usually isn’t practical to do that in a home or, try to as there’s too many variables at work.

I have often asked customers to send in video or photos of issues where appropriate as you can often remotely diagnose the problem, not always of course but it can be possible for a number of things. Saves everybody a lot of time and hassle usually and I’d consider that just courteous service as would most independent repairers as we all do our utmost to avoid having to charge people if possible.

Largely speaking almost all manufacturers will charge for what we call NFF calls (No Fault Found) as almost all are truly non-faults, the vast bulk of them are customer education visits as opposed to much else. Also not fun for the field guys or anyone else as nobody likes an unexpected bill obviously but, in fairness, people are normally well advised about possible causes and potential charges before a call is booked. I am not actually aware of any that don’t do that now although the quality of advice can vary.

K.

I am afraid you are wrong about intermittent faults, Kenneth. As a mere hobbyist I have encountered many, fixed some, been defeated by a few. I had a TV that usually worked fine but occasionally the screen went blank. Turning it off and on might or might not restore the picture. Then it would often work for days. That is a typical example of an intermittent fault and they are very well known in the electronics industry. Some of the more challenging intermittent faults are caused by components drifting out of specification over time.

Individual components can certainly go faulty, either consistently as they warm up or erratically. Thinking of simple mechanical components, a solenoid might be sticking and sometimes fail to open a valve, for example. I agree with your examples of the odd faults with sensors etc.

I am glad that you welcome photos and videos showing problems. I hope that the service engineer’s fee will be refunded if a video demonstrating an intermittent fault is provided a couple of days after the engineer has been and has established that there is no fault. Like going to the dentist with toothache, the problem often disappears at the crucial time.

It should be impossible to press buttons too fast for a machine to cope. This problem is avoided in even inexpensive keyboards and keypads by introducing a delay to prevent the possibility of multiple entry. That problem was overcome in the 80s or earlier. I’m not saying it does not happen but if it does it is a design fault.

We will agree to disagree then as, a component “drifting out of specification” is AKA, a fault.

If solenoids stick on appliances they stay stuck, I’ve yet to come across one that didn’t. But they are largely mechanical with a simple electrical coil and a magnet, not rocket science.

Relays usually go when they burn out, often it’s easy to visually see that or they clatter as they can’t lock, again, obvious.

Programming is locked into non-volatile EEPROMs, barring a nuclear detonation or another EMP or physical damage, you can’t alter them basic programming. In at least one instance, you’ve got bigger issues to worry about.

All these things and many more, we’ve seen over the years and manufacturers have learned to avoid most of the stupid stuff, mainly because it potentially can cost a lot if they didn’t. Of course they get things wrong on occasion but it isn’t at all common.

They’ve learned, often the hard way, to make a lot of these things as hardened as possible but, as I often say, people do have a nasty habit of coming up with new and ever more interesting ways to break stuff. In the field as well as tech support for FSEs it’s often a case of turning Sherlock Holmes to work out why things go wrong.

What this also means, sadly and you see it in HA, cars, almost everywhere the durability is a consideration or reliability, is a reluctance to try new things as if as a manufacturer you do that and it doesn’t work then you risk getting berated for a “design flaw”. So, things often take years, sometimes decades to come to market just because of that. You need to prove the design as best possible before you release the product.

For example, those 2200rpm machines I mentioned were demoed at IFA (I think) in the early nineties but didn’t arrive in production until the mid 2000’s. Two basic reasons, design not proven enough and cost to do it for a niche product, not enough volume to get the cost down.

From my own experience I know that to test for say, 12,000 operation cycles you need to run the component in a test mule for approximately 2.5 years. Therefore logically, it takes over three years by the time you got to the point of testing to find out if the component will even be okay to use.

So the electronics that are used are antique by modern standards, they won’t even have the power of a dumb phone let alone a smart phone for the most part and are often out of date years before you see them in a showroom. There are exceptions but usually they will prove costly ones, possibly in more than one way including some that all they do is slap a touchscreen on a door or whatever.

I work a lot with IT and home automation and I am appalled at times at some of the old, cheap and nasty electronics that are used but, it’s all to meet a price point and the level of durability required.

I can understand why however.

K.

I agree we should agree to disagree. Here and many other places. 🙂

If you want to learn about solenoids that stick periodically, have a word with vintage car enthusiasts with trafficators, or to FSEs that have worked extensively with electromechanical equipment. I just chose that example as something that most people could relate to, and it’s good to know that it is not a common problem in washing machines.

Intermittent faults do occur – at least that’s how the end-user sees it. My own washing machine has made “squeaking” sounds before when the drum rotates, but at the moment it’s behaving and not making that noise and hasn’t during the past 5 or so uses.

Yes, if you do press buttons and select options too fast it really can confuse the electronics. I did that before on my cordless phone/answering machine and it locked up, but removing and re-inserting the batteries got it working again; I have since learnt NOT to press buttons too quickly in a hurry. On my AEG dishwasher, I select the options on the touch-screen slowly, wait one second and then close the door; once I didn’t and the next time I used the dishwasher, the machine asked for the time, country (UK) and water hardness, quite strange considering I set it up on day one, but hasn’t done that since I’ve gone slower with the touch-screen.

To avoid call-out charges during the warranty, I think it’s best to only call out the engineer if the fault will not go away. Making a video on your smartphone, digital camera or whatever to show the engineer would be a good idea too, along with background objects in the vicinity of the machine to prove its yours in the video.

I shouldn’t really have called the button pressing problem a design fault because that term is usually used for reasonably well known problems with a particular model of a washing machine, car, phone, TV, etc. It qualifies as poor design because it would affect everyone who pressed the buttons to quickly. It’s very obvious when a keyboard/keypad because it will be impossible to make a double entry and on a smartphone etc. the delay will be obvious.

Maybe a reconditioned washing machine from a good local repairer may be an option, unless you can fix it by yourself? Think about it, a reconditioned older machine… no silly computers to go wrong, no restrictions on repairs i.e. no faults that can only be fixed by the manufacturer.

The only downsides I can think of are smaller drums and slower spins, but at least a good local repairer, who has access to the spare parts, can fix the machine cheaper than new ones cost to fix.

Does anyone have any recommended older machines which would be great if reconditioned? They do of course have to clean really well, similar to the A-rated wash of today’s machines. Maybe access to old Which? tests would really help with this?

Many people have real issues with this.

Old machines were far more forgiving of error but on a modern machine, not so.

A good stand out example is off-grid installations where the erratic electrical supply plays havoc with the machine, often to the point where they simply will not work at all. Likewise water supply as, if the machine doesn’t fill as expected then it will abhor the cycle assuming there is an error. In other words, unusable off mains water and power.

The point being that, if you want the efficiency you cannot have the tolerance of a more, relaxed will we say, way of doing things.

When explaining it to people the easiest analogy for most is to liken it to a car. You can have outrageous power but massive fuel and running costs or, you can have frugal but you can’t have the performance. It is rare you will be able to have your cake and eat it.

You can of course get some balance in between in many things but with appliances the sole focus over the past two decades since the EU labelling system came in, is to get AAA and latterly to get A++++ and so forth as that’s what customers say they want and, government says that’s what they are to do.

A survey by Mintel I saw on Monday found that 64% of respondents said energy consumption was the top priority when buying appliances, it’s not just my opinion.

Back to pros and cons again.

K.

This could get very deep, so to keep it brief…

A reconditioned washing machine will not be as efficient as new ones, but the reconditioned one may work-out cheaper over its life when you factor in repair costs. If the reconditioned machine has hot and cold fill (like most older ones do) and it’s supplied with hot water heated by solar panels, the running costs should go down. When it needs repairing, it can be repaired cheaper than new ones and kept running for longer (until spares run out?). It will rinse better because it can use more water and complete a wash load faster i.e. under 2 hours.

Compare that to an “average” brand-new washing machine today… cheap to buy new, yes. Cost of major repair = close to the original purchase price. Some faults can only be fixed by the manufacturer, at great expense! Plastic outer tub (around drum) can be broken; older machines used metal tubs. Appalling rinsing, so extra-rinse has to be selected *every* time, sometimes followed by the separate rinse-and-spin cycle afterwards; if you have sensitive skin you will have to do this! Wash time is usually 2 or 2.5 hours. May not work with low water pressure; older machines always did.

If you are washing for a family for instance, the cost of buying and repairing a reconditioned older washing machine may work out cheaper in the long run than buying brand new washing machines and replacing them every 4 – 6 years. There are plenty of these reconditioned machines for sale e.g. on eBay.

“The online survey, of 2,019 people in England, Scotland and Wales, also uncovered a significant appetite for energy saving, with almost two thirds (64%) of respondents saying they were keen on becoming more energy efficient in the home, if someone could tell them how.2

I respond an average to two surveys or more per month and my opinion of them is astonishingly low as they seem intent on leading questions.

On-line surveys I suspect are self-selecting so I am not to swayed without having greater detail than is offered on how the survey was constructed. Interesting to see how the actual question has changed in the translation : ) KW

To make it clearer what I mean: older washing machines = 1980’s to early 1990’s. It appears that quality went downhill slowly from about the mid-1990’s to today. The older machines even had metal drum paddles instead of plastic.

“f the reconditioned machine has hot and cold fill (like most older ones do) and it’s supplied with hot water heated by solar panels”

Sorry to be a buzzkill once more but I am afraid that you and others have that very, very wrong.

*ALL* older machines that had H&C fill other than some Hotpoint and Hoover machines were hot fill on one fill on one program only. The hot valve was never energised at any other point whatsoever.

That point was the first fill after pre-wash on a full cotton 90 wash.

It is simply astounding the number of people that think that they took hot and cold, many even running the hot tap till it got hot only to fill the machine with cold. I had a chap on the phone last year who’d been doing that with his LG for six years, six years of wasted water and energy.

For the FSEs, a bit of a laugh to be honest as nobody ever thought to ask when buying what it actually did, they just assumed.

The old Hoover and Hotpoints weren’t beacons of technical ingenuity either, they just opened both valves until the machine filled. Pretty much, that was it.

99 out 100 the machines were full before hot water even arrived. This is even more true today with lower water levels to get lower energy consumption so, unless you have the right machine set up the right way and, I do mean 100% right, for most people it’s a complete waste of energy and money.

People have loads of assumptions on this topic and mostly they turn out to be incorrect I’m afraid. It is usually cheaper and more efficient if you are on a normal tanked supply or a combi/condenser boiler etc to heat the water in the drum.

K.

Nothing wrong with plastic paddles, some never break or seldom do.

The beauty is, you can remove them to fish things out. Formed paddles you cannot do that.

But yes, quality has fallen in line with pricing for the most part.

K.

I have had a Bosch WFF 2000 which came out in 1995 so getting on for 20 years.

This was on Gumtree recently:
“This is the Bosch WF2000 washing machine an older machine owned by my parents since new only used once or twice a week, still clean & in excellent working order only selling due to kitchen refurbishment and had all new integrated appliances fitted, an absolute bargain at £40 no offers please can deliver for cost too, please call or text, thank you”

The Bosch has a hot and cold fill and specifically has the option to fill for the Econ 60C wash from your domestic hot water. I suspect they knew what it was capable off when they wrote the manual. I have acquired a laser thermometer [£12.95] so at some stage I will check this.

I understand from the French consumer site someone sells an add-on mixer arrangement at around 300 euro. I suspect in bulk it would be cheaper and of use to those who live in southern climes with solar heated water. The advantage of course is that could be used for subsequent washing machines.

David – If you want to go down this route it would be handy to be able to tackle inspection and repair, or to have a friend with some practical skills. As Kenneth has said, abuse is a common cause of service calls, so one problem that could be tackled is blockages caused by coins and other foreign objects. It is worth looking at the condition of motor brushes periodically to avoid inconvenience and possibly causing motor damage if they are allowed to wear out. The tension and condition of the drive belt can be checked very easily. Look for evidence of any leakage because if it is seen early you might have time to get any necessary spare part without the machine being out of action. Look for any sign of water getting near the motor or anything electrical and take prompt action if you see a problem. Look for kinking of hoses and any sign of wear to them caused by rubbing on each other or anything else.

If you think the drum bearings may be wearing, remove the drive belt, spin the drum and listen for any roughness. Inspect the door seal for any signs of wear or leakage.

If you need spares and parts are not available, take the part to a small local dealer who might be able to provide something that will do the job. My machine has worked for over 20 years since I fitted a drain pump designed for a different washing machine.

Obviously unplug the mains plug (don’t just switch off) and watch out for sharp edges on metal when you take the back off.

As far as hot & cold fill you need to be aware of which programmes use hot water. As Kenneth has pointed out, not everyone has checked but it is very easy to do. The first thing I learned about my machine was that it takes in no hot water at the lowest temperature setting.

Dieseltaylor – I checked the operating temperatures of my washing machine with a digital thermometer in the early 80s but nearly wrecked the probe in doing so. I looked at the modern thermometers of the type and price you mention but some of the reviews, which said they were useless for this sort of purpose. I would be very grateful if you could let us know how you get on. Someone suggested measuring the temperature of the drain water but in my machine, a lot of cold water is added before draining.

Kenneth – You mentioned that plastic paddles could be removed, which would allow foreign objects to be retrieved. Would that allow magnetic coins (most of the more recent ones) to be removed with a telescopic magnet tool? If so, plastic paddles could be a definite design improvement. A bit off-topic but certainly something that could affect the working life of a washing machine.

A laser thermometer will give you a surface temperature reading on the door I should think, not the water in the drum.

Testing the water temperature in the drum is a thing we would never do in the field, too hard to do accurately or, probably more accurately, too time consuming. If there’s a problem the machine will either throw up an error or halt, they’re designed to do that deliberately.

Yes WC, with removable paddles that is possible along with fishing out other items. Smaller items tend to find their way down to the pump filter though, like coins etc.

There is really only one way to break them normally, putting something in there that really ought not to be. Trainers and kids shoes are a favourite, guarantee to break your drum paddles and, if they don’t, you’ve been real lucky. Some media outlets and forums et all tell people to wash training shoes, kids shoes and other unsuitable items and, to be honest, that’s absolutely fine, we sell lots of drum paddles due to that advice. I’d rather not and advise people not to do it but, we all have to make a living so if people want to listen to bad advice, who am I to argue.

On second hand machines though I often ask people to stop and think.

Reconditioned machines are a separate thing entirely here.

People change their washing machine for three fundamental reasons:

– It is broken and possibly beyond economical repair (BER as we say)

– New kitchen, new appliances

– Moving home and a new one is required or wanted

Other than that, for the most part, if it works, it stays.

As I said before, they aren’t sexy, they aren’t objects of desire and they represent chores that most would rather not do. For those that can perhaps afford a butler or other hired help, not so important but for most of us mere mortals, it’s not a fun thing at all.

People in general therefore really don’t want to spend time or money on them if they don’t have to. Emphasis on “have to”, most sales of appliances are distress purchases, people don’t research it as it isn’t planned and simply want a new one yesterday, or sooner if possible.

If someone is selling a second hand machine the first thing I tell people to do is think, why?

There may be a perfectly valid reason but, like one poor guy I had recently who bought a second hand top end machine for £400 of his hard earned money, he found out why. It needed a drum as the drum carrier was cracked and the drum was hard to get (4-10 week lead minimum) and cost almost £200 plus fitting. It wasn’t quite the bargain he hoped for.

Little real world stories like that are why I would advise caution in this area. It can be a good thing but, caution is required.

K.

It was an easy task as I too k the temperature at the powder dispenser and the reading were 59.1C and 59.0.

Overall I would say case concluded. A hot fill can make very good sense both ecologically and euros in the pocket. Perhaps BEUC will give this some consideration along with a “Eurowash” at any temperature they care, and a hygienic wash properly identified.

Uhm, not real case concluded, no.

I know what people think on this topic and there is a *LOT* of confusion on it.

I’d ask that you think a little different on this.

How much energy does it take to heat the water in the tank or, fire up a boiler to heat water? How much water has to run off before you get hot?

For most people the most efficient way is to heat the water in the drum, not externally. Especially so on modern machines as they use so little water and are very efficient in terms of energy use. Most machines now, for a wash are using 5-8 litres per fill.

I even will tell people that, from an environmental standpoint we are only just getting to the point where solar is producing more energy over the life of the panels than it takes to make them in the first place. All the panels you see strapped to people’s roofs now, are pretty much counter productive in environmental terms.

Go look it up, the information is all out there.

So the argument for hot fill machines is actually extremely weak when placed under scrutiny and that is why that no political body is going to push for them, because the case for them is a complete nonsense most of the time.

Where they work is off geo-thermal, community hot water etc. and even, yes, even solar, where the infrastructure is already there anyway, you have it you may as well use it.

What legislators and even consumer organisations will look at is the whole picture (or try to) and not just one little corner of it and in terms of an overall energy reduction strategy along with waste, for most UK consumers a hot fill washing machine is a complete and total waste of time, energy and cost.

In fact, on balance, hot fill is more often detrimental in energy use, not a positive.

That is why there are so few washing machines with a hot fill capability.

And, that’s before I start on how stupid most of them are at hot filling as most are little more than a marketing gimmick as explained previously. People believe or assume one thing, what it actually does is something different.

Just for info, if your inbound water is at that temperature straight onto your powder you’ve just reduced the performance of the detergent massively as well. They’re designed to work on a temperature curve, they do not react well to instant immersion in hot water, kills all the enzymes off. If hot fill isn’t done correctly, that’s what happens.

K.

I really think we should get back to the subject of how long a washing machine should last, warranties, Sale of Goods Act, etc. We have been given an opportunity to discuss these topics, so it would be a pity to derail a Conversation about a topic some of us are passionate about.

I thought in fact that length of life had been pretty much thrashed out. Pay more for better quality. Lobby for expected life time usage figures.

What is slightly galling is that with hundreds of thousands of subscribers we probably could get really accurate reports on life spans and usage if we really asked or set-up a method for collating the information. The scandal of the Hoover that washes at 43C for a 60C wash, and the Candy/Hoover machine that shakes itself to pieces are both areas that could be usefully addressed by Which?

How many dozen people have written regarding the Candy/Hoover [WMH168D] that breaks up during a spin cycle.? What action has occurred since March 2011?
https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/faulty-hoover-candy-washing-machines-not-recalled/comment-page-3/#comment-1375377

I appreciate your points but I do know my economy 7 costs are substantially cheaper than my daytime electricity – around half the price.

And of course I normally have a reasonable amount of hot water ready for use so this will save time otherwise required for the element to bring it to temperature. I would think bringing 5-8litres from cold 19C to 60C requires a fair amount of energy. I am sure wavechange knows the figures : )

As for the enzymes I am more concerned with the increased cleaning – as in hygiene – ability. Hot temperature plus bleach is the accepted method.

As for the marginal value of solar panels Ken I am not sure I can agree with you as I strongly believe the payback/efficiency is a function of siting and latitude. In my travels in southern Europe and the tropics I have seen vast numbers of properties with a simple black painted hot water tank on the roof so I am not convinced making all machines cold fill is at all wise.

For the UK the economic case is probably better served by a heat pump and a PV array – but there again you are using pre-warmed water not simply cold from the tap.

Ken, if we look towards the south where solar heating happens pretty easily and cheaply would you support a mixer system ?

dt, if my calcs are correct, heating 5 litres of water to 60C will take around 0.4 kWh (0.4 units of electricity – more of gas because of boiler efficiency and pipe wastatge). I have never been swayed in my choice of machine by the electricity or water usage (shame) – but by whether the machine is well rated for its job and, hopefully, a decent make.
However, this conversation, with all its interesting diversions, gets to the heart of a major consumer issue – are we adequately protected when something we buy proves to be a dud – it doesn’t last as long as it should.
Consumers Association should be working for us to get adequate protection that is fair to the purchaser, and the supplier. It is time we heard from Which?

I think the only benefits of using hot fill would be noticeable in the winter months, when cold water IS cold and when using an older washing machine which uses lots of water AND uses hot fill on the wash programmes that are actually used all the time. Then you will have to run-off the standing cool water in the pipes, from a nearby hot tap, so the machine actually fills with warm water. In the real world, that’s a lot of hassle to meet the right conditions every time. Most people just switch on the washing machine, leave it to work and not care how well or cheaper it can operate.

Back to my earlier point, I do believe that older washing machines (1980’s to early 1990’s) could be cheaper in the long run, provided spares are always available and repair costs are cheaper compared to today’s modern washing machines and the very high cost of parts and labour to fix modern machines. I see wavechange has kept his older Philips washing machine working for over 30 years (see previous page). How many newer (and poorly made) washing machines would have to be replaced in a 30-year period?

Using electrical devices on a timer unattended… bad. 😉

They all more or less have delay timers but I strongly as possible advise not to use them. As do fire services etc. People demand it though, hang the dangers if you save a few pence on the leccy bill.

Everything you add just piles on failure points so, to go to durability, the simpler the better.

Because the economic argument doesn’t stack up for hot fill (for most people) aside the technical issues, it adds unnecessary complexity few do it. Still fewer do it properly or well.

K.

I can certainly agree with that. In an earlier Conversation we were told that washing machines caused a greater percentage of domestic fires than tumble driers, which greatly surprised me. I guess it is because far more people use a washing machine. See: https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/kitchen-appliance-fires-safety-recall-dishwasher-washing-machine-fridge-oven-tumble-dryer/

If I was a manufacturer I would either use non-combustible material or refuse to fit timers, even if the public wanted them.

Many people don’t even have a smoke alarm in their kitchen or utility room.

Another rabbit hole and, one that has had much discussion in the industry.

Here’s what you see…

“Washing Machine Blaze Destroys Family Home” — “Homes At Risk From Dangerous Kitchen Appliance”

Or, a variation of the theme, something of that ilk as a headline.

I see at least one to two a week in the news I get, all in a similar vein. Almost never is the brand named. Almost never is a cause determined. And, unless there is some compelling evidence to suggest that there is a flaw in all the products under that brand, never any follow up with the above information.

In essence yes there are numerous incidents but some perspective is required.

What follows is a post I made in the trade forums a year or so ago on this very topic which I hope sheds some light on what is, in my opinion much of the time, blatant scaremongering or, just trying to drum up a story for the local rag.

K.

“Which is fine Mal but, without the data to back up any claims it’s pointless. In fact, you could get sued for making false claims if you can’t prove your case.

But, when you think about it, just using the data that we do have…

There are approximately 27 million homes in the UK almost all of which will have a washer. Let’s say that there are 25 million washers out there for round numbers.

Using the average of 2.3 people to each doing the average 117 washes per year per person, that’s 269 washes per year, per home which equates to 6,727,500,000 wash cycles run in the UK every year.

Even if it was two fires per week that put the odds of such an instance happening to you at over 64,680,000:1.

The odds of being in a plane crash are 11,000,000:1 almost six times greater risk.

The odds of being killed in a car crash 5000:1. An order of magnitude more dangerous.

In actuality, you’ve more chance of death from falling out of bed and, I’m serious.

Out of all the washing machine fires I’ve seen over the past decade or so, not a single fatality. Not one. Ever.

So the odds of a washing machine causing a fatality through a fault or fire are utterly staggeringly, infinitesimally small so much so I can’t even point to a single example of it happening worldwide. Which is why nobody is interested.

The chance of a fire is extremely low even leaving aside the possibility of a fatality being caused.

Which goes to show you just how safe appliances actually are and it’s actually far more surprising that there are not more serious incidents than there are when you actually run the numbers and take into account some of the stupid things people do.

I’m not saying that anyone should be complacent at all, I’m just demonstrating what the actual risk is from a statistical viewpoint and why the press and government don’t care. And, probably never will unless there’s a big off like what happened to **** recently where they can identify a potential (serious?) risk and hold someone accountable for it.

But, to get the numbers to do that to others given the data, probably nigh on impossible as there simply aren’t enough incidents to warrant it. then, when you do see them reported, not enough data as, like I said, you usually don’t even know what brand it was let alone anything else.”

Kenneth – It was you and not me who mentioned that it is not a good idea to use electrical goods on a timer when unattended.

I don’t know how many washing machines are fitted with a timer but however low the risk, it seems unwise that any should have this feature.

There may be no fatalities but there are certainly fires caused by washing machines: http://www.theguardian.com/money/2014/jan/11/kitchen-flames-domestic-appliances

Having dealt with a kitchen fire (not caused by a washing machine and not in my home) I know that people panic, the damage caused and the effect of even modest smoke inhalation.

Fire kills. The appliance industry could help to prevent it. Fit a smoke alarm in every room and test it regularly.

No, I do not think it a good idea but not from a fire perspective especially, it is one factor but not the only one. There is more danger of a leak that can cause harm or, something in the machine causes damage and so on than that.

I do realise that any fire in someone’s home is both distressing and frightening.

Fire does kill, yes.

But in large part appliances represent a very small level of danger.

The industry has done a lot, an awful lot, over the years to make them safer and safer to the point where incidents are extremely rare. Nothing can truly ever be 100% safe but, they’re pretty close and from a technical standpoint there’s really not much more that they practically can do.

Smoke alarms however are not my area, nothing to do with appliances but you are correct, they should be fitted, working and maintained as they save lives.

K.

Thanks. Just one more off-topic comment on fire. In an earlier Conversation a service engineer mentioned not only the danger of not keeping a tumble drier filter clean but said that he had found considerable build up of fluff out of sight in some models. For the first problem a reminder our lock-out could help ensure that the user cleans the filter but hidden build up of flammable material concerns me.

I would be interested to know what measures are used to minimise these risks in modern appliances?

Yes, a common issue sadly.

Basically it’s a failure to clean the filters regularly enough. They should be cleaned after every load, two at the most and every instruction guide I’ve ever seen or written will state that, with good reason.

After the filter fills up air goes everywhere including places it should really, technically, no way around it without massive expense and sensors that can fail, like turbidity only different using IR or light, prone to false positives in the environment. But anyway, the lint has to go somewhere along with the air so it forces its way through seals and so on ending up getting carried where it shouldn’t be.

If the filters were clear, wouldn’t happen as the air would go where it should do.

Therefore, although many might not suss it out (including some FSEs), the only reason that this can happen is by a faulty drum seal, which is blindingly obvious or by failure to clear the filters often enough.

That fluff and lint, if it gets bad enough, can be a source of ignition in very extreme and under extremely rare circumstances.

Let me say that on several occasions in the field I have cleared out over a black bag’s worth of fluff and lint from a domestic dryer due to this, no other fault with filters etc.

There are several TOCs as we call them, Thermal Overload Cutouts or thermostats to prevent overheating. Most are set at about 110˚C to 150˚C meaning that, if the dryer gets to hot all power is removed from the heater at least but, often, the whole appliance.

The downside is that many are now (I think due to legislation) one-shot thermal fuses in effect. But if you open the door “too see if it’s dry yet” the latent heat can take the TOC out, very common failure. Which is why, again in the guides, it says to allow the dryer to run through the cool down phase before opening the door or you risk damage.

Sorry of that’s too much detail but I’m trying to be accurate.

K.

Thanks Kenneth. I can certainly relate to this. The problem with TOCs is that because they reset they can operate repeatedly under fault conditions (as with a kettle containing no water) and then fail closed, possibly with disastrous consequences. I appreciate the problem with TFs, and the solution is either re-siting them or enforcing the cooling cycle, e.g. via a delay door catch as in a washing machine. Obviously that will not help if the mains is shut off. The usual way of detection of filters becoming blocked is pressure differential, as used in a vacuum cleaner to alert the user to change bags.

I’m not trying to ‘teach my grandmother to suck eggs’ but this is an example of the need to design household equipment to withstand common pitfalls, as I suggested in the earlier Conversation.

“I’m not trying to ‘teach my grandmother to suck eggs’ but this is an example of the need to design household equipment to withstand common pitfalls, as I suggested in the earlier Conversation.”

The manufacturers do try as best they can but there are limits.

For example, you cannot use pressure in that manner in a washing machine or dryer as they have to “breath”, they need to both intake and expel air from the drum at multiple points so, you cannot detect pressure changes as such to accomplish what you mean. Certainly not as you would be able to do with a vac in a sealed chamber other than one inlet, one outlet. So, technically, it isn’t possible within reason.

Now, people break door handles and door trims due to trying to open doors before the lock disengages, I doubt many will be keen to filter than to products that, used correctly, don’t need it. That said, some do have door interlocks now I’ve noticed but I’ve not looked at why.

You also have to consider the user in another way, they forget to put something in the dryer or dishwasher, if you put a time delay on it then it will likely be inconvenient to some leading to complaint the other way around.

My old adage applies, you can please most of the people most of the time but not all, all of the time.

More often than not it’s a balancing act between the various factors.

K

You measure the pressure differential across the filter. A quick Google search found this article: ‘Detection of Abnormal Operating Conditions in Electric Clothes Dryers’ by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Enough about fire hazards I think, but people might be prepared to pay a little more for safety features.

I’d lovve to see those! Absolutely brilliant idea.

It’d keep me in business for years selling sensors and true engineers would get to charge people for not keeping them clean. So, bring that in now I say.

Seriously though, I’ve seen stuff like this in the field. What happens in a lab is one thing, what happens in a home is something completely different.

We’ve had, off the top of my head…

– Weight sensors
– Turbidity sensors
– Humidity sensors
– Hall sensors
– Foam sensors
– Imbalance sensors

And, that’s just on laundry or, wet product as I call them.

They’ve all been used and, pretty much, largely dropped as customers completely despise “fuzzy logic” and, they are prone to failure/error in the environment.

Which goes to the very topic, the more complexity that you introduce the more scope that there is for failure and that, in turn, lessens (perceived?) durability.

K.

Kenneth – Sensor failure could result in more callouts but probably because they have been used incorrectly. I’ve used all of the sensors you have mentioned and a designer needs to differentiate between precision and accuracy, and understand drift. I presume that a humidity sensor might be used in a dryer. A cheap one will drift so the user may have to adjust the setting over time. I’ve made reliable turbidity sensors but they need frequent cleaning so are probably no use for long-term use. Weight sensors (load cells) should be extremely reliable. Like temperature sensors (at least four common designs with different characteristics), imbalance sensors will vary. Users may only be aware of fuzzy logic if it is poorly implemented.

I have not read the article I mentioned in my last post but pressure differential is the standard way of measuring filter blockage in both gas and liquid systems, and nothing sophisticated would be needed to prevent overheating of a dryer and minimising the risk of overheating and fire are good reasons to implement such a system.

Which is more reliable – a simple car with a carburettor, distributor and contact breakers, or a modern design with fuel injection, coil packs and a computer? Simple may not be best for reliability, since design and build quality are important factors. Bye for now.

For the purpose of carrying out a water temperature test only you don’t need to use detergent in the dispenser or anywhere else. Once temperature is established you could repeat the test again when doing the monthly cleaning cycle minus the laundry.

I would never opt for a second hand machine unless it came with a worthwhile warrantee and maybe a top loader, but as I have little knowledge of all things technical apart from general maintenance care it is not an option I would feel confident about.

Having considered the pros and cons of this debate it has helped me to make a more informed decision as to how to cast my vote. Because of the enormous amount of data and potential problems involved when purchasing a new machine I really can’t envisage any manufacturer agreeing to a definitive minimum lifespan and an estimated lifespan would be very difficult to incorporate into any legal agreement. A warrantee is easier to legislate from a manufacturers point of view since the T& C’s are carefully set out to protect their own self interest.

I have learned a considerable amount from the debate and agree that you can’t make a logical comparison between an appliance and a car for example since there is a vast difference in the purpose and usage, one a ‘workhorse’ which we have become very dependent upon to carry out the hard graft our parents were subjected to and we are inclined take for granted until, heaven forbid, it breaks down, the other a very convenient and pleasurable transport status symbol and trophy to be MOT’d, serviced and protected on a regular basis albeit with certain legislative requirements.

My final decision therefore after much consideration and soul searching has to be no manufacturers should not have to prescribe a minimum lifespan at all but the general consensus amongst the majority of participants to the debate seems to favour a need for warrantee reform so that consumers are better protected against inherent design faults and defects generally and should they not be expected to pay for retail protection in the guise of extended warrantees.

…………whoops….. last para “and they should not be expected “

Sue says:
17 July 2014

I’ve had my Bosch washing machine for 14 years and I imagined it would last for at least 20 years or so – I’m a bit gobsmacked that a lot of manufacturers reckon on a 6-8 year lifespan! I probably do about 4 wash loads per week on average, usually on 30 degrees these days, with an occasional hot wash for something specific. Apart from that I don’t really think about running costs, I’m more concerned about what it cost to buy it and how long it’s going to last. I wouldn’t spend say £700 on a posh washer with loads of unnecessary features only to have it last 6-8 years. My Bosch has never had a fault, touchwood, and will hopefully hit the 20-year mark no problem. The dilemma then will be how to find something as reliable to replace it with, now they are so full of technology!

Robert says:
17 July 2014

Surely this is covered by th Sale of Goods Act, in terms of products being of merchantable quality. The comments from manufactuers about pattern of use are clearly relevant in this respect. However the key issue is enforcement by ensuring Government provides adequate funding for Local Authority Trading Standards Departments in all parts of the country, rather than the recent pattern of swinginge cuts to less prosperous areas.

Robert, I believe so. Once the manufacturer’s guarantee has expired, unless you take out a (usually poor value for money) extended warranty, you are left at the mercy of the retailer. They should recognise the law, as given in the Sale of Goods Act, that a product should last a reasonable time (that is, be reasonably durable). My view is that this does not require you to prove a fault existed from day 1 – it might just be a poory-designed product, one made with poor quality components that wear out or fail early, or a poorly-assembled product for example that, considering the price paid, fails before it should be reasonably expected to.
In the absence of other remedies, I am pressing Which? to take a view on this and help consumers get fair treatment.

And you’re back to square one, how do you define “reasonable”?

You cannot quantify it as, one party’s definition of reasonable may well not tally with almost anyone else’s.

I get asked about this on a fairly regular basis and what is “reasonable” often comes down to the goods in question, the price point and the use. It is not possible, in my opinion, to pre-define that.

So, the retailer will almost invariably recognise the law and comply fully with it, it’s just that their view of “reasonable” and the customer’s view of “reasonable” are all too often not the same as they are both looking from different perspectives.

I would add that, in my experience, most times this comes up it’s because the owner expected longer form a product that has broken down, well you know what, that happens. It’s perhaps bad luck or whatever you want to call it but, nothing can be 100% guaranteed fault free for a pre-detemined time and to think it can be is, in my view, wholly unreasonable.

I’d wager that nobody here in their profession, regardless of what it is, can absolutely cast iron 100% guarantee that they’ve never had a flaw, had something go wrong or made a mistake.

On most other occasions it is just good old wear and tear.

On a very, very rare occasion, it’s something different but it is perhaps one in a thousand at best of the stuff I see.

K.

Kenneth, is it “reasonable” that a decent make of appliance etc. should fail 1 month after the 1 or maybe 2 year guarantee has expired, with the customer having no redress?

I have, on a number of occasions, pressed for information from both manufacturers and users to give information upon what functional life without a product breakdown or failure is deemed reasonable. It will depend upon use (hence hours/cycles meter for example), price, etc. I have proposed an initial full guarantee followed by the option to purchase a manufacturer’s extension (as opposed to an open-market one), a sliding scale of contribution after the full guarantee expires. In other words a dialogue to explore how a compromise that is fair to both parties can be reached. Simply saying it is not possible is not on. Difficult it may be, but to abandon a consumer totally is not, in my view, a fair option.

We will not see 10 year unlimited guarantees for all appliances for reasons discussed; 1 or 2 year guarantees, then nothing, are generally unacceptable for most appliances. A happy medium needs to be found.

If it is through wear and tear, perfectly reasonable to have no redress.

Or through abuse/misuse, same answer. And, some misuse issues can take time, even years, to manifest into a fault.

Even then though, what’s the shut off point, who decides that and, whats’ the cost going to be to accomplish it?

Manufacturers cannot offer insurance products due to the legislation surrounding the sale of financial products, that many organisations such as the CA pushed for. So, even if they wanted to, they can’t and the cost too high to do it, profits too low, not worth the bother.

They can offer service contracts legally but generally don’t. Too much hassle and too expensive to administer as well as not enough people interested to make it worth the hassle.

K.

Robert – The Sale of Goods Act should ‘do what it says on the tin’ but in practice it is very difficult to get support from retailers if the manufacturer’s warranty has expired. It is very common for shops to say that they have no responsibility or refer the customer to the manufacturer – which has no legal responsibility. I have faced this so many times I take along printed information that explains the Sale of Goods Act if I have to take something back to a shop.

If you trawl through the many posts about washing machine reliability in an earlier Conversation, Kenneth has explained industry’s interpretation of the Sale of Goods Act, which is very different from what we are told by Trading Standards and Which?

While I support all efforts to make the Sale of Goods Act work, I have seen no progress for years and some products are less reliable than they used to be. I think the long-term solution is to make use of longer warranties if they are offered free of charge and to push for them on other products. This has worked well for cars, which are very complicated these days.

Trading Standards do a good job where, for example, a lot of dangerous kids’ toys are imported. In my experience and from that of others, TS does not pursue most cases. On the three of four occasions I have contacted them about genuine problems they have taken detailed information and done nothing, to the best of my knowledge. In one case involving a long established but relatively small local company my case went into the file and would only be used if there were other similar complaints. TS need a lot more funding to be able to do an effective job.

Or could it be that TS know the law just as well as retailers and many, if not most, complaints are without any justification?

I’ve had, in the past decade two occasions dealing with TS and the conversation was more or less, “Can you please pay this customer off so they go away?” even although the TS officers knew I was completely correct.

I am sure that, as you say, there are traders out there that warrant looking at, in fact I’ve no doubt about it. But they are the exception and not the rule.

K.

Kenneth – None of the four cases that I have taken to Trading Standards have had anything to do with warranty claims. A year or two back we had a contributor ‘Trading Standards’ who posted on Which? Conversation and explained some of the problems that the organisation is facing the organisation. Others have commented on their failure to get any support from TS. What they do is good but TS does not have the staff or funds to pursue all genuine problems.

. . . and the consumer goods industries know that.

Yes, WC but I doubt that their plight is helped by a bunch of people running to then with spurious or even bogus issues that they are unable to do anything about legally.

Yes John, most companies do know that but none I know of want to hear from TS, it’s not good news and usually time consuming to deal with.

Many businesses will also send people to TS, especially when we know that their opinion is incorrect as TS will often help to clarify matters. The reason is simple, people often think that the business is trying to get one over on them as it were when things don’t work out and advice from TS will often set things straight, independently.

The point being, business uses TS just as much as consumers do as it’s not just businesses that can be accused constantly of being unreasonable.

K.

Kenneth, Is it reasonable for a decent make of appliance etc to fail, say, one month after the guarantee expires? You say “If it is through wear and tear, perfectly reasonable to have no redress.” I could have expanded my question to say “in normal usage” and have suggested a cycle or hours meter to help monitor that. I do not think it reasonable. Normal wear and tear should not kill a product after a years normal use.
There will be rogue users, as well as rogue appliances. Normal users must not be penalised on the argument that misuse by a minority will happen.
Manufacturing is about understanding the user and designing, sourcing suitable materials, organising a quality-controlled factory and carrying out durability testing to ensure that any product is fit for purpose, for the price charged. It is not rocket science. These days monitoring product performance and use is not difficult, so better assessments can be made of failures.
Regarding extended guarantees, Miele offer those – in conjunction with an insurer. I don’t see why they are dismissed out of hand. All these issues are soluble, given the will.

The whole first paragraph there, to me, depends on how good the product is.

If it’s a £200 low ball Turkish or Chinese machine then, hardly surprising. They’re not designed to last or to repair. But, they are incredibly cheap.

If you’re talking about a £700 Miele or suchlike then, different answer.

If I had £5 for every time I’d heard that something broke just out of warranty or that they “were designed to fail just outside warranty” I’d be debt free for sure. 😉

But again it comes down to perspective. Some people feel that, like you appear to although please correct me if I’m wrong, that what you want to pay for is a 12 or 24 month warranty that’s actually a 13 or 25 month warranty or longer perhaps. That being the case, why not just buy something with a better warranty in the first instance?

Why should a retailer or manufacturer accept liability or indeed indemnify customers beyond what they stated, at the time of sale and in the contract of sale that they would?

You signed up for that deal, you knew what it was, it was clear so, why should there be an issue as there are other routes to indemnify against repair costs. This is the way that I have seen it looked at in real world tussles in the past.

Many companies will come and go a bit on it but a word of general advice, going in guns blazing screaming about consumer rights abuse, fit for purpose, durability and so on will not help you. Many people do do this and, I’m just saying, as asking politely usually reaps more reward.

K.

Malcolm – Which? has consistently recommended that we avoid paying for extended warranties – I guess for almost 30 years. I agree with them and believe that it is better to save the money in case I have a problem. As Kenneth has rightly said on several occasions we often assume that warranties gives peace of mind, but this is (rightly) not the case. They won’t (normally) cover wear & tear or misuse, such as a foreign object causing a blockage or jamming/damaging the drain pump.

If you buy Miele, you have to have their agent do all repairs, even for simple ones such as the one I have mentioned. Kenneth has mentioned that the warranty on a Miele motor does not cover some parts. A new motor could cost more than twice as much as two cheap washing machines. 🙁

If spare parts are not available or the machine is considered beyond economical repair, you could receive a paltry payment in lieu of repair.

From what Kenneth has told us in this and the earlier Conversation, the retailers, manufacturers and service providers and insurers have it all worked out, and we the consumers keep them in business. Their shareholders have to receive their dividends.

Kenneth, I have repeatedly said that expected life is price-dependent. I, nor most here, suggest a £200 machine should have the same life as a £400 or £600 machine. This just obscures the argument.
You say “you want to pay for is a 12 or 24 month warranty that’s actually a 13 or 25 month warranty or longer perhaps. That being the case, why not just buy something with a better warranty in the first instance?” I bought a Miele dishwasher with a 10 year warranty. So a wrong assumption.
I believe most people do not expect that buying an appliance – let’s say £350 – £500 – with a one year guarantee means they can only expect it to last one year. Ths is the whole premise of this conversation – the consumer needs a fairer deal.

“I believe most people do not expect that buying an appliance – let’s say £350 – £500 – with a one year guarantee means they can only expect it to last one year.”

No, I’m not saying that at all.

What I am saying is that after the warranty expires it is then down to the owner to pay for any repairs or, they can cover that cost in another way if they choose to.

That would include putting a few pounds in a repair piggy bank if they want, they don’t have to take on a warranty.

The salient point being, the customer has choices.

K.

wavechange, I do not agree with buying “open market” extended warranties either. I tried to make an alternative proposal clear, but may not have succeeded. An open market warranty probaebly, i believe, does not discriminate between different brands or models; if so the risk is much greater, reflected in the cost. An alternative – just a suggestion – is that the manufacturer offers a longer warranty at an extra cost, to those who want that peace of mind. They know best the quality and durability of their models, and should be more realistic in the pricing of the warranty.

This conversation, like others, is about presenting differing and alternative knowledge and points of view. Kenneth, quite rightly, draws attention to all the problems there are for manufacturers in supporting their products by guarantee. I believe that all obstacles can be overcome if the will is there. I want to see consumers better-protected than they are now, but in a way that is fair to both sides.

I wish that Which? would give some comment. This conversation – with it’s predecessor “Samsung Fridge-freezers” that spawned it, have been going for a long time, with a lot of contributions. If Which? are there to get fair treatment for consumers, as I believe they are, I think it is time they told us what they are doing. This topic is not at all new.

Kenneth, why should a consumer expect to start paying for what may be very expensive repairs after 1 year on a relatively expensive purchase? I cannot accept that is fair to the consumer. Does anyone else think that is fair? Perhaps Which? should have a poll – I might be a lone voice.

Excellent, the nub of the issue. 😉

Okay, flip that around.

Why should a manufacturer or retailer provide a service or goods that they have not been paid for or that they hold no liability for?

Or is it a case of “reasonable” should only apply when it is “reasonable” to the customer? So one party is then getting a better deal than the other is.

As I said, people buy knowing full well all the details about the contract, what the terms are and what the warranty length is and, technically, that is the period that the manufacturer (in the case of a manufacturer warranty) or retailer is liable for any costs. Not beyond that and, anything beyond that point in time is, to be blunt, not their problem unless there was an inherent fault from new.

Keep in mind, a manufacturer warranty is in addition to your statutory rights, they are not a replacement at all merely an enhancement and there is no edict in law that one must be offered. In fact, many goods are sold as seen without any warranty.

So the customer then has a choice to make on what to do to negate that potential for breakdown. They can insure, they can buy better products, save to cover any unexpected issues or simply take a punt that it’ll all be okay.

But given the terms of the deal were clear, going back to the retailer or manufacturer and expecting to get something for nothing, well, that’s great if you get it but there is not any entitlement to it.

The bottom line is, you won’t usually get something for nothing.

K.

Kenneth, You say “The bottom line is, you won’t usually get something for nothing.”. This totally misrepresents what I have said. I have also said a solution should be fair to both parties – not “Or is it a case of “reasonable” should only apply when it is “reasonable” to the customer?”.

I wasn’t going at you personally Malcolm, my apologies if it came across that way as that was certainly not the intent at all.

This is generally the, how can you put, “exchange of views” I guess is likely best, that I see on an all too regular basis and what I’m trying to highlight is that there are two or more parties involved, not one and it’s not simply all about the consumer. Mainly as I recognise that many people may read this thread even if they do not participate.

To expect extra warranty is, in effect, expecting something for nothing. The owner expects the retailer or manufacturer to pick up the tab (potentially) for a problem that is, technically, no longer their responsibility.

I’m not debating the rights or wrongs of it nor the morality, only the technical detail of it.

Let me try it another way, if a retailer sold a product (irrelevant what) with a twelve month guarantee and close to the end you had a problem but the retailer said, “Oh we know it’s still in warranty technically but we’re not going to do anything”, blood would be called for, the CEO’s head on a pike would be demanded. TS, legal people and all sorts screaming about breach of contract and so on.

But, a good many people think that the other way around, that’s just fine. In fact, it is often considered to be “good customer service” or just expected as a given.

I cannot for the life of me understand why that is.

K.

Maybe what we need – and what may be becoming technically possible – is what one could call a “Smart Warranty”. If the software in a machine were able to monitor the usage patterns at machine-level and forecast the expected wear on the key components then it would be feasible to determine whether a component was out of spec or had failed prematurely in any particular home setting. Such a warranty could effectively offer different lengths of guarantee on different components by taking account of their differing MTBFs.

I know this sounds complex but I think Kenneth’s evident experience of what users do to use and misuse their machines has to be taken into account. A Smart Warranty would also provide an evidence-based response to the Sale of Goods Act liabilities.

It sounds like Miele have started along these lines via their hours of use counter.

I cannot agree with just blaming the end user. If you use your washing machine correctly and you’re unfortunate to have it break down just out of warranty, it’s not nice to be blamed and basically told to get lost, you have no rights and to buy a new washing machine with an extended warranty next time. There will always be some people who misuse the machine and expect to have it repaired for nothing or those who buy a cheap machine and expect it to last 10 years. That’s life! It seems that consumer law favours the companies every time.

The older machines were definitely built better and did not suffer worn bearings after just 18 months of ‘normal’ use for instance. Think back to the washing machines of the past which seemed to last forever after being repaired, even after three or four repairs. It’s too easy for a modern machine to break beyond economical repair. If you’re fortunate enough to own an older washing machine, like Wavechange’s Philips machine, I suggest you keep it going for as long as possible and avoid the new machines.

I’m not blaming anyone David.

The system isn’t gamed against consumers at all, it protects all parties fairly.

The fact is that machines today are massively cheaper than they were when WC bought his, relatively speaking a similar specified machine today can be bought for less than 30% when you adjust for inflation etc.

You just cannot get the same quality for less than a third the cost. It is simply not possible.

I’m sorry if that’s not what people want to hear but, it is the truth of it.

Is it any surprise in light of this that these much cheaper machines last less than a half the time, if they last that long?

K.

Yes, machines are made too cheap and corners have been cut on quality to make them so cheap. I’m aware that, in some cases, parts come from China and some machines are even made in China!

I’m perfectly happy to save up and buy a well-built and reliable washing machine. Unfortunately, because most people are not willing to pay the proper price for a good machine, we all have to suffer with shoddy quality. But what if you’ve bought an expensive and supposedly ‘reliable’ machine, such as a Miele (who claim theirs last 20 years), having used it correctly and it breaks down shortly after its standard warranty? Should you have to pay hundreds to have it fixed? The same would apply to other reasonable machines from makes like Siemens. I don’t think a machine of 20 years old or more would cost hundreds of pounds to fix now?

David – You have joined the Conversation recently and I don’t know if you have trawled through all of Kenneth’s informative posts in the earlier Conversation, the one that started discussing Samsung fridge-freezers.

One of the points that Kenneth made is that if a machine under warranty (free or paid for) breaks down and parts are not available or it is considered beyond economical repair, the owner can legally be offered a payment instead of a repair. The payment would be based on the secondhand value of the machine, I understand. You pay a fortune for an extended warranty, and this is how you are treated. We have seen this for years in car insurance where it is common to make a paltry payment to someone who has comprehensive insurance on an old car.

I will give two examples of where an insurance company could make a paltry payment in lieu of a repair. One is lack availability of spares and another is a disproportionately expensive repair, such as bearings failing in a machine with a ‘sealed tank’.

I hope I have not misrepresented what I believe Kenneth has told us but from the consumers’ point of view, it is not good.

David – You are critical of Chinese manufacture. There is a great deal of junk made in China and plenty of dangerous counterfeit goods. They also turn out some goods that are as good as anything made elsewhere. Have a look at what you reckon is good quality and it could well be made in China.

But it is absolutely crazy to transport anything as heavy and bulky as a washing machine from as far afield as China. That makes no environmental sense.

China does produce some extremely good products, and some rubbish. It reminds me of Japan, Hong Kong, and other countries products as they developed.
We bring in, and we also export, many large products by sea in containers – cars for example. I see nothing untoward in importing domestic appliances by the same route – it has gone on for decades. Ships and containers make two-way journeys – both ideally need to be full.
Whilst I would much prefer to see us making more things at home, with our inadequate attitude to investment, high labour costs, strict health and safety rules, and other factors that make us uncompetitve, we will have to continue to live with being supplied from abroad.

Which? has a team of lawyers and any member can join for a modest fee. It would be very helpful if a member of the Which? Legal team would give us some authoritative advice on how ‘durability’ might be interpreted in relation to the Sale of Goods Act, if a case went to court.

I simply cannot accept what Kenneth said in the previous Conversation is fair and reasonable. Unfortunately, from what I have learned in recent years, the consumer may not have nearly as much protection as both Which? and Trading Standards suggest.

Obviously both the consumer and the retailer need to be treated fairly but who decides what is fair?

wavechange, I have repeatedly asked Which? for a view on this – both through this and previous conversations, and on other occasions directly by e-mail. The latest e-mail request was 3 days ago. I hope this time I might get a response. I believe it is time the Consumers’ Association took a stance on helping Consumers with this clear problem.

I know, Malcolm. I’m supporting this, although I feel it may be a lost cause.

Hi both, I’m very sorry for the delay, but this is quite a complex issue. I’ve been in touch with one of our lawyers who has helped clarify some of this.

Durability is an element of ‘satisfactory quality’ in the Sale of Goods Act. If it can be proved that the product was not sufficiently durable and thus not of satisfactory quality, then you will have rights under SOGA.

The key is whether you can prove (after six months of ownership, when the onus moves from the retailer to you) that the fault is not what should happen to the product at that particular age. You may need an expert for this. There’s no real guidance on how long something should last – it depends on a number of things; the product itself; how the product has been positioned (eg. whether the manufacturer has made claims about longevity, or whether it’s held out as a budget or top-end product), trends in the industry, the price, the individual fault. On this last point – a major component cutting out may not be expected at a particular point in a product’s lifespan, but a cheap minor component might be expected to break sooner.

I’m sorry if that’s not as clear cut as you’d hope.

Thanks Patrick, I appreciate that this is not a simple issue. I think the first principle to establish is that there is a requirement under the Sale of Goods Act that a product should last a reasonable time, and it should not be necessary to prove a pre-existing fault (which is a totally separate form of claim) . So poor product design, poor choice of components, poor standard of assembly may well be factors – none of which may be easy to prove So the test is, should a product be expected to fail, given its price, in normal use and circumstances, in the time that it did.
The very easy ones to test this on are surely “sensibly” priced products from reputable manufacturers that fail not too long after their manufacturers guarantees expire. We have to start somewhere!

No, it isn’t simple at all.

Let me demonstrate.

If you choose that route then fair enough but it would get torn to pieces by a manufacturer, any of them in virtually any sector.

We have warranties in place to offer reassurance on many if not most products sold. These cover electrical and mechanical failure (in this case) within the set period of the warranty. What this does is establishes that a component can fail at any point in time from when you first use the product through to the expiry of the warranty and beyond.

No manufacturer of any product can give a cast iron, 100% guarantee that any device will work without the possibility of a component failing for any one of hundreds if not thousands of reasons and it would be (in my opinion) unreasonable to expect it to be otherwise.

You can apply that thinking to anything from a washing machine to a mobile phone to a car, whatever you like.

You cannot immunise against the possibility for failure, it simply is not possible.

You can mitigate to a degree by using better materials and so on but that’s about all you can do in that regard but, the price rises accordingly.

You can offer more warranty cover but, again the prices rises and there are other pros and cons such as a debate around what is and what is not covered, consumer attitudes and probably more if I think about it in more depth.

If you mandate a minimum life or warranty period then one or more of several things would happen I would think and, they would likely (or, almost certainly) not be in the interest of consumers.

It’s like falling dominoes, you choose to knock one down as you can only see the one in your way but there is an effect beyond what may seem simple at first and without the risk any further consequence. It’s only when you see the whole lot come crashing down you realise it wasn’t so simple after all.

K.

Kenneth, First, if you buy a “decent” product from a “decent” manufacturer you should have a right for it to last a “reasonable time” without failure. Say a £500 washing machine from Bosch packs in 1 month after its 1 year warranty expires and you have to fork out £200 for a repair – bad luck?
I want to see the consumer get a fair deal, but I do not expect that we will , or should expect to, get fair protection for nothing.
We are going over old ground here – all these views have been aired in this conversation. The option of having to buy an expensive commercial warranty is poor value – you are better off saving your premiums to pay for the unlikely event of a repair. And “unlikely” with decent products is the key. Which? reported around 12% of washing machines (presumably mainstream makes) develop a fault in the first 5 years. So the cost to a manufacturer of covering such faults – and including the cost in the purchase price – should not be great. The incentive to them would be to ensure their products were designed, built, and used decent components to minimise the chances of a fault.
Something needs to be achieved that is better than we now have – let’s work towards that as an aim rather than pooring cold water on change.

I think you may misunderstand Malcolm.

I am trying to show you where the barriers are and how that producers will likely respond. You may not like it and I get that but, it is what it is.

The fundamental problem however is not that the machines aren’t very good, break down or do not but that there is not enough demand from consumers for ultra durable goods, doesn’t matter where you look.

If you go down the road of mandating more durable products you will get them but, you will also stifle innovation to a degree as well as pushing prices up, how considerably would depend on the mandate.

So to me, it makes no odds whatsoever as if prices get forced up, as I’ve said, that does me a favour professionally therefore, logically, I should be egging you all on to push in that direction. The reality however is that it will not happen as consumers want cheaper and cheaper goods, this has been clearly demonstrated and I am in no doubt that if the prices got forced up there would be an equal and opposite outcry, most likely along the lines of manufacturers ripping people off, rip off Britain and so on.

If people think that they can achieve higher durability or longer warranties with no penalty, good luck with that as it will not happen under any circumstance in my opinion.

But, it still does not deflect from the underlying issue, if few people are willing to buy better products, very few producers are ever going to make them.

Atop that, we have a culture of replace rather than repair, it seems almost ingrained these days what with the attitudes towards technology products especially.

I’d love to hear how those problems are addressed.

K.

Malcolm – In the previous Conversation?, Kenneth told us that the two Bosch machines and others in the current Which? Best Buy list have sealed tanks, so certain faults would be beyond uneconomical repair.

We need respected manufacturers to go back to making products that can be repaired economically. The only way that this will happen is if they are responsible for doing the repairs. Perhaps the biggest danger is that even under extended warranty the customer can be told that their machine is uneconomical to repair or parts are no longer available. I am very grateful to Kenneth for alerting me to this problem.

We need to establish a solution that is fair to the consumer and fair to the manufacturer, and can be respected by both.

wavechange, exactly the point. I do not accept that the majority of consumers want the cheapest product and are quite happy throw them away after a short life – if they knew the facts of what they were buying – including lack of repairability.. Some will, but some won’t. I do not propose doing away with the cheap throw-away option – we should have a choice. But I do object to having a fairly expensive option that still leaves the “responsible” purchaser disadvantaged by an early failure; manufacturers should take some responsibility for supporting the supposed quality of their products. I have tentatively suggested that individual manufacturers should offer, in addition to their standard guarantee, a longer version at an extra cost. The manufacturer best knows the cost of this risk and the consumer can consider this option when making a choice. I would hope this conversation could go on to explore the various possibilities that would lead to a fair deal for both manufacturer and consumer – something Which? could then work on and something that is better than now – none of us want to have to go to court to support our rights which is maybe what the retailers place reliance upon?

Malcolm – I think our first priority should be to push for washing machines to be sold with an indication of their expected life in cycles, which should put pressure on manufacturers to include a cycle counter. Manufacturers could then offer a years/cycles warranty, as we have discussed. This would be a great benefit to the infrequent user (assuming a long warranty) and help discourage heavy users making claims when they have simply worn out their machine.

I cannot remember if Kenneth quotes an estimated lifetime for the machines he sells.

wavechange, yes – we should be given the relevant information on expected life, on repairability and availability of spares (or otherwise), so a more considered buying decision can be made. Equally, guarantees should probably be both time-limited (years) and limited by either hours use or cycles depending on the type of appliance (providing, of course, these are realistic). Wear and tear (unless of sub-standard components), misuse, accidental damage etc should be excluded – these guarantees need to be fair to both consumer and retailer (manufacturer).
I also consider that a prudent commercial relationship should (or does?) exist between retailer and supplier to ensure a manufacturer’s fault is funded by the manufacturer and not the retailer.

Whitegoodshelp made the point that it is unreasonable to expect retailers to have full responsibility for remedies in our earlier Conversation and I do hope to see them working together to offer fair support for consumers.

Patrick – Thanks very much for taking this to one of your lawyers.

Though Which? and Trading Standards suggest that remedies are available to consumers after the warranty has expired, I think Kenneth has given us a fair appraisal of what is happening in practice.

Which? magazine has reported that retailers often tell consumers that they have no rights after the warranty has expired, or refer them to the manufacturer, who has no legal responsibility to help. Rather than using actors and created faults, my suggestion would be to repeat the investigation with real people with real faulty products and follow through the cases.

A really easy first step could be to help selected members take legal action against retailers who are breaking the law by saying they have no responsibility outside the warranty period.

I’ve been pushing for cycle or hours used counters for years, nobody’s interested.

You need to change the energy label, there’s a cost involved as then all machines need a digital panel, you need to monitor changes to that, be able to reprogram and, worst of all, you need pan-European agreement between governments and industries. It is a total nightmare.

WC, you seem to have it in your head that I work for a particular brand and, I do in part but it is not what I do for a living at all, it’s a hobby. A very interesting one it turns out as it has afforded me huge insight into the industry and consumers that I very much doubt many people ever get the chance to see. But, I do not earn a bean from it and, to date, have not.

For the one brand I work for that you have alluded to in your previous word games it is perhaps 5% of my time at most, but I do a bit more than just that.

For another, at the opposite end of the spectrum, you see the same things just turned about a little.

The one I think you’re getting at does publish the tested life, yes. However it is important to appreciate that this assumes that the machines are used and cared for correctly, sadly there are a number that are not. I know why that is but, that’s another conversation and data that I do not wish to put in the public domain as it holds value. There’s actually a lot more in there than you may see at first glance.

On retailers holding no responsibility, we’ve discussed this before and there are very sound reasons for things being the way that they are but, they don’t have any liability if the failure is merely wear and tear and in 99.99% of cases that’s what the cause will be. But I still go back to, if you ask a shop floor assistant about this stuff then you’re likely to get a blank look followed by something to try to make the problem go away.

I’m not saying this is right, wrong or indifferent I am merely pointing out that these people are trained to sell on a shop floor, not to deal with legal matters and it is my opinion that it is unreasonable to expect otherwise.

That aside, it still doesn’t get away from the fact that stuff can break and is totally unforeseeable, regrettable certainly but I don’t think it fair that people should expect to be indemnified from all risk.

K.

wavechange, another question I have asked Which?, and still await a reply, is what contributions they have made to consultations on the forthcoming Consumer Protection Legislation that is due out, I believe, next year that presumably will supplant Sale of Goods Act. In particular, what they have had to say about guarantees and product durability that should give the consumer a fairer deal.
At present it requires a lot of effort for one consumer to take legal action if they appear to have a case under SoGA. I agree, it would be useful if Which? would take on some apparently clearcut cases to try to establish precedent. If your £400 washing machine fails after 13 months, should the supplier be able to wash their hands of any responsibility? I don’t think they should, but others may think it is just bad luck – get on with life, save up. and buy another. j

kenneth, at the risk of going over old ground, may I respond to a couple of your comments?
– “these people are trained to sell on a shop floor, not to deal with legal matters” The OFT (as was) published a very good and easy to read Guide to SoGA specifically for retail staff. It should be part of their training. No excuse for them not knowing the basics. Or call the manager.
– they don’t have any liability if the failure is merely wear and tear”. No one has said they do, and if anyone makes a claim that turns out thus they would normally pay the cost. That is fair.
– “I don’t think it fair that people should expect to be indemnified from all risk.” I don’t think any of us do, but neither should manufacturers be totally indemnified from all faults that arise in an unreasonably short time. We have made substantial progress in the motor industry, and in electronic products particularly through John Lewis.
I think we need to put together a way forward that makes for a fairer deal for consumers; obstacles there will be, but they can be overcome if the cause is just. I’d like to see Which? taking the lead here.

On point one Malcolm, I do not disagree but it is more complex a subject (as shown) than you could reasonably expect a shop floor assistant to know about. Hence I advise all retailers to deal with such matters in writing only, it avoids confusion and the “he said, she said” type comments and the twisting thereof. I’m too long in the tooth to do it any other way and as soon as there is any danger of any form of legal action or the involvement of a government agency this is completely reasonable in my opinion.

Going in and talking to a shop assistant or often even a branch manager in a large chain as an example will yield little I would think as they have set boundaries to operate within.

The point you have just made for me across your second and third is that the first thing you have to do is figure out the nature of the failure, the cause and so on in order to get to a “reasonable” conclusion and subsequent course of action. This is what the SoGA does do, people just don’t like the way it has to be done all too often.

What some (most complaints) often appear to me to want the SoGA to do is completely different, they thick of it as a magic shield that indemnifies them from any risk or responsibility and, it plainly is not that.

It is not even slightly uncommon for owners to blame any failure of any sort straight out the traps on the machines. Then, if it is proved that the fault did not lie there, they will argue black was white to avoid any charges and to lay blame with anyone but them. I’m sorry if that seems harsh but it is the real world and that happens with all brands I’ve dealt with at all price points.

I often ask myself, if people are so confused by the SoGA as it stands, what would happen if the legislation became even more complex?

The only conclusion I personally can reach is that there would simply be more confusion. And, I do not mean just with customers but also with traders as well.

It does annoy me in the extreme that a some traders are not so much unaware of the legislation but, more accurately, aware of how it is implemented and used in practice. Equally however the same is also true of many owners as well with both often trying to use the same legislation to their own ends to meet their own goals.

Manufacturer warranties are a way through that to a degree but, you get back to the fundamental problem once again in that, if people are willing to pay for better quality products and better warranties with this being demonstrated then there will be more.

If not, there will not be or at least, it is extremely unlikely.

K.

Kenneth – The reason that I’ve mentioned your machines on various occasions is that you are doing various things that I’m keen on, such as long warranties hot & cold fill, the option of extra rinsing and hopefully greater reliability and repairability than much of what is on the market. I heard about them from another contributor, long before we started our discussions. It might be a hobby for you but it interests me when I see more expensive products that could prove value for money. It’s one reason I buy Apple products, though I greatly dislike their miserable one year warranties, batteries that are not user-replaceable and some hardware that won’t support the latest software after a few years.

I my contributions I have repeatedly mentioned that manufacturers have rights. I have said in other Conversations about consumers rights. I believe in fairness. If I have a faulty product I often have a go at fixing it myself. If I fail, I would not take it back to the shop, even if it is still under the warranty. To do so would be contrary to the terms and conditions. I play fair and expect to be treated fairly. I have never even suggested that consumers should be indemnified from all risk and I am quite surprised how often people are given new items without even considering that a repair might be possible.

Let’s go back to the durability issue. Take a product such as a central heating boiler where a breakdown occurs a year after the warranty expires because a component has been running too hot and finally fails. The designer may have specified a component with a higher rating but in the interest of cost cutting someone went overboard in cutting the manufacturing costs. Is if fair that the consumer should pay the full cost of replacement? Looking back to earlier times when service engineers repaired circuitry rather than swapped circuit boards it was not uncommon for them to replace components that were overheating and sometimes service data recommended this.

If a mechanical product is worn out then I totally agree that they do not deserve support unless of course some poor quality component such as a bearing or flimsy bit of plastic fails after an unreasonably short time. I hope we have your blessing in pushing for manufacturers to give us some indication of how long their products should last, if treated reasonably.

I have no issue with people pushing to have the or a form of rated lifespan published and I have in fact stated publicly on national radio, to various government departments, agencies and several academic institutions that this is the best possible interim measure. The reason is that it is already known to most manufacturers in the whitegoods industry and that it can easily be appended to existing labelling and, it gives customers clear information to make a more informed choice.

It also solves your boiler issue in some regard as, if weaker or poorer quality components are used then the lifespan expectation should also be reduced (in theory at least) so the trade off for the lower price is a shorter life.

Easy. Anyone can understand it.

Not perfect, I accept but a whole heap better than what exists as things stand now. As now, there’s virtually no guidance at all.

The trouble with Apple and others is that the technologies move on apace and there is mammoth pressure for them to not just keep up but, to stay ahead. That often means that they will try things that will be doomed but, with the product lifespan so short that’s not a big issue for most or many.

It is however a big problem when you slap a touchscreen on a fridge or whatever where after eighteen months it may well be only of use as a doorstop. This is not fantasy, it is real as some of the products in majors have tech in them that will be dead in a year or two, yet command big ticket prices on products that are expected by owners to have a useful life way beyond that.

Slamming new technology into places that it really has no place is not a good plan in my opinion, it needs to be carefully thought out. People also need to very, very carefully consider what they are investing in in this respect.

This all plays into a morass that we appear to have gotten into where a lot of people appear to accept that “things aren’t made they way they used to be” and so on as the life cycle of a high tech gadget is used as a sort of yard stick. By that I mean that people seem to, as Malcolm said, just seem to buy another one as that’s what happens.

Spend as little as possible, just replace it when it breaks. My take is that many products are not expensive enough or hold enough retained value to discourage that view.

That has several effects (back to my dominoes) in that as people don’t repair you lose repairers but you also lose spare parts as there’s little or lower use of them. So, less stock of them, less investment into holding spares so more go NLA faster than they may have done in the past. A pack of dominoes just falling over as one thing leads to another.

Eventually you get to where we are.

Ultimately, if the tide is not reversed then you will reach the point where large appliances, PCs and so on are just toasters, they break they go in the bin and get replaced. We’re not there yet but, it’s not too much of a stretch to see that becoming the reality or accepted norm.

There is no positive in that for anyone but, consumers drive the market and unless consumers as a whole wake up and do something about it by demanding better products that are more durable and more repairable the situation will not change. With the real danger being that it could get substantially worse.

I am not and never have said that nothing can be done but, I would say, choose your battles wisely and know the ones that aren’t worth fighting.

K.

Thanks for that Kenneth. It’s good to have some things we can agree on.

I accept that products such as mobile phones, laptops and smart TVs are going to be rapidly outdated compared with kitchen appliances but there are certainly some problems. The Conversation “Manufacturers abandon support for tech products too quickly” gives some examples. If we really do need a fridge-freezer incorporating fancy features that part should be upgradable, as with a smart TV. I do think manufacturers should warn of an ongoing cost, especially if the price will be extortionate – as with upgrading built-in satnavs in cars.

We will have to differ on the boiler circuit board example. If a component is running far too hot it may fail soon or struggle on for years. You must h