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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?

Glenis Dyer says:
22 December 2011

I have a Braun mixer which still performs perfectly despite being nearly 30 years old. The paint markings showing speeds etc are now almost illegible, but apart from that and my husband sharpening the blade from time to time I am still delighted with it. Why buy something new?

Harry says:
22 December 2011

No idea if old appliances were better built or more durable, I suspect it’s just nostalgia for some mythical past age, much cherished by pensioners like me, when things were generally better and you had to hang onto things either because you couldn’t afford to swap them or because British technology was so lethargic that it seldom could offer newer technologies at the speed of (say) the Japanese.
Oldest appliance we have is an Electrolux 1971 upright freezer, now covered in rust but still working, It’s horrible to look at, probably wildly inefficient but we keep it simply because it’s become part of our lives.

You should be on the Conversation discussing old kitchen appliances, including new, improved nostalgia.

Old is not necessarily better. Vacuum cleaners with bags and filters are a great benefit to the many people who have an allergy to dust. My 1980 Electrolux still works but has been consigned to the garage for cleaning the car.

I cherish my 1975 British-made Hacker Hunter radio, which still works beautifully on FM, but actually use a modern Pure radio which works almost adequately on FM, well on DAB and offers the benefits of being able to pause and record programmes.

Tony Lockley says:
22 December 2011

We have a Kenwood hand mixer dating from August 1974 which is still in regular use, as is a Moulinex electric carving knife from the same year.

Most, if not all, electronic appliances manufactured these days have a clock/computer built in, so to build in a fault to occur at a given time after first witching on would be easy. I don’t think manufacturers would do this, but it seems that cheap parts are built in to many appliances now. Being cheap, does this amount to about the same thing? As with so many things you get what you pay for, don’t you, but how do we know whether that latest, expensive, improved household product has been built using some inferior parts.

As far as old reliable items are concerned, we have an Elcold chest freezer bought in 1975, still going strong and never having been switched off, except once when we moved house, again when we moved it to an outhouse and once when we had a power cut.

Wavechange: I too have an old Philips W082 got from friends who emigrated c.1985. I’ve no idea how long they had the machine prior to living abroad. In use on Christmas Day the drive belt finally gave out. Can anyone out there supply me with a compatible ref. no. for replacement as I can’t locate actual replacement online? Thanks

Microbe – It is a polyvee belt and a spares shop should be able to provide one of the correct length because they are very common. The motor position can be adjusted to provide the correct belt tension, and it is a very easy job. Best of luck.

Sorry – I forgot to say that I do not know of anyone selling spares for this model. You could enquire but showing the broken belt to a dealer would probably be more successful.

My old appliances still in use include a 30 year old Moulinex blender (static type not handheld) with coffee grinder attachment still works too, a 1920s iron not sure of make, complete with cute green lamp (that I have seen in a museum also somewhat embarrassing!), and, a hand held motorised whisk also from Moulinex 30 years old.

To contrast this with the newer gadgets: Braun hand blender, spent about £40 on so not cheapest, died in about day over the year, replaced with a higher end Braun £130 supposed prof range) died in about a year. Parted company with Braun, got a Breville 4 months ago so cannot tell if will die in 8 months yet.

No new electrical appliances from any brand name, except perhaps for ISE, are built to be reliable AND repairable.

We’re all being told about how important it is to “save” the environment and we’re paying a higher price for as a result, so why don’t these do-gooders insist that electrical appliances are built to be more reliable and actually repairable? How can it possibly be “environmentally friendly” to frequently throw away electrical goods of any size every few years or – in some cases – in less than 15 months (yes MONTHS), despite new electrical appliances claiming to use less energy than older appliances? If the do-gooders were really interested in “saving” the environment, they would be working tirelessly to put a stop to these throw-away electrical goods. Instead, they insist on charging us more money for “green” taxes and make us all feel like we are not allowed to use “too much” electricity, water, gas etc.

Besides electrical goods, everyday household items are so appallingly manufactured and break too easily, and of course 99% of them are made in the far East, usually China. Now I find myself buying older goods from charity shops or eBay because new products break too easily and do not last very long.

I am not quite sure who you mean by do-gooders, David. It is not easy for individual to persuade manufacturers to produce reliable appliances, since their aim is to encourage us to buy new products. Despite the fact that some modern products are unreliable, a lot of equipment taken for recycling is in good working condition and presumably disposed of because people are conditioned into thinking that new is best. Too much money and not enough sense, in my opinion.

Until the 1950s or 60s many people repaired their own domestic appliances, often because they could not afford or justify buying replacements. Many modern appliances CAN easily be repaired and sometimes help is available on websites. If something is already broken then there is little to be lost by having a go. Obviously it is necessary to respect mains electricity but microwave ovens and old CRT TVs are probably the only domestic appliances that are likely to still contain dangerous voltages when switched off, and that is easily dealt with. I would rather dismantle and repair my coffee maker than watch the latest film that is full of gratuitous violence or watch some of the trash on TV. Even if I can’t fix it or decide that it is beyond repair, it is satisfying to know that I have done my best to avoid unnecessary waste.

Wavechange: I eventually found an online co. (Easyspares) that has supplied me with an amazing competitively priced replacement washing machine belt that fits my outwardly rusty though still going strong pre1985 Philips W 082 Variatronic. I can’t believe my luck for such an old machine. “So there!” David. Some of us are doing our best for Global Warming? Lol

Thanks Microbe. I have used Easyspares to buy oven door springs for my 1982 Belling cooker. I have a 1990s Philips microwave. I mended the door safety interlock ten years ago and replaced the bulb recently, but it’s still working fine.

My washing machine will hopefully still be working on its 30th birthday, next month. Time to check the (original) drive belt and inspect the motor brushes I think.

Above these appliances is my trusty Glow-worm boiler, which dates from 1991 or before. It has had two replacement thermocouples and the pump is just as old.

Long may your appliances work, Microbe.

Young says:
8 February 2012

We bought a (Which? recommended) Miele S4210 cylinder vacuum cleaner a few years ago. It performed well but then suddenly – without warning – it died on us. The repairer confirmed that although still mechanically sound, it required a replacement circuit board costing around £80. A new cleaner – with at least two years’ guarantee – could be purchased for not much more than this.

So we bought one – a Bosch BSG71266GB (also Which? recommended). Again, this did an excellent job for just over 24 months before suddenly conking out last week. And again, the diagnosis is that the motor is in good nick, but requires a replacement electronic component costing £80(+).

Bosch and Miele both make much of their corporate environmental credentials. But there’s nothing very green about a pricing policy which encourages customers to chuck out (almost) perfect machines and buy brand new ones when a minor component fails.

Might Which? consider pursuing manufacturers about this matter, and publishing their responses?

(By contrast, my grandparents were still happily using in the 1960s an Electrolux cylinder cleaner that they’d bought some 40 years earlier. Any repairs were straightforward and inexpensive…)

jamie says:
2 July 2013

hello, we still have & use a indesit 2111 dishwasher, from the early to mid 80s, apart from the odd drain pump its still going strong, yes its noisey, but i washes everything!! so why replace it, my mates beko bakes more food on the plates than it washes off

peter says:
6 August 2013

Retro stuff,I love it.
All my kitchen equipment is vintage, the fridge a 1959 prestcold.The cooker a moffat fiesta like the stove in bewitched is 1961.A hotpoint kettle electric kettle which I reckin to be 1930’s and various coffee pots and mixers.
The look feel and design of these appliances is just wonderful.
Plastic….nah not for me,

Richard says:
8 April 2014

Wow, I’m still amazed that there are appliances and other works of old tech are still working to this day. I have an old Sharp Carousel Mk 2 microwave oven model # R-4850 that was made in the 1980’s. I was born in 1985, I’m 28 years old and my old microwave is still working like a charm, minus a light bulb and a missing meat thermometer lol. I hope my microwave will still continue to warm up my food whenever I’m hungry and I hope to all who still love using old appliances and other works of old tech continue to encourage others to realize that old things can do just as good as the current.

steve says:
19 November 2014

Goods are not built to last because if they did people would not spend their hard earned cash on buying a new one. There is no reason why appliances and things like cars could not be built to last much longer its just that our economic system will not allow such ideas to become mainstream. The Government and corporations want you to work like a dog and then spend your money on crap that has a limited life span – so you need to work harder to buy more crap and so it goes round.
Just a thought – once things were made to last 18th century Longcase clocks were built to last 100s of years – many are still going after being repaired every 30 years or so. The first atmospheric steam engines were built in the 1720s and many were still going strong at the start of the 20th century. Please believe there is no technological reason why thing cant be built to last its just our economic system doesnt want to allow it.

Ben says:
21 May 2015

I agree with all these points here and I am wildly enthusiastic about the longevity of old appliances even though many of them are already from before my time, especially considering I originate from the generation which came just before household appliances offically became part of the ‘throw away society’ we are very familiar with today.

I myself have a few old ancient appliances that are still running within my household that I am quite proud of, most notably a Hotpoint washing machine from the 1990s. I believe it was manufactured in 1996 and just about ages me. It was a great machine and originally belong to my Granny who owned it for a good number of years, 1996 to 2012 I believe before only giving it up because Hotpoint sent her a letter offering her discount on a new machine which she took up. After that it sat in her garage for a year before we took in it as a regular running machine after our notoriously unreliable Dyson broke, or more specifically, overfilled and leaked slowly everytime we had a wash on. We still have it today and have only had to change the brushes since but when it finally does break, I’m keeping hold of it, it’s too good to lose and a restoration will be in order I believe.

Also, we have a microwave clocking up 21 years this year, bought by my parents after their wedding, a Panasonic Genius Digital Microwave and the best that money could buy at the time. It has one of those older digital screens with the green/blue lettering (does anyone know whether that has a specific name? I always wondered) and it still does it’s job perfectly today the only breakdown being when the door hinge had to be replaced after it was damaged being slammed numerous times due to its high position.

Other notable mentions: Glow Worm Spacesaver Boiler (30 years approx), integrated Whirpool fridge and freezer (20 years), and JVC radio (20 years or more).

I really do love old appliances and still believe they do a better job than new ones and were made with a lot more quality and care and that’s why I intend to keep them running for as long as possible.

Hi Ben – It sounds like your microwave has an electroluminescent display. I have a Glow Work Spacesaver boiler too. It was in the bungalow when I moved in, in 1982.

GG3180 says:
22 October 2015

Our Moffat gas hob was installed in 1975 and is still going strong. We will be replacing it soon when we upgrade our kitchen but do not expect the new equipment to last as long. We replaced our 1975 Creda oven with a newer model 10 years ago and it is already falling apart so no, modern appliances do not last as long!

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These days there seems to be a perception that people will not pay the money for decent products that are durable. I must be on my own then. I’d rather buy a car that I can keep going, with repairs, for 20 years, a dishwasher that will last more than 10 years, power tools that can do an accurate job and last. furniture that doesn’t need replacing after 5 years. I am prepared to pay for them. It is just harder work finding them. I go without other stuff perhaps – you can only spend money once – but in the long term you end up better off. Well, that’s my philosophy.

I would like Which? to devote some of its efforts to looking properly at product durability to help source those that will last. But if I’m on my own……………..

You’re not on your own Malcolm. At least not quite yet although a dying breed it would seem.

I would appear that only some people will pay for quality and durability coupled with long term repairability.

Most seem to want the latest, greatest, biggest and best irrespective of whether it’s any good or not and, at the lowest possible price.

Research in my industry indicates (albeit from manufacturers largely so, how much it can be trusted is debatable) that people want to buy new “stuff” every 5-8 years. Why, I have no clue. The argument goes that a new look is wanted or it’s “grubby”.

I don’t necessarily agree with it personally but, it would seem that’s what a lot of people want so, manufacturers merely capitulate to the consumer and do what their customers want them to.

As the monicker suggests, consume.


Kenneth, you say “although a dying breed”. I’m now worried about what other people know. I’ve recently had emails about pre-paid funeral plans, and Which? offering me up to £90 off a will. Now you! What don’t I know??? 🙁

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Repairability is a key factor because household electrical goods often develop faults, even if they are not serious. Like Duncan I used to repair valve radios and TVs, just as a hobby. The build quality was generally fairly mediocre but repairs could be carried out cheaply and without much difficulty, thanks to the relative simplicity. That has all changed.

Like Duncan, I despair of the quality of shredders sold for home use. I have killed two within the past year and the current one is not sounding good, though I oil it religiously and shred only half the maximum number of sheets per pass.

My experience with electrical goods is that cheap goods are generally unsatisfactory and/or unreliable but that expensive products are often not as reliable as you might expect.

Sometimes replacing goods is sensible. We couldn’t wait to replace the ungainly CRT TV with a flat-screen model.

My oldest electric article in regular use is a 1968 Black & Decker two-speed power drill. I have newer and better drills including cordless ones but I still like using the old orange and grey drill with its separate chuck key which secures the bit better than in some modern drills with a hand-tightened chuck.

Flat screen TVs are wonderful, but unrepairable, even by professionals. Our bank gives us (free) three years extended warranty on more or less anything we buy, and about seven years ago we bought a Sony Bravia 50″ TV. At about 16 months it abruptly started to display multiple images, so we contacted the Bank’s insurers and they sent a chap to sort it out. He couldn’t fix it there and then, he claimed, so had to take it away, leaving us to tune in to the wallpaper (shows were a bit past the paste…) for a few weeks until a ‘phone call from the insurers telling us the set was economically inviable to repair and would we like a new, better set?

So it seems society is evolving to the disposable fairly swiftly.

John, When the picture on our CRT TV shrank and darkened I actually considered buying another CRT one – because of better picture quality – but they were in their death throes so we bought a Pioneer plasma tv. Cost a lot but that was 9 -10 years ago. It has a brilliant picture – hardly ever use HD. Why should I want to change it before it eventually dies. It is not smart, nor curved, but I don’t need those.

My oldest powered device is aIso a grey and orange B&D from the early ’70s. It fits a B&D drill stand and I’ve made a disc sander for it to power. It used to have sander and saw attachments that helped make a fitted kitchen. and a hedge trimmer. The gearbox is a bit dodgy now. But it has done a huge amount of DiY work. I could get all sorts of spares from a B&D shop in Harrow in those days – brushes, gears, switches.

My Honda rotary lawn mower is now 20. It has a lot of grass to cut. Apart from an oil change and occasional carburettor clean, and new blades, it always starts and cuts as well as ever.

We have three Samsung flat screen TV’s of different ages and the picture quality is excellent on all of them. I occasionally flick between standard definition and HD to see whether I am missing something but I can’t tell the difference. The oldest model started to lose its sound quality so we bought a sound bar which happened to be recommended by Which? at the time as it was being superseded by a newer version and was on special offer. This has enriched the sound quality no end and has transformed the overall viewing experience. It gives sound balance adjustments that are not available easily on a TV without going into the menu [and then limited] so you can suppress background music and enhance speech. So an older TV with a new sound bar is, in my opinion, better than a new TV. From what I have seen the newest TV’s [unless you pay silly prices] have brilliant pictures [sometimes too cold but probably tunable] but inferior sound – quite sharp and tinny; the sound might have breadth but no depth to it, understandable given the wafer thin body of the set.

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I agree Duncan, Many modern tv speakers are simply rubbish. Fortunately there mostly is earphone and usb ports and they combine nicely to make a little better noise and when I switch off with remote these extra speakers switch off too plus the original remote works whereas our sound-bar remains on and needs switched off separately.
Examining the additional speakers clearly shows it would not be dificult for the manufacturers to use these as they too are tiny.
One thing I will say is that dispite ageing I find that noise per watt is much better now than 30 years back. Maybe digital or whatever uses less power for better output.
Am I correct on the watts thing or is my hearing getting better with age??
Anyone know?

The sound quality of TV speakers is one of the best examples of older products being better. It’s disappointing because the sound quality of small speakers has greatly improved compared with the small speakers we had in portable radios in the 60s and 70s.

TV manufacturers have insisted on producing TVs with tiny speakers so that the TV is as thin as possible. When flat-screen TVs replaced CRT versions, Which? changed its ratings system to allow for the decline in sound quality.

Not everyone wants a soundbar or to connect their TV to their sound system. I suspect that there is a market for standalone TVs that incorporate better speakers that can at least be described as ‘adequate’.

I entirely agree. To have to spend more money on a soundbar or a sound system seems to defeat the object of having a space-saving TV!

But there is yet another problem. With the best in-home sound system the quality of the musical entertainment and speech received is especially disappointing because of inferior microphones, poor microphone placement, and bad balancing. There’s little point in having speaker perfection if the sound source is substandard.

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Hi Duncan, Thanks for the explanation. I needed someone to tell me I wasnt going mad. I cannot imagine today’s volume from yesterdays machines at the same wattage.
Thanks again

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Which? – Consumers’ Association – have a golden opportunity here to lead the way. There is a ground swell building to use resources better and produce more sustainable products. BEUC have a report on this and WRAP are pushing for longer life products. It has to happen sometime; we simply cannot continue consuming and throwing away as we do now.

So I would urge Which? to put a chunk of subscribers money into looking at and promoting durable repairable products and presenting a case for their purchase. Through-life cost matters much more than initial cost.

Perhaps they could talk to BEUC and our continental cousins about a European movement to demand the EC take some real action. One way would be to enforce, in the UK, the Consumer Rights Act so retailers know they are responsible for products that should be durable for up to 6 years. Another might be to enforce the provision of long guarantees or warranties.

We cannot go on as we are for ever – so when do we make a start? But I’m probably, with Ken, a lone voice!

Hi Malcolm, I too agree that todays products are often short lived rubbish but we dont seem to have any choice.
Very very little would make these tv’s and things last for decades.
All the components are there, they just need kept cooler and any that are marginal for current would only be fraction of a penny each to upgrade.
However were on a difficult road as these manufacturers base their livelihoods on their machines needing replaced every few years.
On top of that people are again buying into something. The latest big screen, the latest flat screen and now were bombarded with convex screens.
And I could rant about white goods for hours.
Rubbish, steel bearings in alloy housings that any engineer would know will never work and are definately not made to be replacable as everybody and his dog knows alluminium and steel should not go together before you add electric and water.
Control panels so tiny and with so small a connection area for the push on plugs the boards actually fry in 2 or 3 years.
If you want a new board they can be anything from £60 to over £100 for something that should be pence and should never have been used in the first place.
They dont want them fixed it is plain to see
I have a washing machine that I specially got from the US in 240v 50hz spec.
It’s supposed to be power and water friendly which to some degree it is but on other fronts its a bit of let down but it does suit my skill set.
The control panel/board is about “10 x “8 and has a “1 deep heat sink the same size on the back. They seldom give trouble
How then can a board with little or no heatsink the size of a fag packet be expected to run our washers.
Both use dc controls for the motors dc power electronics are commonplace now so the knowledge is there.
But the controller/timer does give jip, Just occasionally mind but where’s it made. You guessed in Europe but its not available outside of the US.
We bought a new Hotpoint Larder Fridge about 10 years ago.
It had several thermostats under warranty and then severely more out of warranty. I always bought OE.
It was so bad I kept a replacement in the cupboard for it.
I didnt want to throw it away and i’m glad I didnt.
The last ones I bought were online replacements and the last one failed according to my scribble Feb 2011.
So how come a cheaper replacement has lasted many time the life of OE.
I havnt seen anything online that suggests there was a well known problem!!

So Ken and Malcolm your not lone voices although I’ll admit to being guilty of throw away also. I have like many been forced into this.
I/we at a time had choice of making a change to a fundamental part of a machine. The choice was stay with analogue or go for one of various PLC/Digital options
I had a battle but I managed to get analogue through on top
I didnt think there was any need for anything else for something as basic as what was basically a voltage clamp.
Everyone is happy now because another company took the thing over and put it belly up.
Simple everyday PCB with basic parts. No factory software and in my opinion no need.
The VW scandal shows near everyone seems to apathetic.
We have a today a great medium for having our voice heard but we watch rubbish on tv and computer with our mouths hanging open like we were brainwashed.
Do we need a 60s protest movement again or are we hogwashed into silence

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Hi again Duncan, I was a child in the 60s but remember the News of the day.
I cannot believe that society has became so gullible and that people simply are not willing to stand up for their rights.
Even yesterday our Gov fired a warning shot across the bows of the House of Lords and no one even noticed. No one cares. Get up, make breakfast in a kitchen that’ll be in the skip in 5 years. go to work in a machine thats designed to stop, come home, watch the soaps on disposable tele. Na I dont like it. I can walk or I can talk but not both at the same time due to the trade I decided to do but I’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone willing to stand up for their rights. Anytime, any day.

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