/ Shopping

The most frustrating flaws in everyday products

Angry man pulling hair out

‘Tumble dryers that don’t dry your clothes’. That was recently voted as the most frustrating flaw in an everyday product as uncovered by our tests. What else is grinding your gears?

Have you got an appliance at home that isn’t up to the task? Feel like throwing your latest gizmo at a wall?

The testing we do here at Which? doesn’t just rate how well different appliances stack up against each other. We also reveal flaws with products and expose the claims that really are too good to be true.

Thanks to our latest survey, we’ve identified which of those flaws wind people up the most.

Top frustrating flaws revealed

To find out which product flaws have proven to be the most irritating, we gathered 10 examples from our tests. These included smartphones that have less accessible memory than advertised, washing machines not reaching 60˚C on the cotton 60˚C program and advertised mile per gallon figures that aren’t reproducible in real life.

We then asked more than 1,000 Which? members to rate how frustrated they were with each flaw. This gave us the following top five frustrations:

1. Automatic tumble dryers not drying clothes.
2. Apps and services like LoveFilm disappearing from smart TVs.
3. Lightbulbs not as bright as they claim (as revealed by Which? tests).
4. Bagless vacs claim no loss of suction, but our tests show they do.
5. Mile per gallon figures not matching up to real life.

Soggy surprises from your tumble dryer

Automatic tumble dryers that leave clothes wet came in at number one. For those unsure what an automatic dryer is – it’s a tumble dryer that doesn’t require you to set how long you want the dryer to heat your clothes for. Instead, you set the dryer going and a sensor inside the drum should keep an eye on moisture levels of clothes. Once it detects clothes are dry, the dryer stops. A good sensor should tailor drying times to every load.

However, our tests show that quite a lot of automatic tumble dryers we’ve tested stop prematurely, leaving clothes wet.

You can read more about the issues we’ve uncovered, who the biggest culprits are and what Which? is doing about these flaws in the September issue of Which? magazine.

But we want to hear what’s getting on your nerves. Have you got a product, appliance or gizmo that isn’t up to scratch? Or have you been affected by one of the issues above? Go on, have a rant.

Comments

Which? I see the makings of a Which campaign in this thread. We want regulations on the availability and price of spares. I suggest: All separate parts to be available as spares for a reasonable lifetime (with provision for the minister to state what this should be). The mark up on spares to be less than 250% of the cost of the spare to the manufacturer. For any part not available or not meeting the cost rules, drawings must be made available on line, so that parts may be made by 3rd parties, who would be protected from any patent or copyright issues.
With this legislation in place, we should see the emergence of online spares manufacturers using additive manufacturing (3 D printing) techniques.

I agree that we should be pushing for spares to be available for a reasonable length of time but wonder if this is more likely to be achieved via EU legislation. Not everyone sees the benefits of EU legislation to benefit the environment but making spares available long term could help convince more people of its value.

I expect that manufacturers would claim that the cost of spares has to be high but I believe the number of spares involved could be greatly reduced if they did not make so many trivial changes to their products.

Your aims are ambitious DorsetMike, but thats the way we need to be thinking.

CarolineMouse says:
25 August 2014

I agree with wavechan and dorsetmike I have repaired several parts in my fridges with tape rather than pay the exorbitant costs of each item . Standardisation of parts like these would make them much cheaper for both the manufacturer and customer.
What about products that end their lives back with the manufacturer to be reused/recycled making them the responsibility of the manufacturer, would they not then think more carefully about these issues?

We have a Neff dishwasher that requires a new microfilter This is of (deliberate) poor construction including a strip of plastic to hold the stainless steel filter in the shape of a cylinder The microfilter is not currently available without having to buy another filter which is of good construction and does not wear out and is therefore completely unnecessary.Total cost £25.I regard this as fraudulent trading. How do we stop it? ( I understand that some Siemans dishwashers also suffer from this very same built in wear out defect).Anybody know how to repair this microfilter?

A way that we can stop the abuse is for Which? in its test results to note that bad design, which members have noted, that is still present in newer models, is commented on and marked down in the test results. Ideally, the suspect components should be subjected to accelerated testing to see if they fail.
It is apparent that many manufacturers no longer test their components to destruction or to survive 7 million cycles of load / unload. This was normal in the 1960s in the aftermath of the Comet air disasters, which were due to fatigue failure. Plastics however do not fail in the same way, they creep, lose plasticiser, go brittle and break.
Come on Which?. Show some initiative, link tests on new products with “old” components to failures in previous designs. We might then get some action from manufacturers.

I agree that it would be good to know more about poor design and anything that will affect the durability of products. Failure of plastics for the reasons you have indicated is a major issue, but it’s difficult to accelerate this to estimate how long plastic components will last.

A good product designer would be able to spot a poor choice of materials. This is exactly where Which could add value compared to user reviews; most users would not have the expertise to identify different polymers and assess their suitability.

jak, exactly right. Most products are designed using existing materials and manufacturing methods with known characteristics. There is no excuse for early failure of plastics in fridge-freezers, inadequate strength of components, for example. However, the effect of poor design in practice often takes time to reveal itself and may not be apparent when the product is brand new. This is perhaps where the wide membership of Which? could help by reporting problems that have arisen in normal use. If they were encouraged to report defects that arise in fridge fittings, as an example, warnings might be given of the likelihood of similar defects in new versions; just asking the manufacturer whether they have made any changes might help?
To make this manageable, in view of the large number of products Which? review, it would need to concentrate, I suspect, on the key offenders. Perhaps we could suggest them?

Agreed. So how about a longitudinal tracking survey of (say) 1000 Which member households over a few years. Every time a premature product failure occurred, people would register all details. A Which expert would attempt to diagnose the reason for failure and over time a comprehensive picture would emerge. Funding might even be available from WRAP as there’s a political will to reduce scrappage and landfill.

I think there is a lot we can agree on here. Looking at the choice of plastic, quality of moulding and suitability of design of components is useful and can reveal potential weaknesses. One complication is the considerable variation between batches and that can significantly affect useful life. The effect of poor quality control is more difficult to predict.

Janey B says:
27 August 2014

I think that’s a great idea Jak. Alternatively of course Which could just do a survey of readers to find out how long plastic components have lasted and the makes. That should throw up some very interesting patterns.

Quality control tends to go with brand to some extent. Plastic components are very sensitive to moulding cycles ie. temperature of injection, mould temperature, mould cooling, dwell time etc. This is where good process control comes in.

Martin S says:
27 August 2014

I seem to have struck a nerve about (particularly) spare parts. I’m so glad I’m not alone! Regarding the surveys, I think it would be a stronger case if Which was to ask all its members to notify them when such a problem occurred. My thinking is that it is possible that having more than just a selected few might mean more products are reported.

I like the idea of all which members having the opportunity to report problems with either Components breaking and no spares available; very expensive spares OR items which can not be repaired, because of their method of construction.

The downsides are that Which may be unable to handle the volume of data and they won’t get any positive feedback (Who is going to take the trouble to report that their Gizmo is 20 years old, has been immersed in salt water and still works perfectly!) Also of course from a statistical point of view it is all “anecdotal evidence”. which is less significant than results or non-results from a survey.

Regarding volume of data, there’s space for creativity here. For example, Which could try a form of member assisted project – a bit like crowdsourcing or citizen science – where members get involved in collating or analyzing results. (Think of the RSPB’s garden watch project). Granted, this sort of thing isn’t for everyone but it would only take a few people to get it off the ground. One thing I’ve noticed in Conversations is that there are some real experts around – an untapped resource in my view.

When it comes to expensive spare parts and/or parts that cannot be repaired the name “Karcher” comes to mind. They use a lot of plastic which is clearly barely coping with the pressure. Don’t do unnecessary jobs with your pressure washer!

I once wrote to Karcher after a plastic component had failed when my pressure washer was out of warranty but had seen little use. I pointed out that the choice of plastic was poor and noted that their later designs used a more suitable type of plastic for the job. A replacement part arrived by First Class post.

All the Karcher pressure washers I’ve used have suffered premature failures for one reason or other. My present one has bits of springy copper strip instead of a proper pressure switch. My neighbour’s Karcher has the same leakage problem that the previous one did.

Other brands I have tried are not nearly so good at cleaning. As you say, use it as little as possible.

Margaret says:
31 August 2014

Small items enclosed in welded plastic are a pain. Almost impossible to access the goods without risking cuts to your hands.

The location of the CAPS key on my PC being close to the shift key – I use the left hand one as I am cack handed. The number of times I am merrily typing away, only to become aware of an inadvertent chANGE OF CASe.

I sometimes have that problem too – I thought it was because I learned to type on an upright grand office typewriter where the Shift and Shift Lock [CAPS] keys were always [and only] on the left-hand side. It was years before I realised that on a computer keyboard there was another Shift key on the right-hand side underneath the Return key. I very quickly got out of the habit of hitting the [Carriage] Return key at the end of each line but I still instinctively use the left-hand Shift key. Of course, on the old typewriters there was quite a steep rake on the keyboard so the vertical separation of the rows of keys obviated any miss-hitting. A little tip: In a Word document, block [select] the text in the wrong case and type Shift+F3 to change from upper case to lower case or to initial caps [unfortunately it doesn’t work in documents like this and in e-mails but I bet Wavechange knows a way of doing it!].

John – We are using different software – I am a Mac user – but in my browser (Safari) and email software (Outlook), selected text can be set to upper case, lower case or words capitalised using Edit > Transformations and choosing one of the three options.

I’m a touch typist and look at the screen all the time, so if I’m typing in the wrong case I would know immediately.

Sorry for taking six months to reply.

You might be interested in our latest debate on difficult to use products. We’ve started it here right here: https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/difficult-to-use-products/

Nicola B says:
25 September 2014

My wing mirror was hit by a white van travelling at high speed in the opposite direction. The mirror subsequently fell out of the casing and on investigation one of two plastic clips that hold the piece of mirror in place inside the wing mirror itself had been broken. Unfortunately the bit that had broken off had disappeared so I could not simply glue it back into place. When I went to see Lexus for the replacement plastic clip no more than 1cm square they told me that they could not sell me one because they only receive whole wing mirrors and none of the actual parts that make up the wing mirror are sold separately. At £600 plus VAT I declined and my builder has effected a makeshift solution and the mirror has remained in place so far. How ridiculous and how wasteful.

L Rough says:
29 September 2014

Failed glass light cover in Bosch double oven. This oven is 4 years old and 3 times the glass bulb cover in the top oven/grill has broken, shearing right off and leaving shards that are impossible to remove. Call out to Bosch and new cover £117! Old removal tool doesn’t work on new shape bulbs. Bosch paid once as a ‘goodwill’ but won’t agree that item is clearly not fit for purpose. It is dangerous and a very poor item that is very difficult to remove to clean.

I have seen the same problem on another make of oven, though I cannot remember which brand. No tool was needed to remove the lamp and it was very easy to remove the broken glass. What I remember was the high cost of the new cover.

On the other hand, the lamp cover on my ancient Belling oven is easy to remove and has never broken after many years of use. I would like to know why manufacturers introduce new designs when older ones work perfectly well.

Bagless vacuums can offer “no loss of suction” provided that the owner periodically cleans the filter. Not after every clean or every usage though – unless it is a vacuum cleaner that has been advertised as “single cyclonic,” or sold with paper pleated filters.

Which needs to recognise the difference between “single cyclonic” and NLOS (“No-loss-of-suction.”) But in general, a lot of consumers feel that “No Loss of Suction,” means no clogging happens – it doesn’t quite work out like that however. Clogging can occur because of a number of things. Not least the pet hair that gets stuck at the top of the cyclone shroud and has to be removed by hand even if the dust bin has a bottom release trapdoor.

I think this can be added to the list as well. Bagless vacuums that aren’t any better than normal vacuums 🙁 https://www.which.co.uk/news/2017/10/bagless-vacuum-cleaners-not-living-up-to-allergy-claims/

Thanks Alex. I’m an asthmatic and have been aware of this since bagless cleaners arrived, but I’ve managed to hold my breath when emptying bagless cleaners.

In my view a much bigger problem with vacuum cleaners is that they blow air around the room, disturbing dust even in the cleanest houses. I switched from a cylinder cleaner that blew air over the surface of floors to one with a vent facing upwards, and that was a great help. It also helps to turn down the power.