/ Home & Energy

Your view: why washing machines break down

It’s clear washing machines – and perhaps some other products – aren’t lasting as long as you expect, but why is this? And is the situation any worse than it used to be?

Let me declare an interest. I barely had my last washing machine for two years before it decided, during the spin cycle, to start emptying water out through the front door onto the laminate floor of the kitchen. With costly results.

I suspect it may have been partly my fault for overloading the drum. A no-no, according to our expert, Adrian Porter.

Apparently, not overloading the drum is the top way to make your machine last longer. I’ve certainly been following the tip of leaving a hand span’s width from the top of the drum to the top of the clothes.

Spin speeds, manuals and the things they find

John Pepper was concerned about the effect of a high spin speed:

 ‘Way back in the early 1980s I bought a Hotpoint with a high spin speed to service terry towelling nappies. It lasted only a few years until the bearings failed and I replaced it with a cheap second-hand machine.’

Wavechange meanwhile called for manufacturers to show the number of washing cycles a machine has done and provide a warranty for X years or Y cycles – whichever comes first – to give an idea of durability.

‘This means that the manufacturer is protected from claims by owners that use their machines several times a day, whereas someone who users their machine once or twice a week benefits from longer cover.’

Dieseltaylor raised a complaint that we have heard repeatedly about many types of products – not just washing machines.

‘There is a complete lack of manuals to most goods which if available could be read by potential purchasers to identify risks or if certain desired requirements – like an accurate 60C wash temperature or number of rinse cycles – are available.’

Unusual things found in machines

Engineer Kenneth Watt tackled readers’ questions, but also revealed unusual finds in broken machines:

‘Coins are common but you’d be amazed at what’s been pulled out machines over the years. Nails, screws, bank cards, syringes and needles, condoms, children’s toys, sex toys, drugs, cigarettes, lighters. The list ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the disgusting to downright funny.’

With all this trapped inside, it’s little wonder machines break down. But some of you have been lucky (or careful) enough to have one that goes on and on.

Xopher has a 33-year-old Philco W451 model, still going strong:

‘It has had four replacement door seals and a new thermostat. It is very quiet, partly due to the low 800 rpm spin speed, but also because it has a brushless induction motor, a feature only found on expensive models today.

‘When the door seal fails again, I’m going to replace it. I think that I’ll treat myself to a Miele and a tumble dryer from them too, to replace the creaking Philco D421 which is the same age as the washer and on its last legs.’

Comments

I seem to recall a recent Which? Connect survey that asked us how long we expected different appliances to last with ‘normal’use. Data from that survey could inform this Conversation, although I can’t remember whether it included washing machines. Contributors to other Conversations on this or similar topics have commented on the price/durability equation which consumers need to recognise even if they do not wish to fully accept. The problem is that the low durability expectation drives down the budget so it is the perfect self-fulfilling prophesy.

The difficulty in predicting how long an appliance should last is the amount of use it gets. There is no problem with a fridge or freezer, which operates continuously. On the other hand, a washing machine is mechanical, like a car, and parts will wear out or fail sooner if heavily used.

Of the current 28 Which? Best Buy washing machines, three are priced above £1000 and two under £300. It is reasonable to expect a more expensive machine to last longer than a cheaper one, but even a cheap machine should last for years if owned by a light user, for example an elderly person living alone. Many smartphones are replaced after two years because they are obsolete compared with new ones, but improvements in washing machines take place more slowly. It is a huge waste of natural resources if washing machines are scrapped after a few years.

I believe that the way forward is to look for machines that have long warranties. At present, there are plenty of washing machines available with a five year warranty without going down the route of paying for an extended warranty, which can be very expensive.

Cars used to come with a one year warranty, but customers find longer warranties attractive. I know several people who have bought Hyundai cars mainly because of their five year warranty.

One of the big problems with modern washing machines is that they are costly to repair. The problem of sealed drums was explained in a recent Conversation: https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/washing-machine-built-to-fail-or-last/ This means that replacement of bearings and seals is no longer a straightforward job and the machine may be beyond economical repair.

If a machine is covered by a decent manufacturer’s warranty, then the manufacturer has to pay for repairs unless the fault is due to wear & tear or abuse. I manufacturer may then think twice about turning out machines that are difficult and expensive to repair or contain cheap parts that don’t last long.

In my view, it is vital that manufacturers show the number of washing cycles that a machine is designed for on the label showing the energy rating etc., so that we can choose a machine suitable for our needs. The machine itself display the number of cycles completed on the front panel. I understand that this information is already available to service engineers working on a machine, but hidden from the user. Manufacturers could then guarantee their machines for a number of years or number of washing cycles, whichever comes first. That is fair for the manufacturer and fair for the consumer.

No retailer or manufacturer can be expected to pay for sorting out a problem covered by coins or other foreign objects that are left in pockets or otherwise find their way into a washing machine. Nevertheless, I believe that manufacturers could improve their designs to make it easier to retrieve foreign objects between the drum and the tub.

“The difficulty in predicting how long an appliance should last is the amount of use it gets. There is no problem with a fridge or freezer, which operates continuously. On the other hand, a washing machine is mechanical, like a car, and parts will wear out or fail sooner if heavily used.”

True-ish to some degree and/or/but also slightly misleading with a little falsehood.

They do not run continuously, they operate on cycles cutting in and out based on a number of factors based on temperature of the food stored, the temperature set and the ambient. They are however powered up continuously and are “always on” but that is not the same thing.

There is a flaw in the premise that it’s easy for fridge freezers as they too are subject to a myriad of variables in use.

First, the run times are dependent on ambient temperatures. If the ambient is high then the appliance will run longer and this will increase wear and tear on the compressor and fan motor/s if fitted.

Next, what is placed in them will determine run times. Warmer (fresh) food not previously chilled or frozen will increase run times.

Fresh food increases condensation internally leading more ice formation and to longer defrost times.

Placement in unsuitable environments which is extremely common in the UK or inadequate ventilation etc will also diversely affect runtimes and performance overall.

Weight piled onto the shelves will break them, very common.

Weight piled into the door storage trays will break them and will wear out the door hinges faster.

On integrated product heavy outer cabinet doors will also wear out the hinges, if they can stand it in the first place. Couple that will heavy weights stored in the door and it will fail fast.

Having the door open for extended periods (as kids especially seem to do when rummaging) will extend runtimes but also where there are multiple occupants in a home you find that the door is opened more often, it’s common sense really and this increases runtimes. It also allows warm air ingress that gives you condensation so, double whammy there.

Poor maintenance of seals and door closure will result in poor performance (potentially dangerous for food storage), excessive run times and almost certainly premature failure.

I could go on but I am sure that by now you’re getting the idea that it’s not just as simple as the sweeping statement inferring that refrigeration is unaffected by use because, that is not true. It most certainly is affected by use and, as John quite rightly highlights, that can or will vary massively from one household to another with no two having the same expectation beyond the end game, keeping foods stored correctly.

K.

Fridges and freezers can have hour meters fitted to check usage, and intermittent appliances like washing machines, dishwashers and tumble driers either hour meters or meters to record the number of cycles. Then you can have a guarantee limit based on usage (no doubt with an overall years limit).

Manufacturers make fridge doors with racks to hold bottles and milk, so it should be no surprise what weight they may carry. Designing trays that will not break and hinges that will support the door is basic engineering. Equally designing shelves strong enough to support what we put on them is, it seems to me, a basic requirement.

Sorry Kenneth but designing products that are “fit for purpose” is something I believe should be a fundamental expectation.

Kenneth – I do appreciate that use (and misuse) can affect the life of fridges and freezers and accept that many are sited with poor ventilation or with doors left ajar frequently, sited alongside ovens, or used in other ways that result in the compressor running far more than it should. I have seen numerous freezers left on ‘fast-freeze’, so the compressor runs continuously. When I’ve pointed this out to owners they have sometimes assumed that this shows that their freezer is running. 🙁

There are numerous ways that problems can be designed out of equipment at little extra cost. For years, many cars have had combined switches for headlights and foglights, so turning off the headlights also turns off the foglights. That simple, inexpensive design feature helped eliminate the problem of drivers forgetting to switch off their foglights long after they had completed their journey. If opening the door on a freezer cancelled the ‘fast-freeze’ setting then that would help reduce the chance of the compressor running continuously for an extended period, and be cheaper than adding a timer. Fridge and freezer doors should be designed in a way that prevents them being left slightly ajar. If you look at the design of cupboard doors in caravans and boats (and some domestic designs) there is a simple spring mechanism that ensures the door is firmly closed under spring pressure or so far open that it is obvious – a simple design that has been used for decades.

The condenser of a fridge or freezer should never be built into the sides if it is likely to be ‘built-in’. The appliances should be constructed with spacers to ensure that they cannot be placed too close to a wall and a suitable ventilation grid provided to encourage owners and kitchen fitters use appliances as they are intended to be used. With kitchen appliances, a service engineer will be able to see and photograph evidence of misuse so that unreasonably warranty claims should not be honoured.

Products need to be designed to withstand everyday use, so fridge and freezer doors should have stout metal hinges rather than flimsy ones. Drawers, shelves and bottle holders should be made out of materials robust enough to withstand minor abuse. I wonder when manufacturers will realise that commonly used transparent plastics have poor characteristics, particularly at low temperatures.

In an earlier Conversation I made some suggestions about how washing machines could be designed to make them more resistant to minor abuse.

Fit for purpose.

Does it cool food and maintain temperature?

Does it wash clothes as stated?

Does it wash dishes as stated?

Does it cook food as stated?

If the answer to any of that is yes it does then the machine is fit for purpose. The purpose being, what task it was intended or designed to perform.

If the answer is no, then it is not fit for purpose.

This can be determined in a “reasonable” time with any special requirements that the buyer stipulates. For example, the machine must have XXX feature or perform YYY task.

Durability or the longevity before breaking is an entirely different thing. This annoys me as “fit for” and “purpose” are much abused here and in many other places, the purpose is the purpose, the job, the task at hand, to clarify just look it up in the OED. The definition of a product being “fit for purpose” is not a measure of durability or quality, merely that it can and does perform that task.

In fact, if I recall correctly, the SoGA specifically states that this is the case.

Designing or building is such a way as to mitigate issues, those outlined often caused by the *use*, not the product, is an entirely different thing also.

I can also state with absolute certainty that there is no way on this Earth that you could possibly design to mitigate all instances of use/misuse/abuse with what I’ve seen, not possible. Twenty odd years in and the stupidity of some people still staggers me at times.

However, the reality is simply this, most machines in the whitegoods industry are designed to hit price points and in order to do that compromises have to be made, this is unavoidable. Unfortunate perhaps but, wholly unavoidable.

If you want a fridge that will last for decades probably without fault, no problem whatsoever, go to JL and buy a Sub Zero, you’re done.

If you buy Miele, it’s just a Liebherr rebadged but, a compromise. Go lower, larger compromises are made.

If buyers don’t want to pony up what it costs to get that level of quality and durability then I’m afraid that all people can do is to live with the compromise of cost vs quality.

The lower down the food chain you go there, the worse the quality gets. That’s it.

As I have stated elsewhere, the fact is that the market (people that buy appliances) has dictated extremely clearly and in no uncertain terms that they want low cost products. As that is the case what you end up with is compromised quality and durability in order to deliver that low cost. So designing in extra features etc just won’t happen as nobody will pay for it and, manufacturers do not have the margins at any rate to develop them or indeed to subsidise users.

Again, as with the conversation on washers along the same lines, a proper commercial refrigerator alone will cost you more than a domestic American side by side but, it’s an order of magnitude more durable.

Machines are not made to be unfit for purpose at all, that is a fallacy. They are designed to perform a task within the constraints set out by buyers and the single biggest one is price. So things like bottle rails and storage bins you could almost spit through become the norm as manufacturers cut costs on mouldings and material use as well as to try to maximise internal storage space in litres as that’s a thing people seem attracted to, even if it’s not practically useable.

A compromise on durability/quality against cost with a bit of PR thrown in I guess.

In short though, you get what you pay for in general terms.

K.

Kenneth, I agree with some of what you say. However you say “The definition of a product being “fit for purpose” is not a measure of durability or quality, merely that it can and does perform that task.” If I buy a product, not only should it do its stated job, but it should do it for a reasonable length of time – that is durability. That length of time will be dependent upon the quality of the product and therefore usually its price. It’s no good if the washing machine does one wash and then stops working – reductio ad absurdum, I know, but you get the point!).

” the market (people that buy appliances) has dictated extremely clearly and in no uncertain terms that they want low cost products.” In some cases yes, but in many cases I suspect the manufacturers lead this by competing to lower prices without the consumer knowing directly the consequences. Poorer quality components, shorter life, non-repairable for example. Some may not bother, but those who look at the real cost of ownership need this information to make an informed choice. That is why knowing reliability and hopefully durability is important. You don’t always get what you pay for but cheap often means limited life.

Rubbish bottle rails and shelves, hinges, for example are, I would dispute, not something consumers would accept if they knew in advance they were sub-standard.

However, as long as Which? publishes reports that highlight all the deficiencies and advantages of appliances then its own members will be able to make a decision based on a balanced judgement. Durability – cycles, hours, years expected use – repairability or not, extended warranty should be among the criteria. Perhaps £/year ownership cost might be a useful measure.

Kenneth – To be ‘fit for purpose’ goods must by law be of ‘satisfactory quality’.

It is amazing how many design faults can be seen just by examining goods on display in shops. Even expensive goods can have design faults. Have a look at the power supplies provided with Apple laptop computers, which will fail prematurely unless you handle the cable very carefully. There have been at least two design changes but the very obvious fault remains.

The door of my old Philips microwave oven had a thin plastic peg to shut off the power when the door was opened. I was aware of this potential weakness when I bought the oven many years ago. Eventually it broke off. Fortunately I was able to fabricate a metal replacement and the oven is still working ten or fifteen years later, but every time I see examples of flimsy construction, I am appalled by the poor design of some household goods.

Sadly, expensive household appliances end up being scrapped because of failure of very inexpensive parts. We don’t always get what we pay for.

It is confusing to many people, that I would not argue.

How long a product is “fit” for is open to debate. For example, how long should a can opener last? A tube of sealant? A cooker? A car? A teaspoon? A… you get the point, the SoGA applies to all products, not just what are cited as “durables”.

In legal parlance, apparently as I was set right on, “fit for purpose” is not a measure of durability and cannot be used in that manner.

I’d agree that where it kicks in is in the likes of your example, if a “durable” product fails in short order then yes, the argument holds that it probably wasn’t fit for the task, allowing of course for use and all that malarky.

What it doesn’t do apparently is measure durability beyond a relatively short period of time, which is open to interpretation/debate.

Problem with appliances is largely (IMO) that it’s a competitive (pricing wise) marketplace that has become completely commoditised. People don’t care about the quality all they want is a “thing” that does what they want at a price they want to pay and, often as not, that’s as low as possible. This is of course fine, it’s a free market after all but, you need to accept that low prices mean low quality and that there’s no escaping that with products like these so, they won’t be as durable made cheaply.

If you were a judge looking at this, completely impartially, you look at the very top of the market and work back from there as that’s the benchmark on quality, innovation, design and durability. It’s the only yardstick you have bar the very bottom. So you’re looking at the thick end of £10K being the absolute best and working back from there on what can be “reasonably” expected at each price point. Guess where a £300 fridge freezer sits in that equation.

But a Viking SBS FF will set you back circa £23K.

What would be widely regarded as a “reasonable” compromise by most industry pundits is likely to sit in the £1-1.5K bracket for a “normal” frost free fridge freezer.

So the question becomes, “What can reasonably be expected of a £300 product?”.

Given you lose £60 to the VAT man out the gate. Then margins. Then service provision. Transport. And, so on and so on.

The answer is, you can’t expect too much at all for your £300. You’d also expect it to last a massively lower length of time before something broke or, it failed completely than the £10K fridge would.

I’ll give an example that highlights the problem. I need to keep names out of it.

One mid market maker has been flipping out about AO as they’ve measured consumer behaviour and it removes them from being front of the results. They discovered this after a study.

What they found was that people were going onto the AO site and picking load capacity, spin speed and price as search parameters. Then selecting to display by price, lowest first.

Guess what customers did next.

Guess what the marketing people want to do so as to ensure that they show up in that result.

It’s just human nature I guess. You end up on a slippery slope even if you didn’t mean to and, that applies to both the buyer and maker.

K.

Kenneth – I haven’t looked at the AO website before. I see that they list an Indesit washing machine for £199. One of the claims made for it is: “Tested for the equivalent of 10 years’ use”. It also appears to have a 10 year motor and parts guarantee provided by the manufacturer.

Can you please tell us what the catch is?

Perhaps Which? should carry out a survey to see what people understand about the expected durability of appliances at different price levels. If they were given parameters such as likely durability (before a repair is necessary), whether they are repairable, length of warranty for example and perhaps likely annual cost of ownership, how much they would pay.

Like many laws SoGA provides the framework to show who is liable for what and under what circumstances. As you say it applies to most products. Therefore it requires users of the Act to apply its provisions appropriate to the product.

Quality and Durability are key issues in its provisions for remedy. The problem is few seem to have pursued claims as far as I can see. This is where experts should be setting guidelines. I would regard consumer associations as such from their testing involvement over many years. They should be able to put “reasonable durability” to be expected for many products; this would then help a reasonable judgement to be made if a small claims court claim proved the only way to resolve a problem. But more importantly it would give consumers grounds to discuss a premature failure with the retailer, and help them from being fobbed off. retailers seem to rely on ignorance (primarily the customer, but also their own) to deny consumers their legal rights.

I would like Which? to tackle this as a key contribution to consumer protection – surely one of its primary roles. And it could also help by supporting test cases in the small claims court.

I could say I’m rated for 85 years use, doesn’t mean I won’t drop like a fly before that.

I suspect that all they’ve done is the usual 2.3 adults, 117 washes, ten years / average failure time and rate = we’re good to claim that.

Or, some variation on that theme as I’d bet dollars to donuts that it’s not tested to that in real world use.

The ten year parts thing we think is because Whirlpool now “own” Indesit (Hotpoint, Scholtes, Ariston etc) as that’s an old trick of theirs. What they do is give you that, used to be a credit card or something, and then charge you handsomely to repair, more than the average repair cost. Or, get you onto a rolling maintenance plan.

Either way, you’re no better off than taking the risk yourself than paying the company or companies to do it for you.

Looks good though at point of sale. Although I suppose it could be argued that it’s misleading but, there again, it’ll have been checked over by a squadron of solicitors and if people don’t read and understand what it actually says it offers…

K.

Having had a look at the Indesit website, the warranty requires parts to be fitted by an Indesit engineer at a cost of £109.99 per repair (see below). Perhaps good value if the bearings fail but not if some inexpensive part needs to be replaced.

“Parts guarantee terms and conditions
Indesit appliances carry a fully inclusive 12 months’ parts and labour guarantee plus FREE† replacement parts for the first 10 years, provided that they are fitted by our own Service Engineers and that your appliance is registered with us. Unregistered appliances will require evidence of date and place of purchase.
Your guarantee is only applicable in the United Kingdom or Republic of Ireland.
Our labour charge is £109.99 including VAT (subject to change without notice), per completed repair.”

What I’ve seen Malcolm, repeatedly from government, retailers, traders, repairers and consumers, is that they think in abstract terms on this. There is a seemingly immovable perception that a “widget” should last X, Y or Z number of months/years.

This is an incorrect way to think on it.

A widget will last as long as it was intended to do usually barring a failure for some reason but, that timespan will be dependent on any number of factors. So, it’s impossible to quantify the anticipated life of a mechanical product unless it is used exactly as tested, same conditions and so forth.

If you deviate from this then you will affect the time it will last, either way.

That’s what makes this notion of pinning an “expected life” in terms of years almost impossible, the point I was trying to make in answer to wavechange above. The problem is, you cannot account for the variables and, with appliances, there are a myriad of them to consider.

I’d expect that Which? do their best with what they have in terms of information and expertise but for them to try to guess at the longevity I’d think was asking too much.

So, if it’s too much for Which? then what chance does judge have with little or no specialist knowledge whatsoever?

Then you’ve the problem that appliances depreciate massively. A £600 product in store, a few months old as a warranty return is worth, maybe, £50.

So, where’s the merit in a court proceeding given there’s little to be gained financially? The only reason to do it is on principal and on the understanding that you will probably lose money, even if you win.

I’d imagine this is why not many claims are ever brought, it’s not worth the hassle, time or cost.

Why?

Because the machines are so cheap in the first place and, we’re right back where we started. 😉

K.

If this was a genuine offer they would supply parts free of charge to a qualified repairer. Our local chap charges around £45 call out if I remember rightly. So this is simply,on average, a fully paid for repair in a different guise. Deceitful.

A family member bought a new house already equipped with appliances – otherwise they would have specified different makes. The dishwasher was Indesit and not greatly used. The heater failed after 2 years. Fortunately, (and not recommended) they bought an extended warranty operated by Domestic and General. When they booked the repair they were told of the horrendous call out charge they had saved – £110. It paid them in this case but under other circumstances they would have ditched the toy appliance and bought a more reliable make.

Manufacturers a making appliances that are not fit for purpose if they fail so soon. It is not just the cost of repair that matters (and how long till it goes wrong again) but the inconvenience of being without it. I bought a Miele dishwasher that had a 10 year repair or replace warranty for £648. It washes dishes brilliantly. Costing me £65 a year. Buy a £230 Indesit that lasts 2 years and it costs you £115 a year. Seems a logical choice to me even on credit. Time will tell.

This is why wavechange, that the more “canny” owners of Hotpoints, Hoovers etc often used to call out a local independent before they phoned Hotpoint or Hoover.

If it was just a pump, a set of carbons or something else minor they’d have had the local guy do it with genuine parts.

Now I fully realise that this is disingenuous at best, possibly a breach of contract that would invalidate the warranty and, if you got caught at it that’s the outcome but, I can also appreciate why people would chance it. But, it also pushed up the average repair cost in general with the manufacturers so, the prices rose to compensate for the people that weren’t playing by the rules. Which in turn only serves to make the problem worse.

But people don’t seem to see it that way, they just see it as the cheapest possible outcome for them. I very much doubt they’d give a monkey about anyone else.

K.

But if it washed dishes Malcolm, it was indeed fit for purpose and all the more so as it did so for two years.

How do Indesit know how much it was used, they only have the customer’s word for that, nothing more unless there’s any evidence to indicate either way. And, I’ll point out that many people can be extremely deceitful in this regard.

A heater failed, no big deal. They fail, it’s just an element much like a light bulb, they go and are a relatively common failure across all brands, Miele included. It’s bad luck it failed after two years but, it’s just a routine failure, nothing out of the ordinary.

K.

We can demand is a reasonable expectation of operating life (whether in time or cycles) and this is what can be established. Manufacturers then design accordingly and purchasers have a choice of cheap and short-lived or more expensive and longer life. Having been in manufacturing I know that life can be reasonably-well predicted depending on the design, manufacturing quality and component quality. This does not mean every item must last for its design life, but a manufacturer can estimate the likley early failures, build the cost of remedy into the product and then offer an appropriate warranty. Nothing comes free.

Once upon a time most cars had a 12 month warranty. No-one deviated so customers had to live with it. Now we have 3 to 7 year warranties. There may be faults in that time but the customer does not have to worry about the cost (apart from wear and tear items). Part of this is of course competition, particularly among new entrants, but it does make all the others think about their strategy – and no doubt building to a standard that mitigates any remedial costs.

kenneth, sorry – 2 years and it failed might be bad luck but to remedy such “bad luck” is expensive and I am simply pointing out that this cheap machine is not cheap in reality. It would have cost almost as much to repair as buying another machine. So the moral is, find a decent machine in the first place with less likelihood of such”bad luck”.

I’ve never had a heater in a washing machine or dishwasher fail in 35 years of owning appliances. I do not believe 2 years is a reasonable life for a decent quality heater – hence my use of the term “toy appliance”.

My main point though is people should be made aware of just what they are likely to get for their money; it may alter their buying habit. Who knows? Which? could help find out.

I agree.

I’ve agitated DEFRA, WRAP, EA, manufacturers and goodness knows who all to try to get an average lifespan on the energy labels but it seems only to fall on deaf ears.

But then, the producers of cheap product who completely dominate the market now aren’t exactly going to fall over themselves to see that are they?

Cars are a whole different proposition, they’re desirable and people research what they’re buying to a great degree, look into overall costs and so on. They don’t with low cost appliances and they’re not desirable at all as well as carrying out tasks many would rather not undertake.

Many manufacturers and brands have tried long warranties, it hasn’t worked, people appear not to care and just herd toward the lowest ticket price.

And again, we’re right back where we started. 😉

K.

That’s where the “expert” part comes in Malcolm.

Dishwasher heater fail on a regular basis, we’ll sell several score a month. Even in warranty repairs, it’s a commonly used component.

So, not common to you perhaps but very common to me and most repairers.

K.

Kenneth – I’m with Malcolm about heaters. My Philips washing machine still has its original heater after 33 years, and it’s used about three times a week. My Heatrae electric shower was in the house when I moved in 33 years ago, it is used daily, and both heaters are still working. I suspect it dates from 1975, when the house was built. I’m in a hard water area too. On the other hand I’ve had two kettle heaters burn out in less than three years. Of course a heater or any other component can fail prematurely but that should happen rarely. It’s not appropriate to compare a heater with a light bulb because that can easily be replaced by the user.

If manufacturers are going to turn out products that fail prematurely, they should pay for repairs.

Kenneth, if some dishwasher heaters (and presumably, by the same token, those in washing machines) fail relatively quickly then do you know why? Is it down largely to scale build up in hard water? And are failures spread across all makes of machine equally – from Miele down to Indesit? As an engineer I would suggest the heater is a prime target to improve, to eliminate short working life in cheap machines. Why should we otherwise tolerate cheap components that knowingly limit the working life of an appliance?

Sorry, I disagree.

Parts fail, that’s it.

Yes it’s annoying, yes it’s inconvenient and yes, it can be expensive but they fail on occasion and that’ll be that. It doesn’t automatically follow that it has to be someone’s fault or that someone else should foot the cost.

Light bulbs fail, are you to say the same there, that they should have lasted twenty years but this one’s only done five in light use, so give me a new one FOC? With no evidence to support that premise.

That is wholly unreasonable in my estimation.

At least in a car there’s an odometer to give you a clue and a control unit that will tell you how it’s been driven. On a cheap appliance or a light bulb the manufacturer is as much in the dark as you are as to determining reason and cause.

Of course, you can build that in but, it’d come at a significant cost.

Most people will still just but the cheap Turkish and Chinese junk regardless.

But then people don’t like stuff being monitored, they don’t mind miles on a car as if they keep that down they get more come resale time but the Daily Mail or one of the rags ran an article last year about energy monitoring on appliances and shutdowns at peak times, people went nuts about the Big Brother-esque notion.

You need to rely on what you can see in front of you, if there’s an obvious cause or not and that’s about all you can go on, you certainly cannot trust the user to tell you the truth because, if it is/was their fault, as a manufacturer or service agent, you are unlikely to get the truth and yet more unlikely to get the owner to accept the reason, even when the evidence is glaringly obvious.

But if you want someone to pay for it, you can always have a service plan at only £XX per month. 😉

Or, you can take the risk yourself and pocket the cash to pay for repairs as needed which is usually better value, as you have pointed out several times. Which would tend to indicate that you accept that parts fail over time and will need replaced. So, I’m am bit confused about what you’re saying as it seems to be mixed messages.

K.

They just fail Malcolm, often with little or no reason.

You can get stuff stuck in DW heaters, causes a hotspot and they’ll fail. More so on modern instantaneous types but it happened with the old open ones as well, especially when cutlery found it’s way onto them.

Scale is not, in my experience, a really big problem, despite Calgon’s advertising onslaught. It’s a bit of an issue in London, Essex and a few other places but not to the degree that you may be led to believe by the PR.

Same in washers, coin, nails and other metallic objects that sit on the heater will pop it.

In cookers it’s often grease build up.

Like toasters, bulbs and so on though they can just pop with no apparent rhyme nor reason, it’s just one of those things.

Unless it’s repeatedly that they fail. Then there’s an issue either with the heater, use or another component causing it to go.

But as a one off failure, nothing special or unusual about it at all.

K.

Kenneth, I do accept that part will fail, but they should have a reasonable life.

For a decent appliance with reasonable life you need to balance the cost of an extended warranty against paying for repairs yourself. I thought the Miele warranty cost to be a good deal. Unusual.

Secret monitoring – hours used or cycles – is easy to include.

Perhaps Which? would look at durability, causes of failure, and how to inform consumers as to the real costs they are likely to encounter. Then consumers (some anyway) will be in a better position to make an informed decision.

Monitoring isn’t so easy on appliances.

The stuff that can be pulled down from a car’s ECU is immense as it’s a very complex computer in essence. It can tell you the speeds, G forces and all manners of stuff. That makes monitoring warranty claims and so on a breeze in a lot of cases as, there’s hard incontrovertible evidence.

An appliance, you’d perhaps be abel to monitor hours of use without too much hassle but beyond that, massive extra cost.

Keep in mind that the main electronics in these things don’t ‘even have the power of a decent calculator, they are not technically complex, despite what may be touted. Some have a bit more technical grunt but, it’s a bit, not a lot, you might get to the power of an old 386 PC, maybe.

The reason being that the environment they are in usually isn’t exactly what you’d label as “electronics friendly”, water, grease, heat, vibration and so on. To make them cope with that and be reliable over a long period as well as the sensors needed, not cheap.

K.

Kenneth – If it’s not too much hassle to monitor hours of use, why not display this, or the number of cycles? It would be helpful to users and might avoid claims from vexatious customers when they realise how much they have used their washing machine.

A simple solution for protecting electronics in a hostile environment is to embed it in potting compound.

Ken, we put electronics in road lights – cold to hot, humid, vibration. Long life. Not expensive. It can be done without difficulty. Hours run and cycle counters are cheap and will be good enough for most circumstances. We need to worry as much about protecting the consumer from poor quality appliances as we do about their manufacturers.

I should have been more accurate, my apologies.

It’s not a hassle on machines with a display on them.

Not really possible on those without one unless you use some sort of reader.

No idea why it’s not widely done, you’d have to quiz the various brands for their take but you’ll get a PR dept answering, usually with some nonsense.

LG do some boards that way. People complain because you cannot recondition them or replace small and cheap failed components.

You can’t win. 😉

K.

LOL.

Malcolm, just Google street lighting costs and prepare yourself. You may get annoyed.

It’s just a bit more than your average washing machine.

K.

Ken, I know what street lighting costs – we made them. A street light considerably less than a cheap domestic appliance

Yeah but they cost the councils £2-3000 per pole from what I read.

No moving parts, limited functionality though by comparison.

K.

Kenneth, that figure is nonsense unless you might include all the civil and electrical works in a totally new installation where no lighting previously existed. A street light (what goes on the top) might cost £1-300. A pole £50-£150. Much of the cost is the installation of the pole and connection to a live underground cable.

As for functionality many streetlights are now linked via the web to central control points that not only switch them on and off, dim or brighten them but monitor the condition of the lamp, any failure, the dim level, hours run…. And they run reliably in all weathers.

There is perhaps a different culture in public and commercial purchasing where the purchaser is much stronger in both selecting what they buy and ensuring the manufacturer gives them good quality reliable products – and obtaining their “cooperation” if something goes wrong. The “private” purchaser does not have this strength and so is easily fobbed off. That is why it is important to group together to be strong enough to assert your rights; surely the role of a consumer’s association. The name says it all. But is our consumer’s association doing all it can to stand up for consumers with product problems?

Indeed.

But the local councils don’t buy one light pole. They buy scores, if not hundreds.

And they will come back for more as often as not.

The same is not true of domestic purchases by any stretch nor is there the same financial incentive to maintain the business, even remotely.

K.

You take my point exactly. Potential repeat business makes suppliers / manufacturers think much harder about their customers, how to treat them, and the folly of selling them sub-standard products or ignoring them when a product fails to meet legitimate expectations. Individual consumers rely on the strength of a group, and the law, to achieve their legitimate rights. This is why we need consumers associations in much the same way that individual workers need representation by, for example, trades unions.

Street lighting is an interesting example for comparison with domestic appliances. There seem to me to be remarkably few structural or performance failures yet they are a surprisingly sophisticated piece equipment with the column, control gear, lantern and lamp usually made by different manufacturers plus installation and connexion to the electricity supply carried out by different contractors. The column itself is a complex piece of tubular steel engineering designed to perform in a certain way on impact and support an unbalanced load on a cantilever arm as well as withstand wind force, wet weather and a wide temperature range. The key to their endurance and reliable performance over decades is a tribute to the quality of their engineering design and manufacturing integrity which luckily are not governed by style, fashion, appearance [mostly] and gimmicks. They are also subject to an active maintenance regime and general commonality of spare parts. Purchasers of street lights cannot be easily side-lined or denied their contractual rights and, relatively, are few in number but have strength through combination. I think that total package is what consumers want with their domestic appliances.

Yes John a very good point and, one I have made about cars as a comparison as well, that these kinds of things are subject to regular maintenance that comes at a cost.

Domestic appliances and many other household goods such as furniture, windows, PCs and so on are not subject to rigorous maintenance regimes nor are people penalised if they fail to maintain them due to that.

This in response to what I think is a huge reluctance on the part of people in general to accept the cost and inconvenience of such.

A good example is bagged versus bagless vacuum cleaners.

People have moved massively to bagless (at least in the UK) even although they will generally have poorer performance than a bagged cleaner and are less reliable in the main. For evidence of this, just look at the top end domestic cleaners and almost any commercials, all use bags as they will in the opinion of most familiar, perform better and last longer.

But at least that action of having to change the bag and filters (you may as well as they’re in the pack normally) kept the pathways clean and clear as well as maintaining the performance. With bagless this is not the case, people don’t bother, filters get clogged up and performance degrades quite considerably.

There are now no mainstream major domestic appliances that I am aware of which require regular maintenance of any sort therefore any upcoming problems cannot be detected.

It also true, from my experience, that most people hardly or never carry out any maintenance for themselves either.

It should come as little surprise that due to this a number of minor issues can easily escalate into major ones.

You can of course get a sort of total care package of sorts but, it’s a maintenance plan and, just as is the case with commercial contracts for lighting, alarms, property maintenance and so on as well as car servicing, it comes at a price.

K.

I agree Wavechange. There is no such thing as ‘normal’ use; everybody thinks their use of an appliance is normal. What is good for a household with two adults, only one bed in use, and working in clean environments will be quite inadequate for a family with children, perhaps an elderly relative, and with dirty workwear to be washed every day. Some people change their towels daily, others . . . well, the point is, no two households have the same expectation of the performance of a washing machine. Now that suits, trainers and rubber-backed floor mats can be put in a washing machine over-use is almost guaranteed and I suspect that many bearing failures are due to a high proportion of unbalanced loads coupled with a large diameter drum. The number of king-size beds sold over the last decade has grown enormously so the weight of bedding has grown pro-rata. Drum capacities have increased to meet these challenges but has the engineering kept pace?

The carpet industry has for years used a grading system to indicate the suitability of different types of carpet for different areas of the house with ‘light domestic’, ‘heavy domestic’ and so on, so that if a low-grade carpet is used in the hallway and up the stairs there can be no comeback against the manufacturer. Reputable retailers will also ask customers where the carpet is going to check its suitability and advise against an inappropriate purchase. A similar approach could apply to washing machines and a warranty scheme would achieve that. Now that there are very few high street outlets for washing machines [and some of those that do exist are not necessarily reputable] the chances that prospective purchasers will get advice are diminishing. The customer can always ignore advice and would have to accept the consequences with the manufacturer and retailer being protected against claims arising from over-use of an unsuitable product.

I happen to believe that no washing machine, however cheap, should fail within two years, and that every machine should be made well enough to operate satisfactorily for such a period with a level of loading that exceeds the manufacturer’s recommendation. Either that or we need to revert to smaller drum diameters and lower people’s expectations of how many king-size duvet covers or floor mats can be done at the same time.

Phil says:
13 July 2015

One problem with many modern appliances, not just washing machines, is a lack of surge protection in the wiring. As a result if even a minor component, such as bulb, fails it can knock-out the control module which is generally so expensive it makes replacement uneconomic. I had to scrap my three year old washing machine after the door solenoid failed and wrecked the control unit and the guy who attended said he’d had the same thing happen to a microwave oven after the bulb blew.

My c.1987 Zanussi FL 812 still works well. It has never broken down but once needed a minor repair to a leaking hose. I was able to fix that myself. It would be fair to say that it has been regularly used by never excessively so.

David J says:
30 July 2015

We had a Phillips Elite (a Which? best buy) washing machine for 18 years with only the motor brushes needing replacing (covered by a 10 year parts warranty for only £10.00!) and a pump, when the machine was 17 years old. Due to rust coming from the enamel outer drum, the machine had to be replaced.
We chose another Which? best buy, a Bosch that was on a clearance offer at the time. This machine only lasted 8 years even though it looked new!. The brushes went on the motor and there was a problem with the motor end frame. Although motor end frames were available, they were not for this particular model. After seeking advise the only option was to replace the motor, as a repair to the faulty part on the end frame was not possible. The cost of a new motor was £200.00! As we only paid around £280.00 for the machine, this was not a viable repair.
As the machine had only lasted 8 years, Bosch is a brand that I no longer have faith in, so we purchased a Miele washing machine with a 5 year warranty that can be extended to 10 years. After reading the Which? article “Built to fail” I feel that spending the extra money on a washing machine brand with good reliability and even more so, one that is repairable, has hopefully been justified.

It is surprising that a warranty should cover motor brushes because these are wearing parts with a limited life.

Miele washing machines have an excellent reputation but spares can be very expensive if they do fail. Miele claim “Tested for the equivalent of 20 years’ use” yet sell some machines with only a two year warranty. Possibly the most incompetent marketing in the world. All their machines should have a 10 year warranty.

Kenneth wrote: “This is why wavechange, that the more “canny” owners of Hotpoints, Hoovers etc often used to call out a local independent before they phoned Hotpoint or Hoover.

If it was just a pump, a set of carbons or something else minor they’d have had the local guy do it with genuine parts.

Now I fully realise that this is disingenuous at best, possibly a breach of contract that would invalidate the warranty and, if you got caught at it that’s the outcome but, I can also appreciate why people would chance it. ………”

I can appreciate some of the reasons that appliance manufacturers might want to do servicing and warranty repairs themselves:

– It ensures that genuine parts are used
– The work is done by someone competent, familiar with the appliance and with access to manuals etc.
– It can generate revenue
etc, etc

Car manufacturers used to require that servicing and repairs were done by their agents to avoid invalidating the warranty, but my understanding is that provided that the work is done using approved parts and materials, the work can be done by an independent company.

Yes, servicing.

Not warranty repairs.

K.

Thank you Kenneth for all the comments so far. If you are right in your interpretation of the Sale of Goods Act then there seems to be some overestimation by both Which? and Trading Standards about what legal protection the consumer has.

After six months, it is the responsibility of the person who has purchased goods to prove that a fault existed at the time of purchase, though I know of no-one who has been asked to provide evidence of this during the guarantee/warranty period.

It is widely known that some products exhibit frequent faults that are specific to a model. If you are ‘lucky’ the fault may appear during the warranty period but if you are unlucky, it could happen just after the cover has expired. Such faults are more common with cheap products, but substandard components turn up in expensive products too. Would you agree that the consumer deserves protection if their goods develop a fault due to use of substandard components, even if the goods worked fine to start with?

That cover already exists in law under the six year rule.

But again, it must proven that the fault was a design flaw that was in evidence from new.

I honestly cannot see any way to prove it though without the data from the producer on fault levels to do so, anything else I would think being purely subjective or speculative as there’s no data to prove the case.

K.

Kenneth – An example might be an electronic component that is underspecified and operating at too high a temperature This can lead to early failure or the component or it may continue to work for much longer. A service engineer could provide examples of circuit board with cooked components or the operating temperature measured on a working example.

Evidence of flimsy construction could be established by seeking a report from an independent engineer.

I don’t believe that we need to involve the companies at all.

Several jobs ago, one of my colleagues was an electrical engineer who had previously worked at a Hoover washing machine factory in South Wales.

He was an expert at designing and building simple, reliable and inexpensive electronic circuits.

As I think Kenneth has already pointed out, some of the most capable “value-engineers” are employed within the white goods industry – so it might actually be quite difficult to find “independent” engineers with comparable levels of knowledge in these matters.

Even an unskilled person can see evidence of overheating of components or burning of a circuit board. If replacement of the damaged component restores the equipment to working condition and the replacement component runs too hot then it is likely that there is a design fault. To be sure you need to look for the same problem with other examples of the same product.

I agree that it could be difficult to find a service engineer with sufficient knowledge to assess faults with electronic circuits but if they are familiar with a popular model they are likely to know of frequent failures. Unless things have changed, mobile service engineers are likely to carry commonly needed parts in addition to those expected to wear out.

Wavechange,

One qualification that I would suggest to your example is that circuit boards make expensive fuses.

If a fault or failure somewhere else on a machine overloads a particular circuit board so that it overheats and then fails as a consequence of the 1st fault, then that does not necessarily mean the failing boards have a design fault as such.

It all depends on whether or not the system should be designed to withstand the 1st fault. If the 1st fault is caused by a random component failure, or by user abuse, then just replacing the failed board could easily lead to a repeat failure – but this still would not necessarily be strong evidence for a design fault.

I agree, Derek. It’s not uncommon for circuit boards to be damaged due to other faults, which is why you really need to look at other examples of the product to discover whether components are overheating.

You are absolutely right about repeat failures. It is all too easy to replace a circuit board without being aware of another fault, and end up with two dead PCBs. I had not considered abuse, but you are quite right.

I believe it is a misconception that the fault must always be proven to exist when it was new. It is just one form of failure.

“Durability” is about a product lasting a reasonable time. This time can be less than reasonable if a component specified is generally of poor quality (bearings for example), a flaw in the design such as positioning wiring where it might abrade or locating a component in an area that is wet or hot, or simply generally poor assembly. These might be a characteristic of all examples of that product, so not a fault (as in something defective but not the norm) that pre-existed, just a badly designed and badly specified product. That, to my mind, is what durability refers to.

You might also be “unlucky” in that your particular product was not built to the normal standard, or had a dodgy component. I do not see why the consumer should have to be out of pocket when this problem may be down to the manufacturer. An “expert” can no doubt determine some of these types of failure.

The way to support claims against this kind of problem is to collate information on failures to see whether a fault occurs regularly. It may be that heaters failing regularly in particular appliances or from particular manufacturers indicates a substandard component is used. Sony Xperia Z phones seem to crack too often in seemingly significant numbers; maybe a design fault that analysis against similar products would demonstrate.

But it needs collective action to make it easier to see legitimate claims through, not relying on a retailer’s goodwill or conscience.

The point I am trying to get across is that, from a business point of view, there are a good number of owners that will incorrectly install, use and treat products. This is a fact.

They will then try to claim their error or abuse as a warranty claim and businesses just be able to protect against such abuse.

In my mind there’s a balance to be struck there and sometimes it works against one or the other, for the time being I think it’s pretty reasonable all in all. Not perfect I grant but, pretty fair.

That said, any claim has to be proven one way or the other and in the absence of any glaring evidence to the contrary any business will not assume a faulty product unless there is data to support it and then take the appropriate action.

Where they fail to do that then by all means, throw the book, kitchen sink and whatever at them as it may well be tantamount to negligence.

However, to assume that they are at fault, in effect guilty until proven innocent, is not the way the law of this land or most civilised societies work for either party and, I can’t help but get the vibe that’s what’s happening in many cases.

I’ve been berated many times for comments in regard to misuse etc, fraud and all sorts but, in every case I have solid, emperical evidence to support that point of view. I am not thinking of here.

Yet when people have random pops at whatever companies, that’s just find and dandy.

I kinda have a problem with that. It often really is like the villagers out marching with torches and pitchforks and, a similar brand of justice.

Most companies do not make products that will fail post haste, they wouldn’t survive if they did so. Asides anything else, the retailers would rip them apart. But if they’re all the same, what does anyone do, what can they do?

That is a large part of the exercise that Adrian was about on the other conversation with, out of all the modern machines looked at only one or two could have the tanks split. That was the glaring evidence but many other things also came to light that marked a remarkable similarity across completely different brands from totally different sources.

To get the products to market, at the price, they all follow the same path, they have no choice.

They are all brilliant at one thing I’ll give them that, cost engineering. The whitegoods industry would appear to be light years ahead of many on that front.

And so, you get stuff built to a cost.

And again, we’re right back where we started. 😉

K.

Kenneth – You have pointed out on several occasions that some customers make warranty claims for damage they cause themselves. I have no doubt you are correct. Some will not even realise that they have misused/abused an appliance.

I do my best to look after my purchases. If I was to drop something or take the back off and have a look inside to see if I can fix it, I would not consider trying to make a warranty claim. That would be unprofessional and fraud. Why should I be penalised by your requirement for a “balance to be struck”?

Equally, why should those that do so be allowed by the legislation to do so?

K.

Actually, on second thought, perhaps I should explain why that this attitude is counter productive.

If you take the line that the manufacturers of whatever (doesn’t matter what) should pick up the tab here then you change the legislation to reflect that then that’s just fine.

Bear with me..

All that a business will do is factor that cost in and add it onto the initial cost pricing. The more you add, the more they add.

So, you’ll pay for it regardless.

Now, the way things are, you don’t pay for this, the people that break the rules do. The odd person that gets caught, well let’s call it collateral damages. At least this way you have a choice to a degree on what you want to do.

Go down your road and everyone pays a proportion like it or not.

I hope that is clear and makes sense.

The consequences of this however could potentially be far more dire but, that’s an essay, not for here.

K.

I would have more respect for companies that took legal action against those who attempt to make false warranty claims rather than honour them and push up costs for everyone.

Kenneth wrote: “However, the reality is simply this, most machines in the whitegoods industry are designed to hit price points and in order to do that compromises have to be made, this is unavoidable. Unfortunate perhaps but, wholly unavoidable.”

There is absolutely no reason why any company should produce very cheap and substandard products, even if there is a demand for them. Perhaps the white goods industry should look at other sectors and learn how to run their businesses in a more sustainable way.

In practice, the Sale of Goods Act is giving consumers little protection outside the warranty period. However, few of us would be happy if we were denied a repair during the warranty period unless we had been explicitly told that a washing machine was unsuitable for use by, for example, a family with children. Perhaps the trade associations could push their members to treat consumers more fairly.

There is certainly no reason to blame consumers for buying cheap products when the marketing gives little indication that this may not be the best choice. It’s not the washing machines that need fixed but the whole industry – at least in my view.

They are not substandard, show me any evidence to demonstrate that. As much data would point to the exact opposite being the case.

In any event, manufacturers of any products produce goods that customers want, at a price that they can afford to pay. If that means that they are, in your eyes “substandard” as they don’t have a high enough level of quality or durability well, what do you intend to do about that? Is it that you wish to force better quality thereby increasing the cost thereby making the products less attainable?

The only trade association for the manufacturers is AMDEA, run by the manufacturers. Across Europe and beyond I’m not sure who does what in that regard.

I’m not blaming one or the other, I think you’ve gotten me wrong there, I think there’s fault on both sides and that’s just where it’s ended up. I do not think that blame can be apportioned really.

I do agree however that the entire industry needs to rethink itself in a number of ways but, that would take cooperation from all involved, including customers across the globe as, the UK is a tiny little territory in the scope of most manufacturers now who are global businesses. So much so that some don’t even bother to come here or, don’t market certain products as it’s not worth the bother of adapting them for UK use or, they think it’s too litigious as it is, gas products being a prime example of that thinking.

K.

Kenneth – If cheap products are not substandard, why have you pointed out the problems of buying cheaper machines, in this and the earlier Conversation? Most of us expect a washing machine to last for years, as with other household goods.

It was you who alerted us to the difficulty and cost of replacing bearings in most modern machines and I’m glad that Which? has alerted members to this issue. I appreciate that pre-assembled components have an important role in modern manufacturing and offer benefits in the cost of manufacture and reliability, but if bearing failure makes a machine uneconomic to repair then perhaps that could be classed as substandard manufacture.

I don’t have much respect for AMDEA, based on some of their output intended for the public. Here is a delightful piece of nonsense suggesting we should replace appliances to save energy: http://www.amdea.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Call_to_support_efficient_appliance_sales.pdf
Is there evidence that the savings in running costs would outweigh the cost of the new appliances? Why is there no mention of the environmental cost of replacing functional appliances? As I see it, the motive is just to get us to spend money.

I hope that at some time you will join those of us who want to see fair treatment of consumers. For a start we should put an end to the practice of retailers turning away consumers whose goods have failed outside warranty. Many of us have experienced this and Which? undercover reporting has provided clear evidence. The owner of these goods may have no valid claim for various reasons, but that remains to be determined, and it is not acceptable that consumers should be told to contact the manufacturer or simply sent away.

Yes cheaper machines are generally speaking of lower quality, true. But very importantly, they are also cheaper, in many cases substantially so as against the best or even a good well built one.

People have the choice to make on what they want to spend their money on and, if they research the purchase, will often come to understand why there are huge price differences.

In order to maintain the low prices, you get things like sealed tanks. This is bad, my own personal view is that this is cost cutting take too far and, in some cases, way, way too far. But they sell them in the tens of thousands anyway as this is, apparently, what people want.

If people wanted better they’d all go buy a Miele or something and all the others would sit up, take notice and move with the demand catering to that.

As I said, about 93% of the market is less than the cost of a Miele, that tells you where the demand is and why manufacturers have gone or are going down this route.

Or is it simply that people aren’t being made aware, until it’s too late?

Or, possibly, that many simply couldn’t afford the products if they were of the quality you and many others would like to see?

That AMDEA thing you’re bang on the money about. It’s marketing claptrap borne off the back of US and Canadian government subsidy schemes I believe.

Retailers don’t turn people away in the way that you portray I don’t think. Their take is that, within the period set out that they have a responsibility and they will generally all accept this and largely do what they can to help people. However at some point that responsibility has to end as it simply isn’t reasonable to have an open-ended “the retailer is liable” type thing going on and to be candid, even as a customer I’d agree with that. At some point it has to stop.

You need to bear in mind that a sale is a legally binding contract between buyer and seller for both parties. If the contract sets out that the goods are warrantied for X, Y or whatever years then that has to be honoured and, this fair enough in my book.

But if a retailer came back after say two years and said to a customer, “Oh we didn’t charge for the extra widget you got, you now owe us £XX” customers would go nuts, quite rightly as it’d quite possibly be a breach of contract. In the same way, customers can’t then come back after however long and dictate that the goods should have lasted longer, not broken or whatever and claim the retailer or producer especially so when the “contract” has expired.

But heh, if you want that double edged sword as, it will cut both ways, carry on with your crusade.

K.

“Retailers don’t turn people away in the way that you portray I don’t think. Their take is that, within the period set out that they have a responsibility and they will generally all accept this and largely do what they can to help people. However at some point that responsibility has to end as it simply isn’t reasonable to have an open-ended “the retailer is liable” type thing going on and to be candid, even as a customer I’d agree with that. At some point it has to stop.”

Retailers do turn people away. There was an article in Which? magazine about the time this page appeared: http://blogs.which.co.uk/technology/news/the-faulty-goods-fob-off-which-investigation/

About a year later, Which? repeated the exercise and still found problems.

Like neighbours and friends, I’m familiar with being referred to the manufacturer and being simply turned away by retailers after the warranty has expired.

I’m certainly NOT expecting the retailer to be liable whenever goods fail outside the warranty period. What I want to see is every case to be treated on its merits. Is that too much to ask?

So, sales staff aren’t solicitors or trained in legal matters, no shock. Why should they be?

As I have pointed out before, such matters should be referred to someone that is capable of responding in a proper manner, that is not the place of a sales assistant. The clue there could be in the title of the role.

The retailer is in may ways simply a reseller, of course they will refer to the manufacturer and the warranty that was offered and sold as a part of the contract. Just as support for software, sold by a third party, is supported by the producer, not the retailer.

When you say “treated on it’s own merits” what exactly do you mean?

Is that to say that you seek redress or remedy as you or any customer sees fit? Is the retailer supposed to simply capitulate to whatever is demanded? Are retailers to simply ignore the contract that both you and they made and just do whatever is asked?

To seek redress outside of the contract is, frankly, completely unreasonable and if the law was that way or made to be so then it would be an unfair contract I would think as it would be even more heavily weighted and lopsided in favour of one party, the buyer. And, oh, we have a bunch of legislation to prevent that, it’s called the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and the basic premise of that is that any contract has to be fair to *both* parties, not just one.

So yes, it is too much to ask and, the legal framework we have backs that position.

You cannot just see fit to change the contact ad hoc as you please or as it suits you, that is unfair and wholly unreasonable.

If it were the other way around and retailers did this you would decry it as unethical, illegal and unfair. Why should buyers be able to behave in this manner?

K.

Kenneth – Of course sales assistants should refer customers with faulty goods to someone with appropriate training, but that is not what happened in the Which? investigations, or in my own experience. Even store managers have told me to contact the manufacturer if I have a problem, which is why I take some printed material explaining consumers’ legal rights. I have found some manufacturers very helpful but my contract is with the retailer and if my vacuum cleaner breaks down during the warranty period I expect the retailer to get it repaired unless I agree to deal with the manufacturer.

By “treated on it’s own merits”, I expect the retailer to consider whether the customer might have a valid claim under the Sale of Goods Act for goods outside the warranty period. If it is a small item brought back to the store they could explore reasons why a customer may NOT have a claim. Is there evidence of purchase; has the item been used in a non-domestic environment; is there evidence of abuse/misuse; is it a cheap product that has been heavily used; is there evidence that the item has been dismantled or modified; does the claimed fault actually exist? The retailer could also invite the customer to obtain an expert’s report about the nature of the fault in case they wish to pursue a claim. (No retailer has ever suggested that I do this.) If the fault is a well known problem then I would hope that the retailer would offer a repair.

I absolutely agree that both parties should be treated fairly and have said that in many of my posts on Which? Conversation.

Can you please explain why the Sale of Goods Act refers to a period of 6/5 years if the responsibility of the retailer ends at the end of the guarantee/warranty contract? Are Which? and Trading Standards wrong and providing consumers with false hope?

My understanding is, as I have explained and have yet to be proven incorrect is that the Six Year Rule (Five in Scotland) as it is commonly known is in line with EU legislation that is often misrepresented as a two year warranty. Yes, UK consumers are better protected than EU ones in some respects.

In short, I’ve written on it at length elsewhere, it protects consumers against inherent defects from new or failure to comply with contract for the period as appropriate.

It does not give any warranty, it does not warranty durability and the goods do not have to last that length of time either as it applies to perishable or short lived goods as much as it does durable ones.

This is why I think that it is written to be the case that the owner must *prove* that the goods were defective or did not comply to the contract from new.

It cannot be used or flicked on and off like a light switch as people see fit or, more commonly, misused to effectively offer the consumer a longer warranty free gratis, that is not the purpose of this legislation at all.

What has happened in my opinion is that the media in general have massively misrepresented this with the spin on it that somehow you have the right to a trouble free, no cost extra warranty which, is simply not true.

This legislation is designed to give consumers additional rights to pursue a claim where the goods purchased were not as the contract stated or displayed a latent defect. I must stress however that proving a latent defect is nigh on impossible and extremely costly, it will cost you more than a new product for most consumer level goods to prove it one way or the other and, that’s just the first step.

Over the years I have looked at scores of such claims and, to date, I’ve yet to see a valid one that was not subject to a general recall where there is a claim (obviously) but since the remedy is the recall and any modification that satisfies the legislation as I understand it.

In summary, this legislation was not designed or intended to be used in the way that you and others purport it and any retailer worth their salt will be fully aware of this and, if you have no evidence such as a report from a trusted source stating that there is categorically a valid claim, it will be rejected almost without doubt. It’s become so common now to hear this rubbish from people that most often it’s not even investigated as there’s too many boys crying wolf.

They are not going to get into a debate with you in store or over the phone about it though, do it in writing only.

Back when all this began I used to see report requests from retailers, many major ones you’d know but, after a while that all stopped. They pretty much all simply reject the claim in the absence of any evidence to support it as 99.99999% of cases will be completely unjustified.

You have more chance of getting somewhere there with smaller companies that are often no better educated in this stuff than the public are but, if they seek advice from a TA or even TS or suchlike then they’re all to likely to do the same, reject the claim.

It may come as a shock but retailers and traders can and do use TS etc just as much as the public and, they are very helpful indeed to business, helping them to stay 100% legal when dealing with disputes.

If you are an ongoing source of revenue, i.e. a paying regular repeat customer on subscription, rental or such then you’ve got more of a chance of the retailer taking one for the team there but, that’s a business decision and not one that the retailer is legally obliged to make.

All of which is why I can say with confidence that, other than traders that act unlawfully anyway and don’t give a stuff (who are rare), I have never heard a single case where a retailer has shirked their responsibility in law, ever.

You also need to understand that depreciation and recession comes into play here as well so, after three years a £500 washing machine is worth perhaps £50 on a good day with a fair wind behind you therefore the retailer could simply offer you a derisory sum to settle the matter and be done with it. That again satisfies the legislation as I understand it.

There most certainly is not the ability to claim a free repair or replacement as you please and, no onus on the retailer to provide that either. Unless of course you can prove that your claim fits the criteria.

Go read the legislation for yourself, it’s not that hard of one to understand and get your head around but you have to be able to, like a solicitor or judge, be able to read it from a position of impartiality and not from a consumer rights standpoint alone or, to try to make it fit with what you might like it to be rather than what it actually is.

I haven’t read Which?’s take on this other than the consumer help pages explaining these things which are 100% correct and accurate, I and other businesses often point customers to those pages as well as those from TS, CAB and so on as they do explain this stuff very well and simply. How people read or interpret the information, I cannot speak to although I do feel that people don’t understand it in a good number of cases..

K.

Kenneth – I have never been asked to prove that goods that failed out of warranty had a latent defect, just referred to the manufacturer or simply turned away.

How refreshing that some companies are a bit more considerate to their customers. I have an Apple laptop (purchased from the company) that became virtually unusable after more than three years of hard use. I replaced it but on finding that the new one would not run some very expensive software I decided to investigate the cost of having the old one repaired. I was encouraged by reading on a Which? website that my laptop, which had been unused for the past three months, might have a fault with the video board and qualify for a free repair. The laptop was tested and was not found to be suffering from the documented problem, so I asked about the cost of repair. I was quoted £841.20, over half the original cost of the computer, to replace the video board and the screen (which had an intermittent fault). I certainly did not expect or ask for a free repair. That would not be fair. Nevertheless, my computer was repaired free of charge.

Apple publishes details of known faults affecting its products. Google ‘Exchange and Repair Extension Programs’ to see the current list. It’s also the only company I know that has details of consumer protection, including reference to the Sale of Goods Act in the case of the UK, on its websites. It’s fair to say that Apple is under pressure from users to admit that faults exist, but Amazon and Sony have not done this when screen faults have been widely reported with Kindles and Xperia phones.

If you reckon that selling poor quality washing machines that are difficult to repair economically is fair to consumers then I disagree.

Please do try to understand what I say.

I do not think that selling poor quality machines that are difficult to repair is a good thing at all, I have never said that. In actuality it’s not in my interest or that of buyers so I’ve no interest in seeing that whatsoever.

I do think that, at the price points, the goods you get are probably about right and they are compromised but only due to the low entry price of them for what they do.

I also know that the law cannot protect people from cheap goods being not very good and/or hard if even possible to repair because, they’re cheap and cheerful. Even if people wanted to pursue a claim it’s not gonna be with the aggro and especially so as you’re sat with a busted machine that you need operational so, time pressure.

Basically, the whole market has turned many major appliances into the larger equivalent of a £10 toaster. Not worth the hassle, just buy another.

What happens is that people just buy what they can get as cheap as they can as appliances, unless planned as part of a larger project such as a new kitchen, are a distress purchase. What it is, how well it works, what the record is like of the brand will often be down the pecking order of things to check.

Manufacturers of washing machines largely all compete in that space. Customers feed that demand.

Blaming either for the result seems somewhat silly to me as well as a total waste of time given there’s enough blame to go around.

The need for cheap and quickly available products and the need for massive volumes to support the low prices feed one another. If you want to break that vicious cycle you need to rethink a lot of things.

Apple are great on the whole but, it doesn’t always work out so well what you’ve gotten there is a very clever recall, that isn’t a recall. At least in some people’s opinion Apple is brilliant, because as I was often told, “you can’t please all the people all the time, don’t bother to try.” you won’t win them all.

K.

Kenneth – You have made it very clear that having cheap washing machines that are difficult to repair is not good and that is not something I have questioned.

As I have said repeatedly, it is not the fault of consumers buying third rate products but the companies for making them. Outside the appliance industry there are plenty of companies that focus on products that are likely to be durable, so why does the appliance industry simply refuse to produce cheap washing machines that are difficult to repair?

As you say, most appliances are a distress purchase, giving the opportunity to exploit the consumer. Maybe this is a good time to sell an overpriced warranty too. 🙁

As you have mentioned, new kitchens often come with very low quality appliances despite the high cost of the job. At least some people know this and choose their own appliances, sometimes even having them fitted separately.

I very much hope that the companies involved in manufacturing and selling low quality appliance are hit by the cost of providing repairs during the one year or two year warranty period.

I should add that most of my concerns about sale of low quality products relate to the environmental cost of manufacture and scrapping goods that have a short working life, though misrepresentation in marketing comes a close second. If products are designed for light use, consumers deserve to be told.

Why is it that you apportion blame on the companies that are making what customers want? How can you possibly do that?

People have the choice to buy better, as the numbers clearly demonstrate they don’t, end of conversation.

There isn’t enough demand for quality machines and, that demand is from buyers. If buyers demanded that, producers would make them for people.

Blaming the companies alone for performing what is asked of them is a complete cop out and I can’t help but feel you’re trying to blame the big bad businesses for something that is absolutely not issues that are all of their making. That argument is just senseless in the face of al the evidence to hand if you ask me it’s just running about like a headless chicken looking for someone to blame and berate for where things are. It solves nothing.

They are not exploiting anyone, that’s a completely false assertion IMO. They produce goods at the price people will pay as best they can within the constraints. For some, like yourself, that may not be suitable and I get that so you must be one of the 7% of the market that would or will pay more for a quality product.

You are not the mass market that the large manufacturers cater to therefore, there’s no point in them trying to please people like you, just as I said, you can’t please all the people all the time.

If you’re then prepared to buy a Miele and be held to ransom on servicing and spares pricing then you’re fine, good enough machine that will satisfy your requirements but, not cheap. Many people either cannot or will not afford that so, they want something cheaper and in many cases a lot cheaper, 93% of people in fact.

That 93% has to accept that what they get will not be of the same standard and, that’s that.

K.

Kenneth – How can customers make an informed choice if they are not given sufficient information? The marketing for cheap washing machines gives little indication that they cannot be expected to last long and that repairs such as replacing bearings cannot be done cost effectively.

I avoid cheap products because it’s likely that they will be inferior in various ways including lack of durability. On the other hand, I generally steer away from the most expensive products because the profit margin is likely to be greater and I have seen many examples where price does not equate to quality. Your warnings about the costs of Miele servicing and spares have registered and I already knew people who have faced these costs.

If appliance manufacturers lose the confidence of the consumer they only have themselves to blame.

If the only information one has is the length of the manufacturer’s warranty, then a simple way to evaluate longevity to the ratio of the length of the guarantee period to the price.

So a £240 machine guaranteed for 12 months would score (12/240) = 0.05 months/£ but a £600 machine guaranteed for 12 would only score (12/600) = 0.02 months/£.

If manufacturers want us to buy more expensive machines that will last longer, they can encourage that by offering longer standard warranties.

Who is best-placed to judge the service life of a washing machine? The manufacturer. So one solution to establishing real costs would be to require them offer extended warranties for a repair or replacement. The cost of the warranty and the length of time it operated would make the true cost of ownership (£ per year) clear. It would ensure that rubbish appliances were shown as expensive to own, but genuine cheap “throw away” appliances may still suit some.

You don’t understand, they don’t much care.

The person that buys a £200 washer today will buy another when that breaks, same price, different brand as the last one wasn’t very good.

Ditto just about every other price point.

Now, look at who owns what.

I like to call this brand bingo or, the brand merry-go-round.

Often people buy a similar machine from the same manufacturer under another brand.

Disaffected customers from one will just buy another so, the more brands you own, the more chance you have. Doesn’t much matter as all are on the same merry-go-round.

Miele may well care, there’s a limited number of people willing to pay that much so, they have an incentive to retain customers but, largely anyone else… not so much.

And Miele won’t shy away from charging if something isn’t a genuine warranty claim.

K.

I’m all in favour of the “£10 toaster” approach to washing machines if it means that:

1) I can get a serviceable machine for less than £200

and

2) if it fails out of warranty, I know I only need to replace it and should not waste much time (or any money) on trying to get it fixed.

In this context, ~£200 is roughly the cost of a week’s groceries (or a half-decent smart phone) and so does not represent an awkward level of capital expenditure.

And that is exactly what has happened Derek.

The only fly in that particular ointment being that, most sub-£300 machines for the past while are serviceable but, it’s limited and that is a situation that is getting worse as well as creeping into higher price points, as highlighted by the Which? investigation.

The reason, the need to cut costs to be able to make machines available at that price point, there is no choice but to go down that road if this is the requirements. Manufacturers have merely capitulated to the demands placed upon them.

People appear to want cheap and little to no hassle or inconvenience and the current situation plays to that.

You are very much far from alone in thinking that way.

Although many issues fall off the back of this situation, most of them not good.

K.

Kenneth

Thanks for your reply.

I think the main problems come when consumers are “upsold” into buying more expensive machines, either by themselves or as a result of “effective” marketing and sales, but then discover that the reliability and durability (and repairability) of a £500 machine differs little from that of a £200 machine.

My guess is that, on average (or at best?), one should only expect a ~£150 machine to last for about 3 years, i.e. the capital cost per unit time will be about £1/week. That is really a tiny, tiny cost for the benefit of not having to make all those awkward trips to the nearest laundrette. Furthermore, if a more expensive and better made machine (like my 1987(?) Zanussi FL 812) were to give a lower lifetime cost, the saving cannot be much more than about £1/week.

(If my FL 812 cost ~£300 in ~1987, then its lifetime cost has been roughly 20p/week.)

Yeah, that is a problem and, sadly it does happen. But not if you research.

To be fair a £200 machine is likely rated for somewhere about 600-1500 hours of use, the mid market ones up to about £500 1500-3000 so while there’s not a huge difference in repairability as such there is in longevity. Beyond this it just comes down to level of use and luck to a degree.

My beef there is and, one of the rare occasions I seem to concur with wavechange, is that this information should be available to people so that they can make a more informed buying choice. It’s not perfect but, it’s better than no information.

Using that yardstick though, even £200 a year is probably cheaper than a laundrette, if you can find one of course but I guess the logic of that is lost on many. Fact is, washing machines are way too cheap if you consider what they are expected to do and, how long many people expect them to do it for.

Your FL812 is a cracking machine if it’s a proper Zanussi one. About £300 RRP in the mid/late 80’s which in today’s money is sure to be well in excess of £1000.

Turns out that was a good investment, who knew eh?

And is it any real surprise that nearly 30 years on the same £300 today doesn’t buy you anything like that sort of machine. Not even remotely close.

K.

I would be prepared to look at whole-life cost of major appliances like a washing machine and have a regular service contract, as in the case of a boiler, in order to prolong the life of the machine to at least twenty years, I don’t suppose manufacturers would be interested because they would have to keep on bashing out parts for old machines and maintain stocks. I know this sounds odd given what has happened over the last fifty years, but what more can be done to washing machines that requires any major redesign? You can’t make them any smaller because their function requires a certain size. Like fridges and cookers, they could get bigger I suppose but since they either have to fit in a small space in a kitchen or are hidden away in a utility room or odd corner of the house there is no status appeal for that. They don’t need to be any quieter. They are already capable of running loads of programmes, Speed is not an issue, Economy has probably reached the point of diminishing returns. Developments in fabric technology and washing products might be more fruitful than continually tweaking washing machine design. So, why can’t we have well-designed, well-engineered, well-manufactured washing machines that last decades all supported by an [optional] regular servicing regime that obviates breakdowns and failures? The service plan could also have grades and prices for low, medium and high usage. People could still buy an economy machine but consumer rights law would have to recognise there has to be a relationship (a) between build quality and the durability target, and (b) between the service record and durability.

John,

I think what you are suggesting is not far removed from the “RadioRentals” approach to TV “ownership” – where you rent or lease your TV instead of actually owning it and the supplier then maintains the equipment on your behalf.

I believe this kind of business model is currently widely used in the car industry, for the supply of new cars under various “never-never” arrangements.

Yes Derek, that is a good model. There are some independent electrical retailers in our region [some quite large with many branches] that do operate a rental service for home appliances as well as TV’s and home entertainment systems.

One major company in this field says it has over 100,000 rental products in homes throughout East Anglia [mostly TV’s perhaps] and that it offers a wide range of brands in washers, dryers, fridge/freezers, cookers, etc. They also “offer a same day in-home repair facility” and that their “engineers fix 90% of appliances first time in the home and will organise a quick replacement if this is not possible”. Advertised rentals are washing machines from £13 p/m, other goods similar pro rata. So over the course of a year you would spend £156 for a low-end machine. Not worth it for most people but clearly has its place.

Kenneth wrote: “I’ve agitated DEFRA, WRAP, EA, manufacturers and goodness knows who all to try to get an average lifespan on the energy labels but it seems only to fall on deaf ears.”

Maybe this is something that we can agree on and ask Which? to push for. It would be helpful for prospective purchasers to have an estimate of how long a product is likely to last. Perhaps this would encourage manufacturers to give their estimates as years/cycles for washing machines.

The EU has been quite successful in pushing forward changes with environmental benefits, so perhaps they could restore the hearing of these deaf ears.

Yes, I’ve been on that particular bandwagon for a decade or more.

There is no reason that I can see this cannot be done. Other than of course resistance from some producers, especially the large volume low quality ones.

The only issue is with monitoring it.

K.

This debate seems to get hung up on “cheap machines” and “that is what the consumer wants”. I am not sure this is necessarily so. Manufacturers compete by driving down the price of many products but the consumer is not informed about the consequences of doing that – poorer life, performance, lack of repairability etc. I believe there are a large group of consumers who want information that helps them properly evaluate their purchase – and who will pay for “better quality”. That information seems lacking. Real cost of ownership perhaps is something Which? should be adding to its reports. A more expensive machine that is repairable and lasts longer may well be the better buy for many.

Regarding warranties these do not supplant legislation. The Sale of Goods Act givers protection for 6 years and includes “durability”. This means if a product would be expected to last for a reasonable time (which will depend upon price) then if it does not the retailer is liable to give some recompense. Inspection will surely show whether the appliance has been abused. But the law is there to protect against, say, a sensibly priced appliance failing too soon outside warranty. it is a pity that Which? has not helped consumers when they have met intransigent retailers who refuse to accept their legal responsibilities. If you buy a £600 washing machine with a 1 year warranty, and it fails after 13 months normal use, why should you not have a claim? It is not bad luck, it is bad manufacture.

Malcolm – Do you know of any retail sector where the Sale of Goods Act is being used to protect consumers in this way? I don’t. Maybe if we turn up at the retailers with an expert’s report that the product was faulty at the time of purchase we might stand a greater chance of success.

In my experience, retailers deny responsibility for faulty goods outside the warranty period. If Which? had used members with faulty goods rather than actors for its undercover investigations, perhaps the retailer could have been taken to court for misleading customers. I do not know why I have never been asked to provide an expert’s report.

As I see it, the easiest solution is to look for products that come with better warranties at little or no extra cost.

The law is only effective if it is used. I think most individuals would refrain from pursuing legal claims through lack of knowledge and the perceived cost involved. However if precedents were set, or class actions undertaken, then the culture of recognising consumers legal rights might begin to change. This is why I am perplexed as to why a “consumers association” does not directly address this issue, with its 860 000 members and substantial resources, including a legal team. Surely protecting the consumer from sub-standard products should be a key objective?

I have commented on warranties below. The only way forward as I see it is to require manufacturers to offer extended warranties themselves. We can then decide value for money on a better basis. But they will cost money.

I don’t know if we can require manufacturers to provide extended warranties at little or no cost, but we can certainly encourage them to do this by making the warranty length an important part of purchasing decisions.

I am not interested in paying extra for an extended warranty unless it looks good value for money because that’s just a way of making more profit.

With a decent warranty there should be no problem with getting a repair or other remedy providing the goods have not been abused. Unless the manufacturer specifies what use is reasonable. My new shredder states a maximum recommended daily use of 40 sheets but John Lewis did not think of putting this essential information on its website. That’s enough for me and if it fails within the two year warranty period I will expect a repair or other remedy.

“extended warranties at little or no cost”. I don’t see why an extended warranty should be free. It will cost the manufacturer to service and this cost will inevitably be passed on to the customer. I propose the initial (included) manufacturer’s “guarantee” can be extended, if the purchaser wishes, with a paid-for manufacturer’s extended warranty. Those manufacturers who are confident in the durability and economic repairability of their appliances can score here by offering longer and cheaper warranties that reflect likely repair costs. We, the consumer, can then weight this cost, and duration, together with the purchase price to see whether we it gives better value for money than a cheaper machine. To many of us ongoing cost of ownership (cost per year say) matters more than initial cost. It may, for those without much capital, be cheaper to take out a loan for a good quality machine than keep forking out to replace cheap machines.

The fact is that we are seeing longer warranties these days. It’s up to manufacturers and retailers to decide what they want to offer, just as they decide the selling price. At one time buying an extended warranty was extremely expensive and could cost more than the goods, but there are more attractive options available now.

What appeals most to me is a decent warranty at little or no extra cost compared with buying goods elsewhere.

If you buy a well-made (and appropriately priced) washing machine you might expect it to last 6-8 years without attention. A guarantee will not cover that so you pay for a warranty to cover 6-8 years and factor that in to the cost. You can then judge whether it offers good value. At present many manufacturers don’t offer this, it comes through a third party insurer. I’d like manufacturers to take long term responsibility for their products.
My Miele dishwasher cost £648 with a 10 year warranty, so £65 a year in today’s money. I’d rather have that as value than buying 3 or 4 cheap machines that might cost £100 a year. Chances are it will, judging by my previous machine, work longer than that.

According to research carried out by WRAP (wrap.org.uk) consumers surveyed on washing machines replied as follows. I’ve tried to pick out fairly from 104 pp to get a flavour of expectations.

Reliability, Quality, How long will it last scored 9/10.
Price scored 8/10
Length of guarantee 7/10

Expected lifetime without failure – median was 5 to 7 years. Those on low incomes expected the longer lifetime.

One significant problem in choosing a machine was lack of information, particularly related to expected life.

53% would pay more for products with a longer advertised life – up to 20%

They would pay up to 33% more for a product with a longer advertised life together with a longer warranty.

80% expected (2013) to pay between £151 and £500. Average £299 to £339 for lower to higher incomes.

So reliability / durability / quality is seen as important together with longer warranties. The research suggests that people would pay £400 to £450 on average for this. Is that possible to achieve?

One problem with surveys is that some folk may answer in more aspirational terms than they would actually behave in real life.

So I do not find statements like “53% would pay more for products with a longer advertised life – up to 20%” entirely convincing.

A better survey would also: “What was the last washing machine you bought?” and “What factors lead to choose that one?”.

DerekP, it is difficult, I agree, to pin down exactly what people will do until the offers are actually in front of them. However, amid much conjecture and opinion at least a survey adds to the information on which, hopefully, we could move forward.

I found it interesting that people expect washing machines to last 5-7 years. I thought that a sensible response whereas 10 years might have been aspirational. Perhaps we should not write off their other responses too quickly – they may also be realistic. A key factor that people expressed a wish for was more information on products.
To my mind much of this revolves around cost of ownership – what does it cost a year to own a washing machine (say). Is the annual cost less to buy a “throwaway” cheap one, or a better quality one, and does an extended warranty (purchased as extra) give a better annual cost? I’d like Which? to look at the value for money of extended guarantees provided by both manufacturers and insurers to see how the numbers work out.

Every time I look at the WRAP website I see a mixture of useful suggestions and unrealistic aspirations such as: “All spare parts to be available for at least 10 years following the end of model production.” I very much that manufacturers will accede to this. Even in the days when appliances were far easier to repair there was no certainty that spares would remain available for a decade.

So if WRAP had its way, and we bought a new washing machine just before that model went out of production, we could expect spares to be available for at least ten years? I think that would impose a cost on the industry that would make appliances prohibitively expensive and then lead to a vast mountain of unused spare parts to be wasted. Better to have the right build quality in the first place, generic components through whole series of models, and sensible warranties . A further point is the definition of a ‘model’: a small change of hose length or detergent drawer can create a whole new model.

It may be that as with cars 3rd party providers would also continue to offer spares after a product has been discontinued. It would be useful if some spares were generic – pumps, bearings and motors for example so it was easier and cheaper to make provision for their future supply. I still get spares for my 21 year old car – out of production for 17 years ; why are appliances any different?

Yes indeed – why do so many appliances get thrown away and destroyed with virtually no recovery of useable parts. I did pose this once before in a washing machine discussion and Kenneth Watt pointed out the many reasons why this occurred,

There is a cascade of motor cars through several owners and a healthy scrap and parts trade whereas washing machines etc are seen as disposables but I don’t know why. Our local British Heart Foundation furniture and appliances store seems to have no difficulty in shifting all manner of machines that people have donated if they are in reasonable condition and work properly. They test them, clean them up, and they look almost as good as new. Provides useful work too for people who might struggle in full-time or factory or agricultural employment.

Eh, I think you’ll find the BHF situation isn’t what you think it is. 😉

K.

This does occur to some extent. The life of my washing machine has been extended by over 20 years because of either a generic part or one made for a different make of machine. I expect that washing machine bearings are standard parts. Badge engineering means that there are some parts common to different makes of appliances.

Integrated assemblies make repairs much more difficult. We recently learned that Bosch is not only producing washing machines with sealed drums (like most other manufacturers) but has advanced non-repairability by introducing sealed door assemblies.

Car manufacturers can make servicing and repairs difficult too. With some models it is necessary to lift the engine to replace the timing belt.

Or, as I found today, plastic dishwasher wheels you need to buy a whole basket assembly to replace at over £60 for a £3 plastic wheel.

Mains leads will filters built in.

Whole oven doors, you can’t by the parts.

Control panels complete with electronics.

All these things are to simplify production and lower costs there and, to save on spare parts in order to deliver lower retail prices or, maintain them as they are in the face of inflation.

K.

Two points:

1. Range, there are quite literally tens of thousands if not millions of spare parts and cost/stock availability is based on historic use so, no use, no availability. I know this, it’s what I do.

2. Generic spare parts will stifle innovation. It prevents any real advances if you force manufacturers to use the same components time and again on new models. At least, that’s the argument that will be thrown back at that conceit.

K.

“Generic spare parts will stifle innovation.” For goodness sake, we are discussing washing machines. Innovation has brought us machines that are less reliable and less repairable. That’s innovation I can do without, thank you. On the other hand, innovation has brought us cars that are safer, more reliable, more economical and longer lasting, and with longer warranties. It’s a pity the white goods industry has achieved so little by comparison.

You can’t have your cake and eat it wavechange.

Basic Ford Fiesta: £4162 (1983) £9995 (2010)

Basic average washer: £379 (1983) £250 (2010)

Can you spot why that isn’t a comparison worth making and whilst one industry costs more and more, the other you love to quote time and again has done exactly the opposite.

And in addition, cars are seeing obsolescence far earlier these days as well from what I can fathom.

K.

I disagree, Kenneth. I think we should make a comparison between white goods and cars. The main manufacturers are not turning out cheap products that cannot be repaired economically. With a warranty period of three years or longer they would soon be hit by the cost of honouring valid warranty claims.

I don’t understand what you mean about cars seeing obsolescence these days. I see far more old cars on the road than I did 30 or 40 years ago. They don’t rust away to anything like the extent that they did in the 60s and early 70s. The last time I had a car let me down was in 1989. My last car cost little in repairs over ten years and my present one has not had a single problem during the three year warranty period. Maybe you mean that cars sold in 2015 will soon become obsolete, but only time will tell.

Maybe the white goods industry should head-hunt a few people who know how to run a business and the motor industry would be a good place to look for them.

The French government were investigating cases where cars had parts unavailable after six years. That was a couple of years ago.

You should call up the manufacturers and make your opinion known, I’m sure they’ll all take heed. Or, perhaps not given that calls for longer lasting products has thus far fallen on deaf ears and, when they have been provided (with the exception of Miele and a few niche products) people don’t buy them.

K.

I have heard about these problems but do not know how common this is. I cannot recall having difficulty in sourcing parts for the cars I have owned, each of which has been kept until it was 7-10 years old.

Of course the problem of lack of spares is not confined to the white goods industry.

Surely much of the increase in motor car prices over three decades is to do with compulsory safety features, massive improvements in specification, superior precision engineering, better durability and reliability [longer maintenance intervals], new in-car systems, performance management and enhancement, higher comfort levels, and generally larger sizes.

As Wavechange has said, washing machines have hardly developed at all apart from additional electronic controls and more programmes – and, to be fair, there has not been the same need to develop in the way that cars have. With greater volume production, the use of cheaper materials, and with less need for technological developments across all the components [far fewer than in cars] it has been possible to reduce the price of machines.

I have not researched tax levels on new cars over the period; they might have had an impact on car prices.

If cars were having an on-the-road catastrophe like the washing machine window blow-outs there would be a public outcry and the manufacturers would not be able to remain silent.

Axminster Tools give useful information on their machines. On all they offer a 3 yearwarranty but machines are divided into three grades for which they recommend expected maximum annual usage:
Hobby, 100h/yr; Trade 1000h/yr and Industrial 1500+h/yr.
This guides the user in choosing an appropriate machine.
Something similar might be useful for retailers / manufacturers to add to their descriptions of washing machines and other appliances – light, medium and heavy domestic use with guidance on maximum annual and total hours or cycles. At least we would have a bit more information to help our choice. (They do it for carpets!).

There are various examples of manufacturers giving a useful indication of life expectancy. For years, HP has indicated the number of pages per month their printers are designed to cope with. Unfortunately, there is no indication of total page life that can be expected for the printers.

@kennethwatt – I have been intrigued by your extensive contributions about white goods and washing machines in particular, over the past couple of years.

The overwhelming message seems to be not to even try to pursue claims under the Sale of Goods Act on the grounds of lack of durability. You might like to look at a recent Conversation where Margaret did pursue a case and received a substantial refund for a sofa that proved faulty after 18 months. On the basis of what you said in an earlier Conversation, the most that could be achieved would be a payment corresponding to the current resale value of the goods. I appreciate that this is only one case and we don’t have all the details but it seems that there is a possibility that you might not be right in your interpretation of the law.

As I read it, your advice, albeit not directly stated, is to buy Miele machines but to be aware that the cost of repair could be very high – a valuable warning. No doubt there is plenty of money to be made out of those who can be convinced that they have installed their machines incorrectly or otherwise misused them.

What concerns me is that here on a website that focuses on consumer rights, someone associated with the white goods industry is repeatedly advising us to accept the status quo rather than pushing for change within the industry.

Unfortunately, Kenneth, those of us who care about consumer rights are not going to give up on your advice. To use the slightly patronising remark you made to me earlier: “Please do try to understand what I say.” 🙂

No, you’re not reading me correctly. 😉

What I’m saying is that, owing to the low value of appliances in general that claims are not worth the time, effort and cost to pursue for most people.

Given that most appliances will cost less than a few hours of a solicitors time, it’s not worth the hassle unless you have a rock solid, slam dunk case.

If you don’t have that, not worth the trouble.

I have never said that you have to accept the status quo at all, unless you can point me to where I’ve said that? What I have done is try to explain to you how this works out in real world use and not in some La La Land where things just happen as you may wish them to.

You can take that as it is and intended or, you can completely ignore me and do as you will, it makes no odds to me.

And, I’ve told you how things could be changed and, probably without the absence of many changes and/or new legislation as well as change in customer attitudes, why they will not.

Again, feel free to completely ignore my opinion if you so choose.

But again you go back to companies being inherently evil with your comment regarding “those who can be convinced”, it’s not about convincing anything, it’s about facts.

If you like you could push for a communist Russia type state run, well, everything but essentially product market and you’ll get what you want, perhaps. But, that didn’t work out so well in the end.

Fact is, it’s a free market and what sells is cheap with all the bells and whistles so, that’s what get made. Even if it’s not very good.

Having written extensively about this I can assure you that it’s not that simple though as you are in a global market, these manufacturers don’t just make products for the UK exclusively and a part of the drive for lower costs is emerging markets.

K.

“I have never said that you have to accept the status quo at all, unless you can point me to where I’ve said that?” The tone of many of your posts, including the one I have quoted from, certainly creates this impression. On various occasions you have said that you have tried and failed to achieve some worthwhile change, implying that it’s not worth anyone else trying. Perhaps that backs up my thoughts on the matter.

“Given that most appliances will cost less than a few hours of a solicitors time, it’s not worth the hassle unless you have a rock solid, slam dunk case. If you don’t have that, not worth the trouble.” For me, the principle is far more important than the cost. The only time I have considered court action was when a company refused to refund my money after failing to repair my TV after three attempts over nine months and on the first occasion claimed to have replaced a circuit board with they had not done. When I mentioned that I was considering court action I received a prompt refund, because they knew I had a good case. Sadly, Trading Standards refused to get involved unless similar cases were reported.

“The tone of many of your posts, including the one I have quoted from, certainly creates this impression. On various occasions you have said that you have tried and failed to achieve some worthwhile change, implying that it’s not worth anyone else trying. Perhaps that backs up my thoughts on the matter.”

And, perhaps not.

I’ve just written another report on the topic and I keep agitating for better quality but the points that I have made, particularly on pricing and demand, are key elements that there is no way around.

No one party can effect change, it will take multiple parties working toward the goals to get anywhere.

To simply assume that you can merely demand that global corporations change the way that they operate to serve their customers needs and to have that just happen is unfathomable to me. After all, they are serving the needs within the legal frameworks of various countries, even if the companies, governments or indeed consumers are wrong, misguided or whatever in your, my or whoever’s opinion rightly or wrongly.

It is a classic chicken and egg conundrum.

If there’s no demand for better (or any) options, nobody will provide it, such is the way of all goods and services.

If there’s no alternative, need, desire or, information to drive demand for one, then you’re back to above.

How you break that is a good question that companies and government have wrestled with for some time.

K.

I am hoping that the combined efforts of consumers’ organisations will help tackle the problem. Here is what BEUC has to say on the matter: http://www.beuc.eu/publications/beuc-x-2015-069_sma_upa_beuc_position_paper_durable_goods_and_better_legal_guarantees.pdf

I see that BEUC report has an appendix that mentions the efforts of Which? to put the durability issue on the agenda. Included is a link to one of our discussions:
Which? Conversation: ‘How long should your washing machine last?’ 🙂

Is some of the problem due to lack of choice and competition?

Electrolux boast of over 50 brands presumably companies who used to produce their own products and had to compete in the market.

If you don’t buy one Electrolux product, chances are you could buy another Electrolux product with a different name.

Either way you have bought from Electrolux and they have no need to improve their products to compete.

Correct answer! 😀

K.

So a start would be enforcing Electrolux to brand all their products with Electrolux.

Doubtful.

Many of the brands are regional so, you’ll have the same product with a different facia and branding sold in different territories.

A good example of that is Bosch who own Pitsos and Balay. Pitsos is Greece etc only, local brand. Balay is Spain only.

Reason is that people in some territories will only buy regional brands.

In the UK they will only sell (now, mainly) under Zanussi, AEG, Electrolux, Parkinson Cowan and maybe Tricity.

Zanussi: Laundry & cooking.

AEG: All but better ergonomics etc.

Electrolux: Largely refrigeration and floorcare.

Parky Cowan: Cooking.

Tricity: Cooking.

You can see how they spread the betting with the main focus of each brand but layered atop that is the pricing points, ergonomics, warranty and so on.

To force single brands you’d have to do it across the board so, no more low cost OEM food in supermarkets, own label anywhere else, cars, rebranded holidays, insurances, financial services… the list is truly endless.

Hence, I doubt that idea would fly and would be met by massive resistance from not only business but also from people in general.

K.

I see your point and Electrolux was the first company that came to mind as having many brands.

Personally, I would not have a problem with a product being labelled Bosch Pitsos or Electrolux AEG as I would know who I was buying from especially if I had previously had a problem with that company.

I can see pros and cons in companies having to identify themselves on their products and think this could make an interesting discussion so will put it forward as a suggestion.

P.S. When I think what to put.

Some of this conversation seems to deal with the situation as it is now, not how it might be. We cannot go on for ever being forced to throw away largely functional goods (i.e. repairable) because of lack of spares, or goods that are not really adequately durable nor repairable – it is wasting resources that are becoming scarcer. So innovation should include developing products that can be repaired in the future, with those components that are principally subject to failure being made in such a way that they can be repaired or substituted for a reasonable time.

It may well be that European legislation is necessary to persuade manufacturers to adopt a better approach and appliances may cost a little more as a result but equally, the annual cost of ownership may well be no more, or even less, when we have more durable and repairable goods.

It is surprising how manufacturers respond to such persuasion, providing there is a level playing field. I wonder whether we would have had such rapid development of domestic CFL and LED low energy lamps if there had not been a ban on filament lamps?

European legislation seems the only way to tackle the problem of white goods manufacturers (and others) turning out products that are not durable. There is already a fair amount of legislation to tackle environmental problems.

The ban on filament lamps has certainly driven the introduction of LED lamps but many of us were happy users of CFLs long before the ban was introduced.

I believe there are many discriminating purchasers who, given the facts, would buy an appliance that lasted well by looking at annual cost of ownership – if they had the proper information.
Faced with a filament lamp that cost 15p as opposed to a CFL at £3, without any other information like number of replacements (life) and cost to run (electricity) most went for the cheap option. Education – facts – and legislation changed that. If you knew the facts the CFL costs about a 1/4 as much overall.

If it can work for something as cheap as lamps…..?,

Th BEUC report on “Durable Goods…..” spells out much of the common sense this topic needs, and reflects many of the views given in this and similar conversations. In particular the focus on Durability as a publicised criterion, and used when necessary to pursue a complaint, is welcome.
It says “In addition the criteria of “durability “ should be included in the definition of “conformity” as stipulated currently the 1999/44 consumer sales directive; the determination of the meaning of “durability” could be based on the expected lifespan: either as stipulated, for example in the eco-design directive for certain products, or as advertised or based on reasonable consumer expectations.”

As well as this the report focuses on repairability, providing information necessary to make value for money decisions and availability of spares.

We will no doubt buy fewer products if they last longer. Will manufacturers suffer through loss of volume? This has not happened in the lighting industry where short-lived filament lamps have been replaced by longer-life ones. Jobs in servicing and repair will be created in Europe. Money not spent on short-life appliances will still be spent on other consumer goods, so manufacturing will adapt.

I hope Which? fully and actively support BEUC in its campaign. A start would be supporting consumers in pursuing claims when lack of reasonable durability in a product brings them into conflict with an unhelpful retailer.

“Ebac, a British brand best known for its dehumidifiers, is launching 15 new washing machines.”
I hope when Which? looks at these it will see how repairable they are, how durable they are and, of course, what guarantees they offer – apart from how well they wash clothes.
The news says they will be will be manufactured at Ebac’s UK factory in Newton Aycliffe. I wonder if they are totally designed and made in house, or whether they will bring in components and assemblies from the mainstream makers (and/or China)?

According to the Ebac website, most of the machines will have a five year parts and labour warranty. Hot & cold fill too. 🙂

Hi guys, me again. And yes Ebac are to manufacture machines in the UK
I have been on their mail list forever and I really would like to take a chance on one of these machines especially the hot fill ones because I sometimes have loads of hot water and i fancy the idea of a British made machine because I believe that we can and did build some good stuff just as long as we dont count BL.
The one problem I have and have had for some time is just when are these machines going to be available in real time world. We have a machine that needs the timer moved on nearly every wash and it needs a hot fill solenoid.
If Ebac dont hurry up I will have to buy the parts for this 10 year old machine instead
I have been reading for forever about release dates and they all come and go
Yes I’d buy one if I could get one

The news in the trade is, so far, that it’ll be in the first half of next year but there’s no confirmed launch date at present I am aware of.

The machines are certainly assembled in the UK but where the components come from I presently do not know as nobody’s really seen one yet. It will not have all components made in house, nobody does that now. What percentage is UK made or not, unknown.

K.

Hi Kenneth, Thanks for your input. I have a weirdo machine. By many reports a heap of rubbish. A Staber I imported from the US in 50hz form. Yes it has its problems but we have lived with it and I have solved the most common pulley falling off one but despite the claims it doesnt wash very good which again has became common knowledge
I’m not sure how they keep going in the US with all the consumer laws etc as the machine does not come near as good as the manufacturers claims.
It has though been as massive improvement over the UK available machines of some 11 or 12 years ago. Improvement in that the thing has stayed going for more than a couple of years and it really does have stainless bearing carriers and the PCB is the size of a biscuit box lid with 30mm heat sink that never warms.
The motor is Seimens. The controller is european electro mechanical and is a sore point as we have been moving ours on now for a few years and thats the 2nd timer. The hot solenoids coil is burned out currently.
I can have the 4 drum bearing and seals in it in just shy of an hour with everything cleaned out properly and I’ve only done it once so its not like a well rehearsed pit stop.
Like all machines it uses a bit more water than published and a bit more power than published
I’ll hang on for a while yet for the Ebac. I dont know whether my beliefs are right or wrong but if what I seen on tv is anything to by perhaps they’ll make a good job of it
Maybe the delays are a good sign that they are making sure everything is right first unlike the last place I worked where I was led to believe everything was great until I was there a little while and then I discovered why I had been so persistently head hunted. I wasnt there to develop new models, I had to get the original products to work to a reasonable standard first.
Thanks Kenneth