/ Home & Energy, Technology

Do home appliances last as long as they used to?

broken household appliances

When you buy a home appliance, you expect it to be a reasonable price, excel at its function and, most importantly, last for years.

In our latest reliability survey, we surveyed over 8,000 members to reveal the most and least reliable brands across 16 home appliance categories.

The best brands in many categories can be expected to last at least ten years without developing any kind of fault, but the worst brands have a good chance of failing in less than half that amount of time.

Built to last

As part of an investigation into how old and new products compare, we managed to get hold of a 60-year-old vacuum cleaner that was still working.

When it was purchased, it would have cost the equivalent of £450. Nowadays, you can get a new vacuum cleaner for less than £100, but it’s difficult to imagine any of the models on offer still being used in 60 years’ time.

But this is just one machine. We know from your comments on Which? Conversation that some of you have home appliances that you’ve had for years, sometimes even decades.

Take wavechange:

‘I replaced the motor and drain pump of my 1982 Philips washing machine after about ten years and it continued to work perfectly until I moved home earlier this year. I will offer it to a local museum. My Belling cooker lasted the same length of time and needed only replacement oven door springs every few years. I am still using my late 80s or early 90s Philips microwave oven, which has had one repair and a replacement lamp.

‘My oldest household appliance is a 1982 Electrolux vacuum cleaner, but that is used only for cleaning the garage/workshop and car. I replaced the centrifugal fan when it was about fifteen years old.’

But one thing is clear from your comments. While some of you may have household appliances that have latest the test of time, they have had to be repaired periodically.

Are household appliances less reliable than they used to be?

Yes (58%, 591 Votes)

No (26%, 267 Votes)

Not sure (16%, 163 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,021

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So, is an increase in appliance replacement or failure down to the fact that modern appliances are less reliable and not built to last? Or are we just less inclined to pay for an expensive repair bill when a replacement doesn’t break the bank?

Derek P says:

‘If someone who ought to spend much more than £200 for a heavy duty machine only buys a £200 machine, then they may only get 2 or 3 years use from it – but they still might prefer having a sequence of cheap new machines to the bother of getting a better made one repaired periodically.

‘In my house, I use a medium-priced Zanussi that I bought almost 30 years ago. It has only ever needed one or two very minor repairs, which I was able to do myself. When I bought it from my local Co-op, it cost £120. At the time, that was 50% more than the price of the cheapest machine that they sold.’

So, what do you think? Are products less reliable than they used to be? Or is it just that we aren’t willing to repair things as readily as we used to be?

Comments
Member

I have now looked at a rewirable connector sold by Homebase and this also is marked with Connect to mains” and “Connect to appliance” on the appropriate halves. These are claimed to comply with BS5733:2010 + A1:2014 – “General requirements for electrical accessories”. Under Section 8 “Marking” it says “When necessary for safe operation the necessary information shall be given on the accessory itself” which is what this legend does.

Member

I share John’s concern about the variety of non-compatible connectors on the market. My preference would be to scrap the lot and use 3-pin connectors, even when no Earth connection is necessary. This has the advantage of polarisation, which is important when the connected appliance has a single-pole switch.

The risk of having 2-pin connectors the wrong way round has existed for many years (I have a few brown bakelite examples), so I wonder why it has taken until the 21st century to label them to help reduce accidents.

Member

I wonder why it has taken until the 21st century

Can you tell me the basis for this comment? The standard goes back to 1979; I haven’t looked at it but it may well carry the same requirements. I simply published the latest edition – standards are continually updated.

Member

Sorry Malcolm. I should have made it clear that I was referring to the fact that manufacturers had the opportunity to provide the information without waiting for a standard to be published. I also did not realise that the standard dates from 1979. The sooner that standards that are relevant to our safety are freely accessible the better.

Member

Manufacturers may well have put the information on the product prior to the original standard, whenever that was. Standards do not necessarily dictate new things to manufacturers but look at what they already do, build on collective best practice and then lay down the minimum that all must comply with.

Member

I’m well aware of that but I think manufacturers could do a lot more to work together and agree on common designs. Look at the variety of charger connectors for mobile phones, for example.

Member

All the two-pin connectors used with my electric garden appliances have the appropriate wording on the two halves, but they were British made and bought in well-run hardware stores. I have seen connectors on sale that were not compliant and I guess many sold on-line are deficient. I think the wording is rather old-fashioned now: Who uses the terms “mains” these days? I also think “fit” is a better word than “connect” in this context. We don’t connect plugs to the power cord, we fit them. I see no reason why the two parts of a connector could not be different colours [red and black, perhaps] to emphasise the difference between them. I agree with Wavechange and think three-pin connectors would be better, but since these are things that users fit themselves proper instructions should always be provided. I have noticed that some people tape up their connectors with duct tape presumably because they have pulled apart in use, or possibly to ensure correct polarity.

Member

If I see connectors or plugs & sockets taped up, I cringe at the thought of what the tape may conceal. However, if they may be dragged through wet grass or subjected to rain, the tape may be doing a useful job.

Maybe ‘mains’ is old fashioned. It seems to be called ‘the electric’ in non-technical circles. Of course members of the IET call 230V ‘low voltage’ which is shockingly confusing in my view.

I can see the value of colour coding but suspect that users might not be keen on a red/black socket/plug combination, if only because of aesthetic considerations. Having the end of the socket brightly coloured would help identify the half of the connector to be wary of.

Member

With hindsight, I feel Orange [socket – female] and White [plug – male] might be better. With luck, the orange part might correspond with the colour of the cable or the 13A plug. Little chance of any of this happening of course.

I once tried to achieve a red/black combination which is when I discovered that the two connector sets were incompatible.

Member

I would like to see the terminals of all plugs and sockets, including rewireable 13 amp plugs, colour coded brown, blue and green/yellow. That’s an example of something that could have been done a few years ago.

Member

The Low Voltage Directive (LVD 2014/35/EU) outlines essential safety requirements for electrical equipment operating with a voltage of between 50 V and 1000V. In the range of voltages this is appropriate. You must remember that directives and standards are written for professionals and qualified people who understand the technology, not for lay people who do not always use technical terms correctly. It is international terminology, not restricted to members of the IET. All professions have precise language and vocabulary.

Member

Cooperation on the use of common parts in domestic appliances – motors, pumps, for example – would greatly help the movement towards repairability and the consequent need for availability of spares. I suspect that legislation on sustainability might be needed to prompt this approach.

Member

I would question the competence of whoever chose to use the term ‘low voltage’ – a commonly used term – to include a voltage that could kill. It would have made more sense to choose a different term that is not in common use.

I very much agree with use of common parts in appliances, which would help with maintaining a stock of spares.

Member

It has nothing to do with competence. It is by international agreement and has been used since the year dot by those in the profession. In the scheme of the range of voltages around it is appropriate. Low voltage is not the same as “safe” voltage – SELV or safe extra low voltage is, if I remember correctly, used to describe that. Low speed in a vehicle can kill – it doesn’t imply safety.

Member

The advantage of using interchangeable and compatible common parts, or parts conforming to a common specification, is that it would encourage the establishment of independent parts manufacturers to maintain a source of supply after the original equipment manufacturer had ceased making and stocking proprietary spares. It might also reinvigorate the salvage market.

Member

There’s a few problems in there Malcolm with that notion although I do generally, broadly agree with your common sense approach.

The first is aesthetics, you can’t get that all the same and people want a unique look as do makers and retailers for obvious reasons.

You hamper innovation it’ll be claimed as if parts have to be common then you are restricted on just how much you can deviate from the norm.

You can have varying degrees of quality in the components used, which is true.

Those points out the way…

Let me sum up much of the reason in a short story.

Some years ago at the launch of a new range of products myself and another were more interested in what was inside the machines naturally and we noted that, unlike older models that used the same common components across the range.

This was a concern to us on service as it increased the number of lines required making it nigh on impossible to hold all common parts for all models at local base and certainly not on a van. So a direct effect on the ability to deliver service as expected by customers.

That’s an impact that almost nobody ever considers.

In turn that reduces what we call the “first fix rate” that leads to a lessening of profitability on a service industry that lives on a knife edge. This whole, everything has to be different has helped the demise of repairs.

I digress.

Anyway we asked and asked then finally got someone that could tell us why all the parts were different in different models now and the reply was a surprisingly candid one;

“It’s so as to stop all the pattern spares guys making copies or buying from our suppliers and undercutting us on parts sales”

Needless to say, we weren’t impressed.

Beyond this you get into some very murky areas as to why there is all too often often not any measure of commonality on spare parts and this I have to deal with all day, every day so I am all too well aware of it.

K.

Member

“The first is aesthetics, you can’t get that all the same and people want a unique look as do makers and retailers for obvious reasons.”

On the basis that many products do contain similar parts and may simply be rebadged, I’m sure there is plenty of scope.

Yesterday I took my car for its MOT and was looking at the ongoing restoration projects that progress when the mundane work of repairs and servicing is slack. It reminded me how easy it used to be to work on cars dating from the 60s. In many ways the motor industry has moved on, producing safer, more economical and more reliable cars, but many repairs are now horrendously expensive due to modern designs.

I don’t subscribe to the view that something has been tried and nothing can be done.

Member

“On the basis that many products do contain similar parts and may simply be rebadged, I’m sure there is plenty of scope.”

Correct.

So long as you can access the information to do so but, sadly, that is all too often deliberately hampered as brand owners do not want people to know that a box selling for £300 in one store is the exact same inside as one at £600 in another, £400 in another and so on.

Sometimes to work that out you need to think a bit laterally.

K.

Member

Doing this is legal and I’m not going to get upset about it, but it’s an example of how some or even all components are already shared by different brands. I presume that manufacturers use a significant proportion of shared components across model ranges but that it gets complicated when brands are bought and sold by the larger players in the market.

Member

More or less correct, yes.

It gets a little complex at times and certainly for end users that don’t know this stuff, desperately confusing but in essence, yes in many cases but importantly not all.

K.

Member

I accept that, but the fact that there is significant sharing of parts does help users.

I am not optimistic that we will see legislation that requires companies to hold spares, so my approach will remain to look for products that offer longer guarantees or extended warranties are available at a sensible price.

Member

Okay, how do you propose that longer warranties are introduced?

To cover what?

K.

Member

I’m simply suggesting raising awareness of what is already on offer and checking the terms & conditions. Whereas most people are aware of what guarantee they have when they buy a car and may consider an extended warranty, many don’t seem to pay much attention when they buy household goods. In fact I know of cases where owners have not been aware when they have a guarantee that provides more than one year’s cover.

I am not expecting longer guarantees free of charge but I will take the opportunity if it is offered.

Member

We already have extended guarantees (free) and warranties (paid for) of up to 10 years, so the cover would be based on those. I don’t think each manufacturer could offer the same length of guarantee, or the same price for a longer warranty, because their appliances will be of inferior quality and less durable. It would help when making a decision to purchase to gauge the confidence of the manufacturer or retailer in the durability of their product. my Miele dishwasher is covered by a 10 year repair or replace warranty. it was a significant factor in making the choice.

I accept many people want cheap appliances that may not work that well and last that long. Others are more discerning and look at the real cost of ownership. Competition on guarantees and warranty costs might incentivise some manufacturers to spend a little more on quality parts and consider repairability, for example. Who knows.

Member

You say that many people want cheap appliances that may not work as well and last as long. I’m not so sure they do. If we are to tackle the problem of premature failure then it is the less reliable products we need to get rid of. Earlier today I have promoted encouraging consumers to look for decent guarantees and affordable warranties, which is something that Which? could do when publishing test reports. As I have said before, it would be good to have a minimum guarantee period of five years, for the reasons you have stated in your final sentence, but raising awareness of existing warranties and guarantees and some of the offers available would be an easy first step, and one that needs no input from manufacturers or retailers.

Here is something that we have not discussed for a while. Is buying an expensive product necessarily good value for money? I have family and friends who are fond of buying expensive products and have sometimes been very disappointed. I’m not sure I would shell out for Dyson products even though their corded cleaners come with a five year guarantee. I would expect a vacuum cleaner to last ten years or more. I suspect that we are paying a lot for a name, styling and advertising when buying Dyson products.

Member

Ken has given an insight from an expert into the demand for cheap products. I credit most people with the ability to know that when they buy something that is cheap, it is likely to have limitations – and they buy in large numbers.

I am all for choice, but that should be accompanied by appropriate information so the choice we make can be soundly based. Forcing up “cheap” prices to give every product a 5 year warranty may well not be what a lot of people want, no more than choosing cheap clothes or cheap furniture. Their priorities are different.

Member

I agree on the Dyson,s Wavechange , at one time not bad but this change of design to this “ball ” arrangement has upset a lot of females , and I agree the ergonomics are not conducive to practical use and many complaints as well as the fact he is now “outsourcing ” his products . Latest figures for sales of goods (overall ) in this country are down and there is talk of increasing the interest rate , the economy is “flat ” or below due to government policy so a decision is made to sell cheaper made products to the masses by hard sell advertising . While those with money can afford quality , every economist knows sales depend on the majority of the public being able to afford the products advertised and , being blunt–they cant but it is not helped by the glossy adverts saying how “good” their product is. It would be more honest to say-look our product is made out of cheap parts and wont last long because we need our profit and the public wake up and realise in this hard-nosed commercial society -nothing is for nothing ,in other words you get what you pay for.

Member

The Advertising Standards Authority does a good job at responding to complaints but their views and my views of what represents honest advertising do not entirely agree. I would like to see more consumer protection against the widespread misrepresentation in advertising.

I’m concerned that the situation will get worse before action is taken.

Member

“I would question the competence of whoever chose to use the term ‘low voltage’ – a commonly used term – to include a voltage that could kill.”

We’ve touched on this in previous Convos – where it was pointed out that it is poor practice to foster the idea that “low voltages” and/or low currents (i.e. below some arbitrary thresholds ) can be inherently safe in all circumstances.

When I was Senior Authorised Person (Electrical) – or SAPE – for a high voltage “switch-gear testing laboratory” I also delivered electrical safety training to would-be users of that and similar facilities.

Users qualified as competent to lead work in the facility were known as Authorised Persons (Electrical) or APEs. When it came to electrical safety, we certainly did not tolerate any monkey business, but we did enjoy this following little ditty: “It’s the volts what jolts, but the mills what kills!”. That recognised that currents in the range of milliamperes (and upwards) can readily prove to be fatal, irrespective of the source voltage.

Hence, all reasonably practicable steps must be taken to prevent electrocution. Primarily, this should be all about reducing risks and protecting people, as opposed to only complying with set limits and standards.

As for all other risks, users should take time out to ensure their personal safety, before starting any potentially hazardous work, including anything involving power tools.

To prevent avoidable risks, any equipment that is not in an acceptable condition should be repaired, embargoed (pending repair) or scrapped.

Member

“You say that many people want cheap appliances that may not work as well and last as long. I’m not so sure they do.”

I think most people want cheap appliances that will work as well and last as long as expensive ones.

This challenges industry to provide suitable products. As KW has intimated, one way to do that is to sell the same product at three different prices (like Audi, VW & Skoda?).

Member

I nearly posted this example yesterday, Derek. I have bought a fair number of parts for VW cars from a Skoda dealership. Even where the parts were not the same, the Skoda dealer was happy to order VW parts, and it meant a return journey of less than two miles rather than about 20. With cars, we often have the opportunity to buy common service parts such as brake disks and shock absorbers from other sources, and in my experience, specialists can repair alternators and starter motors at a much lower cost than a dealer would charge.

I agree that most people want cheap appliances that will work as well and last as long as expensive ones. That’s a bit unrealistic but in view of the lavish advertising by many expensive brands, there is little doubt that you are paying for a name.

It would be interesting to compare the cost of ownership of cheaper, average and expensive products.

Member

DerekP, I think many people will realise that when they buy a cheap product they may not get the durability and performance of a more expensive one. Not universally true I agree but the maxim “we get what we pay for” is a reasonable starting point.

Member

So that’s one Dyson vacuum and one LandRover on the wanted list. 🙂

Member

I don’t know where this comment above applies, but my comment did say “you get what you pay for” is not universal. What we need is to use our critical faculties and genuine information to help us choose something in an area where we have no expertise. It is the genuine, and useful information, that I hope Which? will provide.

Member

It was a provocative comment, Malcolm, but I have seen so many people let down by expensive products that I think it’s a very dangerous generalisation. As products become more complex, few of us have much expertise and my biggest concern is that products are, for various reasons, becoming difficult or impossible to repair.

Member

“DerekP, I think many people will realise that when they buy a cheap product they may not get the durability and performance of a more expensive one. Not universally true I agree but the maxim “we get what we pay for” is a reasonable starting point.”

Malcolm, I agree this will apply in a lot of cases. For example, if I bought cheap tools from a pound shop I wouldn’t expect them to be as good as “professional quality” tools.

Member

Fair enough, but looking at more sensible comparisons, would it be worth spending an extra 20 or 30% extra on a TV, computer or other household item?

Member

Looking back over major purchases we have made I think it is fair to generalise that you do get what you pay for. We have not been extravagant but have not been concerned with price over performance. Most of our appliances are lasting far longer than the usual expectation and are still performing very well. The washing machine is very quiet [an important consideration], does not wobble or rattle, and does an excellent job. The dishwasher still works very well after over ten years. The fridge-freezer has shown no problems and is also into its second decade. The oven and hob have done their job brilliantly without complaint. The vacuum cleaners must be getting on for fifteen years old now and are trouble free. No repairs have been needed to any of these. Lots of other small equipment has also performed very well. A steam iron fell apart recently but that had had a hard life and was well past retirement age. There is no magic answer to this. All the products were well-known brands, bought on the high street or from regular on-line retailers, not high-priced items with unusual names, and not subject to special care and attention, just the usual good housekeeping. They have all been worked to their capacity, but no more than that; perhaps that is the key. Over time I think choosing well and paying a bit more [but not excessively so] has been worthwhile both in terms of product satisfaction and financially as the replacement timetable has been extended.

Member

I have been generally been very happy with products that I have bought and usually been rewarded by extremely good service, sometimes with the help of easy repairs. It is necessary to follow instructions and do appropriate maintenance.

It’s all too easy to scrap products that are serviceable. When I moved into my present home the vendors were going to dispose of the dishwasher, but all that was wrong with it was the holes in the spray arms were blocked with limescale.

It’s all to easy to cause damage by abusing products. I have an Electrolux vacuum cleaner that I bought in 1980. I bought a new one years ago and the old one gets used to clean the car and my workshop. I remember a time when I let a friend use it and he started sucking up water, oblivious to the fact that it would soon get into the motor. Fortunately I was able to rescue it but I wonder how many vacuum cleaners are destroyed in this way or by users accidentally using them without a bag.

I don’t see any point buying cheap appliances but I am far from convinced that it would be worth spending £800 or more on a washing machine.

It would be interesting to see some independent research that tests the hypothesis that ‘you get what you pay for’, preferably avoiding really cheap products and expensive designer ones.

Member

Look at this from another perspective. If you buy a cheap version of any product, ask yourself why it is cheap. It will contain cheaper components that are unlikely to be so durable. We know form previous Convos what money is left to actually manufacture a product when you strip out all the packing, shipping and the various profits involved . I hope in future Which? will look harder at the real quality of products and their repairability. The best way is to strip them down and examine the components, build and design.

Member

I am not doubting that but what about mid-price and higher price goods. Do you get what you pay for? It seems likely the profit margin becomes significantly greater as the price rises. Repairability can be assessed by dismantling products but is dependent on the availability of spare parts. You won’t find may kettles where the heater that can be replaced and my understanding is that spares are not available for many smaller products.

I would spend more on products that offer better specifications, for example a laptop computer that would run for longer on a battery charge. If I wanted a tumble-dryer I would not even look at condenser or vented models because they use a heater operating at high temperature, so it would make more sense in my view to buy a more expensive heat-pump dryer for safety reasons. These sort of decisions are easy to make but where the specification of products is roughly the same, is it worth paying more for a more expensive model?

Member

I have tried to point out the logic of what buying cheap products will entail. Paying for expensive products does not automatically assure proportionately longer life, but it is likely to give a product that is better designed with better components.

The plea I keep making is for someone to examine these products in a more comprehensive way so we do see much more of what we are being asked to buy. If repairability is raised up the priority list then availability of OEM or pattern spares will have to follow.

I have had good experience of Miele for durability and reliability. i believe they have a spares availability policy. Competition if focus shifts towards sustainability will deal with spares.

Member

Maybe, but I suspect that we pay a lot for the Miele brand name, just like Apple and Dyson. I was put off Miele when my first purchase developed two faults within the first year of purchase. I now have one of their washing machines but knowing the high cost of spares and the need to use one of their agents I felt I needed to spend more money and buy an extended warranty. I must have called the company six or seven times in an attempt to register the warranty, without success. It turned out that there was a mistake in the serial number – their mistake, not mine – so D&G never issued the warranty document and Miele never checked that it had been done, despite my requests. The people I spoke to were patient and polite but as one member of Miele staff told me, they have a high turnover of staff in their call centre. I’m left without the extended warranty I paid for. Hopefully I will never need it but I cannot say I’m impressed.

If you are genuinely interested in improving sustainability then what matters most is the improving the standard of the cheapest products, and I suggest a minimum guarantee of five years for more expensive items other than phones and other products that soon become outdated.

Member

“what matters most is the improving the standard of the cheapest products,”. What matters to me is providing products that offer value for money, not the “cheapest” which is unlikely to do that as I explained above.

Paying more for a “brand” is a separate issue. I want information that allows people to make proper choices between products. Whether or not they then choose to pay more for a brand name is up to them,

Member

It was you that mentioned sustainability, Malcolm. Since cheaper products represent the bulk of sales it’s obviously best to focus on ensuring that cheaper products last longer, perhaps driven by a requirement for longer guarantees.

Member

Ideally so, and BEUC seem to have this in mind. i don’t see any sign that Which? have yet – thety still promote cheap products where they perform OK, even though their durability and so on might be very questionable.

In my view one way we can “intervene” in a free competitive market is by regulation/legislation, like the allowable maximum emissions from vehicles. This could require, as we have said before, longer guarantees, implying that spares must remain available and products must be serviceable for a specified length of time. However this is not as simple as emissions, as has been frequently pointed out. It would inevitably increase costs, so we would no longer have “cheap” machines as they would be uneconomic to market if they were unlikely to last the full guarantee term. And we’d need to resolve the cause of failure – defect/poor components, abuse, misuse, over-use.

Alternatively we can try to educate a major sector of consumers into appreciating what many others already do – the real cost of ownership. A £270 washing machine that lasts in practice 3 years then lets you down will cost you £90 a year. A £490 one that lasts 7 years will cost you £70 a year. Just as an example. If Which? looked in more depth at the performance of products, with others, they could help consumers make wiser decisions.

It may be of course someone is happy to buy cheap and replace, despite the economics.

Member

“It seems likely the profit margin becomes significantly greater as the price rises.”

Not always as it’ll often switch from percentage to cash margin calculations.

K.

Member

Of course there will be exceptions. Some manufacturers of expensive products don’t do well and can go out of business. You have pointed out that the profit margin on cheap white goods is very small. I assume that on average the profit margin on expensive goods is higher than on cheaper ones.

Member

It is not just profit margin, it is all the other costs that show the real value of the product (parts, labour, overheads). This extract from UK Whitegoods:

“The first thing you do is use cheaper and lower quality components. You can cut the costs considerably by compromising on the quality.

For example, you can buy a good washing machine drain pump from Hanning for say £10 landed and that’s a really good pump, an Askoll for about £3-5 depending on the grade and specification and that’s a decent pump or, you can buy a cheap Chinese knock-off one for about £1.

Life expectancy for the Hanning, 10-20 years. The Askoll, 5-12 years. The Chinese one, 1-3 years.

You can repeat this for bearings, seals, water valves, heaters, motors, electronics, thermostats, wiring… the list is almost endless. Just like the complete machine, the difference is more than double the lifespan for each jump in quality level but, interestingly, it’s not usually double the cost. This is often why you see disparities in spares pricing as well and why some online spares sellers can do really cheap parts, even if they’re not actually any good. This is a game we obviously don’t play and we’re taking the time to explain it to people rather than just hitting you with “the lowest price ever” nonsense. If you’ve got any intelligence or common sense we think you’ll work all this out for yourself with the information we provide.

What components you use in building an appliance has a massive effect on lifespan and durability, the better the components the longer it will last but, the more it will also cost.”

Member

A minimum guarantee period of five years could do a lot to remove poor quality products from the market.

Member

And again, details on the notion of some form of mandatory warranty, how can you do this?

But pricing models are very complex at times, a science in it’s own right to see degree as it is determined by any number of factors. The best that can be given usually is a sweeping generalisation as it will differ from business to business, product to product.

K.

Member

I’m referring to a mandatory guarantee, not an insurance-backed warranty, and the only way of introducing this is by legislation. Obviously it would not be free and might not be popular to start with, but it would help the public and might help protect the industry from continuing on a downward spiral. It would also help those companies that are in business to do repairs.

Member

Since it is most unlikely to happen we need some more pragmatic solution that consumers and industry will support. Priced extended warranties that reflect an appliances likely life will enable customers to compare products on a more equal basis. If a cheap appliance has a £250 charge to extend its warranty to 5 years then some customers might be persuaded to buy a better quality machine.

Are there any examples of the EU legislating for minimum product lifetimes in any field in the name of sustainability (conserving resources)?

It would help if Which? used experts to dismantle appliances after testing to examine the build, design and components. They could then make assessments of the likely durability, given quality and serviceability for example.

Member

The first problem you’d have is, you could not limit that to appliances alone I wouldn’t think or there’d be cries (arguably correctly) of unfairness by targeting one specific product or industry. It could also be viewed as anti-competitive and a restriction on the market choice.

It’d have to apply to all electrics and electronic if not much more.

A fight I would not even begin as that’s going up against the grain of the market and some serious lobbying power. Highly unlikely to fly and I highly doubt any politician or government body (UK or EU) would be willing to take that on.

K.

Member

Even if Which? did dismantle and inspect appliances, this would only help subscribers – a minority of the public. I also believe it would be of limited value because – as I have explained before – the parts used in a particular model can vary according to availability and price.

Business is constrained by a great deal of legislation and standards, so I hope that a mandatory guarantee period does happen. We might need to start off at two years and work upwards, in the same way that vehicle emissions have changed.

Do you want to help everyone, Malcolm, or just Which? subscribers.

Kenneth – As I have said before, longer guarantees should not just apply to appliances. The example I usually give is that there is little point in guaranteeing a mobile phone for five years when many of them are replaced after a couple of years because they are outdated. (Hopefully they will be passed on or sold to someone who does not have to have the latest, greatest model.) I’m sure it would not be impossible to work out reasonable guarantee periods for different types of products, and if they apply to all companies the system is fair.

Member

“Do you want to help everyone, Malcolm, or just Which? subscribers.”

I don’t see this as an appropriate comment. At present there is, to my knowledge, only one consumer champion that we can access to get supposedly independent product information. I support that organisation financially to do what I hope is thorough and diligent work. This could lead to regulations that requires appropriate information, such as repairability, spares availability, extended warranty cost, to be displayed with product details to help all then public make a better purchasing decision.

Have you a solution that would give all the public access to the information Which? publishes? It would have no more subscribers of course – what would be the point? But if 23 million households were given access they could pay £5 each a year compulsorily to give Which? its current income. I don’t propose that as a viable way forward but you may have a better idea?

Member

If Which? was to push for (say) a minimum five year guarantee then all consumers would be protected from the cost of repairs, unless of course they abused their purchases.

Member

A common misconception is that there is a legal requirement for a warranty. There isn’t.

None. I don’t have to offer any warranty on anything I sell or anyone else. All it needs to do is to meet the conditions set out in law, primarily the SoGA and CRA. Beyond that, there’s no legal duty to offer any warranty.

There’s probably very good reason for that, I can think on several offhand in my line of work alone but to move to some form of mandated warranty in law would be absolutely horrific from a commercial standpoint. A total nightmare legislatively I expect.

Just imagine trying to mandate what is and is not covered in each category from fish tanks to washing machines to cars to kettles to services provided, roof tiles… it’s endless!

I’d also bet dollars to donuts that 90% or more of the buying public would immediately assume that they were totally covered, protected from absolutely everything and, as I have witnessed first hand, where a long warranty is in place the level of mistreatment, lack of care and maintenance does rise without doubt. People just assume they don’t need to bother as it’s all covered so why should they care.

Now if I know that, so do retailers and manufacturers and they would be incredibly resistant to the notion and, if forced to offer such a thing the price hikes wouldn’t just be a small incremental one, it’d be a massive overnight hike to try to cover the cost of that.

K.

Member

I’m well aware that there is no requirement to offer a guarantee, but new electrical goods generally come with cover for a year or two, sometimes more.

I would like to think that our government would pay more attention to the needs of its citizens than the wishes of retailers and manufacturers, and I’m not pretending it will be easy. My involvement here is mainly because I care about sustainability. I’m not convinced that extending the guarantee period will mean a massive price hike. That does not seem to have happened when guarantees have moved from one year to two.

If there is misuse, then owners have to be told but neither retailers or manufacturers should be expected to pay. I’ve seen plenty of examples of this. I mentioned recently that a friend started to use my old cylinder vacuum cleaner to suck up water. At the time he was an engineer working for British Aerospace. 🙁 At times, businesses have a great deal of sympathy from me.

‘Nothing can be done’ seems like a poor alternative. Are there any better ideas?

Member

I have pointed some out over time, if you were open to them of course. 😉

But regardless of how it is tackled it ain’t easy and it ain’t gonna be fast. Which is probably why nobody is all that interested, there’s no quick win.

K.

Member

Sorry – We all have our failings. 🙂

In some ways we have moved on. I recently threw out a couple of six month guarantees for long-gone products dating from the sixties or seventies. If small electrical goods are under guarantee, it is very common for retailers to replace them, even if they are not legally required to.

I will be happy if we can make real progress.

Member

Not sure I would agree that drafting criteria for mandatory warranties would be insuperably difficult. It would, after all, be fairly straightforward to use existing and well-tried templates from existing schemes and in any case such warranties would also inevitably be subcontracted. Specialist companies already offer extended warranties for a fixed price, and they seem to be managing rather well.

In terms of legal requirements for warranties, 1999/44/EC does say that retailers must offer a 2 year warranty on many goods. And I suspect our own consumer regulations exceed that, and they do place the onus on the retailer.

It is relatively easy to do all this because the existing infrastructure already exists. It would simply be a matter of formalising the process, so that goods would automatically be offered with an extended warranty. Companies don’t do that not because of perceived difficulties, but simply because they want to keep the selling price point as low as possible. To stop that government needs to enforce mandatory 2-year warranties on almost everything. If all retailers or manufacturers had to do it, no one company would enjoy an unfair advantage.

Member

To my knowledge and correct me if wrong, 1999/44/EC is merely a pan-EU version of our 5/6 year thing here, UK consumers are actually better protected.

To mandate a warranty the terms need to be defined so, you’d need to legislatively define every single product to market with individual warranty terms. That would be a truly monumental task. Never mid trying to police that and, what’s there now can’t be effectively policed so I’m thinking… not a hope!

To be honest though I think you’re on the wrong track there Ian as I couldn’t give two hoots what the legal position is so long as it’s a level playing field for everyone. Then everyone has the same costs. From a business perspective that’s all that matters, the cost is actually irrelevant in many regards so long as it’s uniform.

There is no advantage at all from lower prices other than increased volumes but, if all are forced to adopt the same costs then it’s the status quo only with higher pricing.

So, no real difference.

K.

Member

Ian – I am almost certain that what you are referring to is the European equivalent of the statutory rights we have in the UK, rather than two year manufacturer’s guarantee, so I agree with Ken here. Our protection under the Consumer Rights Act looks better on paper but I hope that retailers in other European countries don’t just tell customers that nothing can be done or direct them to the manufacturer.

I agree that it need not be hugely difficult to draw up mandatory guarantees unless the aim is to stall the process. I agree on the point of fair competition if the legislation applies to all.

I’m not too keen on having to deal with a second company over a warranty.

Member

It’s interesting to read the European legislation: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:31999L0044

“3. Unless proved otherwise, any lack of conformity which becomes apparent within six months of delivery of the goods shall be presumed to have existed at the time of delivery unless this presumption is incompatible with the nature of the goods or the nature of the lack of conformity.” Interestingly it does not mention the reverse burden of proof that we have in the Consumer Rights Act, whereby the owner of the goods is required to prove lack of conformity at the time of purchase for goods over six months old. Of course member countries have some scope to create their own legislation, as we have done with the CRA.

Member

The EU directive is not a 2 year warranty, but the time within which you can legally make a claim under the equivalent of our Consumer Rights Act. In contrast to 2 years in Europe, CRA gives UK consumers 6 years to make a claim (5 in Scotland).

Member

The wording of a guarantee is not an issue, it is the length for cheap products. You want a 5 year guarantee on a £250 washing machine that is built to last 3 years? You’ll need to factor in the cost of a second machine, unless you ban cheap machines (that many people seem to want – not me). So you will increase the cost of the cheap machines, possibly substantially.

I personally do think we should be making more durable household products, and be prepared to pay more. but what about those who don’t, or can’t – the low paid and vulnerable for example. Ideally we’d educate them to our way of thinking, but if they don’t have access to the money needed……?i

There are many cheap, less durable products around, from clothing to cars and appliances. Where should we draw the line at sustainability vs cost? What happens to all those employed in industries that supply these markets . It is far from simple and has consequences beyond simply conserving resource.

We have a parallel situation in education – encouraging huge increases in students attending university and colleges but without a commensurate increase in the numbers of quality teaching staff needed to support them. So we have many students taught less well and ending up with qualifications (if they survive) that are worth less than they used to be. So do we reduce the numbers and improve the standards?

Member

Making £250 washing machines would soon become non-viable if a company had to foot the cost of repairs during the five year guarantee period, assuming that the owner had not abused the goods. If the low paid and vulnerable are kept on a cycle of buying cheap and unreliable products they are likely to paying out more in ownership. They don’t deserve to be exploited. There are various solutions including secondhand products, affordable loans and the vulnerable may qualify for help.

I agree that we should look at sustainability more broadly. Clothing might be a good place to start.

The number of students in higher education is largely driven by government and of course most students become conditioned into living in debt thanks to fees and other costs. I have often said that I would prefer places to go to those who have the ability and motivation to benefit from their time in university.

Member

Not so many years ago there was a viable and indeed even thriving market for second hand reconditioned machines as you could get technical support if it was even needed, parts were often no problem till they got really old and a lot of charitable organisations employed either the like of disabled or not so well positioned people to do this.

Many a small retailer or repairer also reconditioned machines.

This made jobs, saved resources and gave the people that couldn’t afford new high ticket items another option.

But to duo that, even a decade or more ago, you needed to sell a “recon” as they’re known in the trade at £100-150 depending on warranty and the machine etc.

With the advent of the invasion of cheap machines from Turkey etc where you can buy a cheap brand new machine for not much more with a full manufacturer warranty, who in their right mind would buy a recon?

Worse yet, from various catalogue companies and the like of Brighthouse et all you can get one for a few quid a week, even if it is what I consider legal loan sharking.

Then you had local authority supplied machines, often recon’d supplied into people that were in dire need but that all stopped as well, it was cheaper to buy new on contract with a warranty.

Atop that you’ve got sealed units that cost more than a new machine, sealed doors that are 40% the cost of a replacement machine and so on making repairing them not economically viable. More so commercially.

So reconditioning died.

That side of the industry, other than a few niche players here and there, is dead.

The skills, training, premises, infrastructure… all gone.

As things become not worth repairing or, too expensive to repair, the support around that all just goes away as nobody will pay for it.

To reverse that will take more than a warranty I’m afraid, as Malcolm rightly points out, this is extremely complex and you cannot even begin to hope to fix it all with just one masterstroke, it simply will not accomplish it.

I wish it were that easy but, it just isn’t.

In concert with other moves, maybe but I wouldn’t guarantee success without a number of measures coming into play.

Even what people see in the high street charity stores as “reconditioned” most probably is not what you think it is but, that’s a whole other can of worms and one that’s politically sensitive. But true recons, it almost always is not.

K.

Member

I can certainly understand the problem of reconditioning appliances but people do give them to charities, put them on eBay, Facebook and Freecycle, and put ads in supermarket and Post Office windows. People move home, refurbish their kitchens or just get tired of their yellowing washing machine. A friend routinely replaces the white goods in his flats before each rental, even if they are in perfect working order.

Maybe a partial solution but maybe better than nothing can be done. I don’t suggest that we can fix it at a stroke, but the sooner we make a start the better.

Several months ago someone could have had a set of pristine appliances that were sitting alongside a skip on a neighbour’s drive during a kitchen refurbishment. Sadly they were left out in all weathers for nearly three weeks, so only fit for scrap. Not everyone thinks that their cast offs could be put to good use.

Member

For it to work as a business model you need a reasonably sustainable and stable supply of repairable product.

If you don’t have that, it’s not a sustainable business model.

Cast offs here and there cannot do that, too irregular.

K.

Member

Perhaps you might need to use the launderette or the help of a neighbour while waiting for a cast off washing machine.

Member

Mention of interchangeable and compatible components made me think of the many products containing rechargeable batteries.

We have a few standard sizes (e.g. AA) of NiMH cells but manufacturers often use less common sizes that are difficult and expensive to replace, especially if soldered on to a circuit board. It can also be very difficult to remove and replace batteries. Anyone who has attempted to open a Braun Oral B toothbrush will be familiar with the problem.

Lithium batteries come in an endless variety of designs. I bought a second Panasonic Lumix compact camera hoping that I could interchange the batteries and use the same charger but they were subtly different, even though the size and capacity were closely similar. I feel that there is a good opportunity to come up with a variety of standard sizes and capacities and let manufacturers design their equipment appropriately.

Member

Manufacturers have been designing incompatible equipment for over 80 years . First for more profit from associated contracts with other firms and from individualist designs from their own design labs that do not have to pay another company patent fees . It was only in the 40,s that Britain used the IO base because it was a new American standard even then individual companies designed their own radios with little compatibility. Every company policy is aimed towards the highest return in money , if that is achieved by specialised parts that only one company produces then –more profit for that company . When it comes to rechargeable batteries the field is enormous with battery companies producing batteries designed to fit in with the 1000,s of different electronic designs and PCB layouts .

Member

I’ve had my fair share of the hassle that incompatibility can cause. 🙁

My interest is in conservation of natural resources and cutting down on waste, and saving us money is not a bad idea either.

Let’s look at the ways we have moved forward with non-rechargeable batteries. There used to be specialist ones primarily for valve radios, some torches, bicycle lights, lanterns, and then we had the layer batteries used mainly for transistor radios and other portable items. Nowadays, AA cells cover most applications. I don’t know any modern consumer goods that uses odd batteries.

Could we do the same with rechargeable batteries? Lithium batteries are undoubtedly the way forward for the foreseeable future, so perhaps we could draw up some agreed standards that equipment can be designed to use. Since rechargeable batteries have a limited life, they should be user-replaceable. If we are serious about sustainability and durability of rechargeable products, we need to start thinking. Maybe the US might show us how to progress this.

Member
JohnTurner says:
17 August 2017

My belief is that todays appliances are more complicated than they need to be be and often simply because technology allows the complexity to be built-in and with it obsolescence. We have a Washing Machine, a Tumble Dryer and a Dishwasher with many more electronically controlled programs than we’ll ever use. Older appliances we have owned were much simpler, more readily repaired with ordinary tools and readily available spares. A recently replaced Tumble Dryer trundled on for 25 years. A switch was a bit sticky at the end, but it kept working.
An expensive Neff Dishwasher purchased only 5 years ago with all singing and dancing touch controls and multiple programs, has been diagnosed by the manufacturer’s technician as having an electronic programmer fault. My view (and I have some knowledge in this area) is that the Touch Control panel has failed. Parts are no longer available, except for those that are more reliable.
In spite of the fact that pump motor, valves everything else is in tip top order it is considered an obsolete pile of metal and plastic, with all the associated detrimental environmental effects .
Had this Dishwasher been of simpler design with the same quality of materials I believe it would still be working or could more readily be repaired. Interesting to note that Neff/Bosch/Siemens tend to no longer use touch control panels on their appliances. They are all still reliant on electronic whiz bangs.

Member

John, I agree about extensive programmes. We use a very limited number on our appliances. Electronic control from a circuit board allows all this over-complexity, but I think even if they had less programmes operated in the same way the control system would be the weak link. Why these parts need to be so expensive beats me, and there should be legislation to make them available for a sensible length of time after a product has been discontinued. We have a long way to go to avoid such needless waste as you have pointed to.

Older products with electromechanical timers and simpler programmers may be something we should return to, if only for the sake of economic repairability. I doubt we’d wean the consumer off all-singing all-dancing devices run by gizmos though. It is the reliability and repairability of “modern” appliances we need to address, by long guarantees for example, and by making durability – length of life – a key part of the product that is declared and enforceable.

Member

They are so expensive malcolm because the processor has to be designed , either in house or by a digital engineering design company . They are then only of use on one particular model , when “super dooper ” MK 1000 comes out it starts all over again . Each processor sets out commands to different analogue components therefore the whole PCB and its components/ copper runs etc has to be designed and the machines making them reprogrammed to the new design.

Member

I am sure more could be done to recover complex electronic components from appliances that are being discarded – and there are legitimate reasons for some disposals.

When an elderly woman known to us died recently her whole house was gutted on the orders of her executors so it could be sold and all her – fairly modern – appliances and domestic equipment were just thrown in a skip, getting badly damaged in the process. Very little of re-usable value would have survived but if some thought and care had gone into recovery of parts there would be a solution to John’s problem of one small item, a defective PCB, junking an otherwise serviceable appliance. Kenneth Watt has told us many times that component recovery and refurbishment aren’t worth the candle and that the trade wouldn’t like it because it would reduce demand for new products, and I understand those arguments – but are they sustainable in the present climate?

Member

Small repairers often recover parts from popular models and use them to repair faulty goods. I have no idea if car scrapyards allow people to clamber over old cars to find a vital component, but there are car dismantlers that will sell a variety of parts from old vehicles. Small traders on eBay etc. offer a variety of secondhand parts for white goods etc.

Further down the street the kitchen fitters deposited a full range of appliances on the drive and they remained there, unprotected from rain, for a couple of weeks. I would not be surprised if they were all still working at the time of removal. Rather than putting them out in the rain they could have been stored in the large garage and collected by a charity.

Member

It has often been claimed that having more programmes on a washing machine detracts from reliability. Maybe that was the case in the days of motor-driven cam switches but I would like to see evidence that modern electronic programmers would be more reliable with fewer programmes. Maybe it is just the fact that there is a programmer, and it has not been well designed. We probably all use few programmes on our appliances, but different people want different ones. 🙁

My laptop does not have a single control on the casing, with even the power switch on the keyboard. Having struggled with a variety of buttons, slide-switches and rotary controls on other laptops I like mine.