/ 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.