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Were older products built better?

Old radio

Most of us have at least one old, trusty appliance that’s faithfully serving us after many years. So here’s your chance to sing its praises and give it a little love back as we search for the nation’s oldest appliance.

Like many sleepy-eyed commuters, I greeted Metro’s story of a 58 year-old fridge that’s still going strong with a wry smile on my journey to work on Monday.

But possibly with less surprise than others, as here at Which? we often hear similar stories from our readers.

Your trusty old appliances

In recent years, we’ve been told of a Hotpoint dishwasher from 1984 whose only breakdown was caused by an escaped hamster chewing through its wiring. It survived (the dishwasher, that is) and the last we heard, was still running.

And only recently, Dave D posted here on Which? Convo about still using his grandparents’ Hoover, originally bought in 1957. Sophie Gilbert echoed the trend, celebrating the sterling service of her relatively juvenile AEG old vac, still working well after 20 years and destined to stay in action until its eventual death.

I’ve worked in product testing at Which? for nearly 10 years and, while I’m always excited to find out about new home products being released, the romantic in me loves to hear about these valiant old workhorses still in regular service.

I don’t think I’m alone. What really shines through when people tell us about their geriatric appliances is the massive affection in which they’re held. This is sometimes coupled with a dose of scepticism about all things new, but the uniting feeling seems to be if it ain’t broke why bother replacing?

Are older products better?

What’s even more amazing is that none of these appliances – unlike the legendary Trigger’s Broom from a classic Only Fools and Horses episode – seem to have needed much repair. Which begs the question – were old products built better?

We’ll be publishing the results of our latest brand reliability survey soon and revealing if your newer washing machines, dishwashers and vacs are likely to break.

But meanwhile, we’d love to know of any prehistoric appliances that are still in use at your home. It looks like Dave D holds the record at the moment with his 53 year-old vac. Can you beat this? And how long do you expect your new appliances – large or small – to last?

Comments
Member

I do not believe that there is any legal requirement for UK or EU manufacturers to hold spares for their products. Even where official spares are available the cost can be very high. The quality of spares from alternative sources is variable. Cars are expensive, so it’s not surprising that parts often remain available long after production has ceased.

I see little chance that the Consumer Rights Act will help consumers over durability. I very much support better quality and more sustainable products but unfortunately that’s not going to happen overnight. In the meantime I’m going to shop around and look for products with longer guarantees and warranty promotions that are offered to encourage our custom. Hopefully we have seen the end of extended warranties that can cost more than the goods themselves.

Member

This Conversation is nearly five years old and we are just on the second page. Perhaps it’s time for Which? to explore the issues further and bring us a new, improved Covo.

In the meantime, can someone identify the make and model of the wireless (radio) shown in the photo at the top of the page?

Member

So far as I can see this is a stock image, probably based on an original wireless set but with the manufacturer’s symbols photoshopped out. I don’t recognise it but we once had one of a similar vintage [late 40’s I’d guess] in a veneered wooden cabinet that had a green ‘tuning eye’ to assist with station location on the medium wave. I wondered whether the radio in the picture was an early attempt at stereo sound as it appears to have two speakers behind the fabric screen.

Member

It’s a licensed Shutterstock image, and I do agree it has been tinkered with. Early 50s would be my guess.

Member

I think it is tuned in to Radio Luxembourg. Horace Batchelor is helping someone win the pools.

Member

Not the man from K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M?

Member

I forgot to say that the two sets of press buttons and two thumb-wheels are distinctive features. There’s a stock image giving a different view. Maybe @duncan-lucas knows the answer.

Member

I agree wavechange its early 50,s it took a while to use up all the wooden cases that were stockpiled during WW2 the 2 speakers doesnt signify stereo just a saleploy as to a “sweeter sound ” . Saying that they were stereo radios made in this country but believe it or not they were sold as “top-end ” years before I can assure you only the rich could afford them . Approx mid-fifties FM was introduced here commercially although much earlier in the US even then it was usually mono-single speaker units I have full range of wireless repair manuals from 1948 onwards as well as Wireless World yearly hardbacks one -1914 others 1930 up to 1948 including the Arthur-c-Clark satellite theory one .I got the Wireless World books from an old WW2 Radar technician before he died it was pretty “hush-hush” then if anybody can get the make of the radio I could give a full description of it I have had 1000,s of radios go through my hands this one was not one of them it would take a long time tracing it via all the circuit diagrams I have.

Member

Thanks Duncan. In the 70s I was delighted to find some unbound copies of Wireless World dating from the 20s or earlier, in a library. They included adverts for ‘distortion-free loudspeakers’. Misrepresentation in marketing has a long pedigree. 🙁 We have been bemoaning the poor sound quality of flat-screen TVs, so perhaps a couple of hundred year old horn loudspeakers would help and also provide an interesting talking point.

Member

Don’t forget to read page 1! And should we get Which? to lead the way in getting more durable and repairable products? Or shall we stay with a throw-away culture?

Member

I’ll admit I havent read all the posts just yet but maybe this hasnt been mentioned
Look up Phoebus Cartel. I remember learning about their action many years ago. They joined forces for the early 20th century to control the lifespan of incandesent bulbs from 2500 hours? I think to 100 hours and also controlled an increased price for an inferior product
Back then such actions were legal but rules had to be made to overtake the new industries
Are we back at a point that we may need rules again
I dont like Nanny State theory but it seems that unless we get our Gov’s to make rules then the result of our not so great freedom is we get ripped off
So is it a case of trading freedom for quality??

Member

We have rightly had a lot of public criticism of the VW Group for cheating exhaust emission tests but most people don’t know about the Phoebus Cartel, where a group of manufacturers worked together to decrease the lifetime of incandescent lightbulbs to around 1000 hours. If you trust large companies it’s worth looking at this and learning more about planned obsolescence.

It’s not necessary to do anything illegal to get us to spend our money on new products. Electrical goods taken for recycling are often in working order, as newspaper articles occasionally report.

Member

Good point wave.
We had hoarder in our family circle and when the day came we had to spend weeks sorting his place out
If he had one “4 grnder he had 50, same for”9, same for chop saws and countless other items. I remember him being in disgust at all these good items be thrown in the skip. He would once say, “they’ll pay a price for this waste” That they did in 2008 onward. That what some builders done. Complete a house renovation with new cheap tools and once the job was done the whole went in the skip along with the last tidy up. Now not all builders done this but if you had tasked with the clearing the place out you’d have thought the whole country was at it.
I could not believe how many items we plugged in actually worked.
Waste and more waste

Member

I don’t go back as far as the Phoebus days, but its interesting to see it used in conjunction with VW. I’m sure the Slave Trade for which we were responsible also has a part to play.

Incandescent light bulbs for general service – GLS or standard household bulbs – were rated at 1000 hours life until there demise. This was because there is a relationship between filament temperature – and therefore light output – its power consumption (Watts) – and life before the filament failed due to loss of tungsten. 1000 hours was judged to give a reasonable balance between life vs electrical cost vs light output. Tungsten halogen lamps had a longer life – generally 2000h – because some of the evaporated tungsten was returned to the filament and they could also be run hotter and therefore were more efficient.

There is always a danger when standards are written that “standardise” performance that there must be a conspiracy afoot (ametre now?).

Member

I made the same point in an earlier Conversation, Malcolm. 1000 hours seems a reasonable compromise between light output and life expectancy. Halogen lamps are a more recent development. As far as I know there is unequivocal evidence of cheating by Philips, Osram, General Electric and various other manufacturers.

I would leave development of standards with independent scientists and engineers.

Member

Many standards written around products for example require an intimate and detailed knowledge of the products. This will not exist with people outside the industry. However, standards are not written by industry experts (including scientists and engineers) alone, but they include input from members representing users (let’s say local authority engineers), independent scientists (let’s say NPL), government bodies and others with interests and expertise drawn from a range of disciplines relevant to the standard. Overseen by BSI. for example. So to suggest that standards are written only by “non-independent” people is to misunderstand the way the standards process works, both nationally and internationally. Individual manufacturers are usually not represented; those that take part represent the industry as a whole, through say their trade body, to ensure a cross-industry input. If you pick up a standard you will find a list (usually quite long) of all the bodies that have contributed to it.

Member

Hi, I dont mean to try and rewrite history but in the early 20th century there wasnt much association between written standards and the light bulb
Whilst today the likes of VW managers deny knowledge of their cheat back then it wasnt a problem.
I cannot find the documentary I wanted and it’s so long since I was in a Library I certainly dont remember the title of the books but try this one.
http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/light-bulb-conspiracy/
You can watch the whole thing almost all of the info is the same as I read many years ago but there is an actual recording of a US businessman laying it all out for all to hear. Around 19:04 He states quite clearly his intentions. That’ll grab your attention if your anti obsolescence.
American dream, or American nightmare?
Yes its a bit conspiracy kinda thing but there are references to several things. Particularly patents on bulbs that would last many 1000s of hours. I checked those things out years back and I’m sure the info is still available.
There are so many instances of forced obsolescence its beyond debating about.
There are still bulbs around today that were made before Phoebus Cartel.
Forced obsolescence is what Malcolm wants rid of. You like good electronics you say but even they most likely have a lifespan that could be longer, much longer.
I have a friend, former work mate kinda thing, a former instruments technician and real good with stuff. He has told me countless stories about things not being made to last. He has also said repeatedly that for very little more money one could make electronics that would last a lifetime.
Surface mount has not been our friend but thankfully the chinese cheapies are mostly not surface mount just yet which in a kinda funny way has helped me loads of times. I have rather a large amount of cheapie PSUs in various guises near all powering control gear. All I have to do is dismantle them once i get them and make sure that everything is well insulated, plenty of heat sink compound, cut some pins from the back of the pcb ect. Maybe a little better quality heat transfer sheet instead of a bit of stuff so thin that it is nearly bound to short to the casing.
I have great results just as long as I give them a good going through and last but not least run them at no more than half their rated current.
I’m guessing but Id say I have maybe 20 x 25w to 100w PSUs running at any one time and I have no trouble.

Member

I don’t accept that those outside industry cannot compile standards any more than I am happy with companies testing the emissions of their own cars.

Member

Here’s a typical BSI committee concerned with lamps. LIA represents lamp manufacturers.

British Sign and Graphics Association
Consumer and Public Interest Network
Institution of Lighting Professionals
Lighting Industry Association
Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Limited
B B A – British Board of Agrement
Lamp Coaters Association
S L L – Society of Light & Lighting
Secretary – IEC/SC 34A

Seems a pretty balanced one to me.
Manufacturers have knowledge and expertise that others do not. What is the point in excluding them?

However, this is still off topic. Sorry Patrick. But many products are “better” because national and international standards ensure the are designed to meet certain standards. Often these are safety standards and I would be surprised if that was felt to be a bad thing.

Perhaps we should concentrate now more on durability standards, for example for white goods, to ensure what we pay good money for lasts.

Member

The problem Malcolm is that we are (mostly ) all here on this article because of public outcry because of poor quality products . You can list organisations til you are “blue in the face ” at the end of the day they mean Zippo to the public if they think they are getting ripped off by businesses selling shoddy goods therefore those organisations are not doing for the public that which they make out to do in the eyes of the 99 % as they equate them with the “authority ” to lecture the public on right and wrong of products they are therefore “not fit for the job ” if they tow the party line of not condemning the cheap and shoddy goods sold in the UK. Just look at Mr/Mrs/Ms USA if they get sold shoddy goods the whole World knows about it including the Government they kick up-ell ! We in the UK are too programmed to accept “authority “

Member

A major problem affecting repairability of small goods is the difficulty of dismantle cases, which are generally designed for ease of assembly rather than opening. In the worst cases, it is impossible to release plastic clips without breaking them, and sometimes cases are glued together.

My electric iron is about 20 years old and I have recently replaced the flexible cable for the fourth time. The only challenge is to find suitable heatproof replacement cable. I wonder if it’s possible to do this job on a newer iron. Most members of our throwaway society would simple replace the iron, and I’ve seen new irons in Lidl for what I payed for a a new cable.

Member

I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) to identify the featured radio image, but the nearest I can get to it is a Schaub Lorenz. But searching reminded me that manufacturers building new models to stimulate increased sales is nothing new, either. There are vast numbers and that’s only from the ’40s / ’50s period.

What surprises me is how long it took them to get the sound approaching reasonable. It seems that few had much idea about bass or a decent frequency spread, and my first record player incorporated a four inch speaker. However, I don’t recall any of them actually failing. My father would trudge up the street to the local valve shop as the odd one gave up, but was always able to get them working again. He would buy them often to listen to the short wave (so that’s what folk did before the internet…) and then spend an afternoon taking them apart before reassembling them.

I also vividly remember the ascent of stereo, promising vast panoramas of sound and being mildly disappointed when it proved difficult to discern separation. But the early ‘transistor’ radios seemed built to last, if not to sound good. However, in 1965 I invested in a B&O system – reel-to-reel recorder / amp, 2 x B & O speakers units and a magnetic stylus record deck. To this day they all work flawlessly.

Member

The controls that I mentioned suggested Schaub Lorenz to me, Ian, but that’s just from looking at photos online. I don’t recall old radios and TVs being particularly reliable, but maybe I saw more of the broken ones.

Interestingly, some of most popular radios for non-specialist collectors are bakelite models that are of very poor build quality, for example having no mains transformer to save costs. Sixty or seventy years ago, our predecessors could have rightly been asking ‘Were older products built better?’

Member

IF the radio is German wavechange no wonder I dont recognise it as most of the ones I repaired were British/American . In that case it is later into the 50,s than it looks has FM and yes the 2 speakers are for stereo . Most bakelite radios were built for cheapness as the case molding was cheaper than a well built wooden case and yes again no mains transformer causing a crack to appear in the bakelite above the mains dropper resistance due to heat dissipation also if no valve surge/current limiter was fitted went through valves quickly also very dangerous as reversing the mains wires caused the live on the chassis . The best era for wirelesses ? the 1930,s motorized tuning as well as push button big quality loudspeakers multiple stages =RF stage 2 IF stages -noise limiter etc etc high quality Triode valve at output (low distortion) -best valve = PX 4 just look at the price now used in top end single-ended valve power amps (low wattage). From the 40,s onward quality went downhill for normal consumer radios .Worst wirelesses to repair ? old Phillips ones all black wires underneath no wiring design strategy or labeling although Mullard valves were good . Some of those old 30,s wirelesses had all the facilities of a 40,s communication receiver-BFO etc .

Member

I do recall burned rear panels and bakelite cases too hot to touch, live chassis and even mains cables used as external droppers. The battery chargers for early Black & Decker cordless drills had no transformer, relying on a capacitor to limit the current. 🙁 Old TVs had line output transformers in which the windings were embedded in flammable material (wax?) and I once had to deal with a fire in my parents TV. Thanks to prompt action it was repairable.

I have no doubt that safety has improved over the years and repairability is often poor or expensive by comparison, but I’m still undecided whether our view of household goods being more reliable in years gone by might be something to do with the decline in repairability.

Member

Thanks for the suggestion Ian. I’m convinced it is a Schaub-Lorenz radio. Here is a link showing a fairly similar model on a German website: pauls-roehren.de/radios/schaubLorenz_savoyStereo10/SavoyStereo10.php

Assuming that the wireless is VHF stereo I guess it will be late 50s.

Member

Hi, I dont mean to try and rewrite history but in the early 20th century there wasnt much association between written standards and the light bulb
Whilst today the likes of VW managers deny knowledge of their cheat back then it wasnt a problem.
I cannot find the documentary I wanted and it’s so long since I was in a Library I certainly dont remember the title of the books but try a search on the web for The LIght Bulb Conspiracy. You’ll find a video of such
You can watch the whole thing almost all of the info is the same as I read many years ago but there is an actual recording of a US businessman laying it all out for all to hear. Around 19:04 He states quite clearly his intentions. That’ll grab your attention if your anti obsolescence.
American dream, or American nightmare?
Yes its a bit conspiracy kinda thing but there are references to several things. Particularly patents on bulbs that would last many 1000s of hours. I checked those things out years back and I’m sure the info is still available.
There are so many instances of forced obsolescence its beyond debating about.
There are still bulbs around today that were made before Phoebus Cartel.
Forced obsolescence is what Malcolm wants rid of. You like good electronics you say but even they most likely have a lifespan that could be longer, much longer.
I have a friend, former work mate kinda thing, a former instruments technician and real good with stuff. He has told me countless stories about things not being made to last. He has also said repeatedly that for very little more money one could make electronics that would last a lifetime.
Surface mount has not been our friend but thankfully the chinese cheapies are mostly not surface mount just yet which in a kinda funny way has helped me loads of times. I have rather a large amount of cheapie PSUs in various guises near all powering control gear. All I have to do is dismantle them once i get them and make sure that everything is well insulated, plenty of heat sink compound, cut some pins from the back of the pcb ect. Maybe a little better quality heat transfer sheet instead of a bit of stuff so thin that it is nearly bound to short to the casing.
I have great results just as long as I give them a good going through and last but not least run them at no more than half their rated current.
I’m guessing but Id say I have maybe 20 x 25w to 100w PSUs running at any one time and I have no trouble.
I’ll just edit in a little here
10 years ago in Aug my eldest daughter and I went to AU and NZ. I bought a new phone to take with me. I used it right up to earlier this year until i could not hear on the thing. I he says and now he has a smart phone. No I says not long after I bought my new phone I noticed they were getting cheaper so I watched for about 2 years to they came done to below a fiver for a brand new one. So I have a couple more. I dont think the network system will change so much I’ll not be able to use them but I have been phoning and receiving call now for over 10 years for £25 of phones including the current one or £30 if you include the one I have for my pension.
So today all these super smart distractions that barely last a year and seldom 2 years are worse than my 2004 one. No I cannot do so as much on my old thing but I dont want to. I have a laptop and a camera for the other things and they do a much better job than the smart phone because if nothing else I can see them.
To to h**** with obsolescence.

Member

“The LIght Bulb Conspiracy.”

https:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoebus_cartel

Think this is it, DK.

Member

Thats about in in a nutshell Ian.
I have only glanced but there seems to loads of info on the web,
I hadnt bothered about it until it came into may head with this topic.
I have been looking at early 20th century photos and paintings of early Newyork, Berlin etc and there is little if any orange/red light so the bulbs were pretty white it seems

Member

Here is a piece about the Phoebus cartel on the IEEE website: spectrum.ieee.org/geek-life/history/the-great-lightbulb-conspiracy

It is instructive to search for cartel fines to find some more recent examples in Europe. The name Philips, a member of the Phoebus cartel turns up as a member of a cartel involved with computer and TV screens, and the six members were fined over £1 bn. I used to trust Philips.

Member

Hi Wave, If you were with me a lot of the time you would end up trusting nothing and no one. Even employees can and do fall for the company blurb.
They think its in their interest to be a company man or woman.
The marketing has bluffed the very employees because like the public they are kept a million miles from the truth and if we/they are getting paid we dont want to know.
I have worked for big name business.
I was good, I got to go on those nice corporate trips. It was a job. Take what I can just like them. Real blurb it was.
Flown off to F1 GPs, Moto GPs, factory visits, more than you can eat, pocket money every morning how could you not be won over by the generosity of the company.
I wasn’t won over. I just like many needed a job. The job was good but I could not stick keeping a straight face on. It was dishonest. I’m not good with dishonest. I left, my choice.
All I had to do was manage a dept and be nice to the customers. Tell them the product was the best available. Customer is king, Customer is always right but in reality I knew full well the customers were the cash cows. Sales staff bought in to it buying new for themselves and the company got profit and then the finance kick back on the backs of the companies own employees.
They were going up the road with a product that was barely a shadow of that companies past products. Rubbish. Disposable vehicles
This is the result of our consumer society.
This is obsolescence
The country is a big business in a the worlds high street and we are the customers not the shareholders that we should be