Getting in a spin: Why washing machines are no longer built to last


Nigel Cassidy reports on the lifespan of appliances

Remember that old washing machine you bought back in the 1980s? The one that seemed to go on for ever?

And then there was the one you bought only a couple of years back, which seemed to give up the ghost more quickly than an ultra-fast spin cycle.

They don't build them like they used to.

Even the industry admits that the lifespan of white goods has fallen. But then so too have prices.

So how long should a fridge or a freezer last, and is it worth spending a bit more on a better model?

'Going strong'

Ann Barlow is expecting a visit from her grandchildren and begins mixing the ingredients for a cake.

Ann Barlow + mixer Ann Barlow has used her Kenwood Chef for over 40 years

They are soon whizzing round effortlessly, if not noiselessly, in the same trusty electric mixer that she has used for 40 years.

It is a Kenwood Chef bought locally in the West Midlands. Then - at the time of the miners' strike - it would have cost around a month's wages.

But for Ann Barlow, it was her best buy ever.

"I hoped it would last well, but had no idea it would still be going strong for this long. It's never even been in for a service. It is a little bit noisy now, but that doesn't matter", she says.

'Conking out'

Our relentless demand for cheap household appliances is taking its toll on the durability of the products we buy.

Blame it on the smartphone.

With new technology constantly offering fresh features, many people have got used to the idea of upgrading devices nearly every year.

As a result, it seems our expectation of the lifespan of household gadgets is also reducing.

Shoppers constantly search online for the best deals and High Street retailers have to compete to make sales.

It is this erosion of prices which has inevitably taken its toll on the build quality and longevity of mass-market products.

group of appliances Cheaper prices for white goods inevitably mean lower build quality

On its website, the Whitegoods Trade Association (WTA) openly acknowledges that the average lifespan has dropped in relation to prices.

Take the example of a washing machine.

Its life expectancy has dropped by a full three years over the last decade or so, meaning many will conk out pretty quickly.

"Over 40% cost under £300. Obviously these cheaper products do not have the same build quality, performance or longevity and therefore the average lifespan has dropped from over 10 years to under seven years," the website confesses.

It is not unusual for cheaper appliances to only last a few years.

Premature scrapping

The move to buying online has also broken the link between consumers and local businesses.

Such businesses once serviced everything they sold, sometimes way beyond its official guarantee period.

Collectively, the retail industry no longer even trains many domestic engineers.

Start Quote

woman with washing machine

There is too much premature scrapping. The trouble is it's in the interests of manufacturers to get three sales out of people every 10 years”

End Quote Robert Chapman Chapmans

But the independent sector is fighting back.

Robert Chapman is managing director of Chapmans, a family electrical business at Cradley Heath in the West Midlands - with a history going back to 1927.

His company takes pride in its guaranteed repair service. When it comes to breakdowns, he says nine out of 10 washing machines and three-quarters of flat-screen televisions can be restored to perfect working order.

"There is too much premature scrapping," he says.

"The trouble is it's in the interests of manufacturers to get three sales out of people every 10 years -- not one. Because they don't have repair departments that make profits, customers are always pointed towards new products," he claims.

'Trusty' appliances

If an appliance has let you down and you are considering a claim against the makers or sellers, it is worth considering typical product lifespans before rushing to the courts.

Hannah Davies is a trading standards officer with Birmingham City Council.

She points out that consumer law does not underwrite six years of use, as is commonly believed.

She says it depends how much you paid for the product, and how much you have used it.

"Let's say you paid £199 for a washing machine and used it three to four times a day every day for four or five years, then the court would probably say that you have had enough use out of that product. But if you had spent £1,000 and used your machine for a minimal amount of time, the law would probably say you would be entitled to a refund of part of the amount or a repair."

So is it worth shelling out extra for a trusted, premium brand?

The answer is not clear-cut. The premium appliance could give you 20 years' service. It's certainly the best choice if reliability and durability are paramount -- and if you can afford it.

But if you don't have the budget and your use of the product will be lighter, then a cheaper model may be perfectly adequate.

Some people like the idea of being able to replace their technology as soon as possible.

Others, like Ann Barlow, pride themselves on sticking with their trusty appliances of old.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    Ive got a washing machine thats over 15 years old and works fine, why change it for a new machine that isnt going to last as long?

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    Re Miele: although our washing machine is 33yrs-old, the oven (same-age), though it still works (just), takes hours to get to 190°C, and no higher. Apparently at the time they were bought, while the washing machine was built in Germany, the oven was built, or at least assembled, locally (not living in the UK), and build quality suffered.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    I have just repaired my 11 year old Bosch washing machine. The element had 'gone'. It cost me £44 (including a new £4 sensor, replaced just in case) and took me around 45 mins to do, with surprisingly no cussing and swearing. I was helped by an internet video and found that I could do all the work from the front, with the machine only needing to be pulled out a little way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    Companies if various different businesses form gentleman's agreements between each other. Its for the benefit of each company, if they sell more appliances/products. Look how insurance companies work, energy companies etc...

    The old ways of quality engineering has gone, and its completely not environmentally friendly, no matter how much they make the products recyclable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    Had my Hoover washing machine 10 years now. the only thing that ever went wrong was the catch on the door broke, still gives a brilliant wash, and it is used at least 4 times a week.
    My Belling fan assisted oven is now 25 years old and has never let me down.
    My Bosch dishwasher is used every day and that is 5 years old.
    Perhaps I'm lucky who knows !

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    Individual consumers and appliance makers are not the only parties to the contract. There is also a third, silent party to it - the environment. Eco-sustainability is a valid concern. But can it be brought to bear in a free-market commercial arena?
    That is the 20m-pound question, in the sense that all those who aren't worth £20m may not survive the environmental deterioration at all. Watch out!

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    I'm 27 and I use a 1968 toaster which is beautiful. I've got a 1953 Ultra Radio and 1957 Dansette Monarch record player and a Kenwood chef like the one in a article. They all work perfectly and most importantly they look beautiful in their own right which is much more than you can say for most cheap modern products Only the top brands like Miele or Swan make long lasting and attractive products.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    Back in the early sixties, my parents bought an electric fan heater for those early winter mornings. It's still running at my sister's house, fifty years later, warming a third generation of children's feet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    Manufacturers just do what they want, build in obsolescence and rubbish quality, and then tell us it what we asked for - although nobody actually asked me if I wanted to buy a new everything every three years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    152 Thoughtcrime

    I heard of people when their kettle breaks, they also buy a toaster, microwave etc. Nothing wrong with the latter, but they don't go with the new kettle! These people need to get a life

    I have a green kettle, black toaster, white microwave an chrome electric can opener.

    I go for things on how they perform not on design.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    Appliances are easily repairable but the cost of spares is unacceptably high.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    So how would a court respond if you use a £1000 washing machine three to four times a day every day for four or five years and it packs up? Poor example given.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    I've always bought premium brand consumer durables. More expensive initially but far cheaper over their longer life span than cheaper short life inferior stuff. Same with cars. The more expensive quality German marques are cheaper per year/1000 miles of motoring if you keep them for extended periods.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    The dishwasher that I've had since 1983 spewed water all over the kitchen floor a few months ago. The wonderful man who has kept it going all these years was unable to fix it as there are no parts available. I have replaced it with a more expensive machine in the hope that it might last me out! I also managed to keep a Sony television going for over 30 years. Friends used to laugh at it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    My Parents still use their Morphy Richards fridge that they bought when they married in 1965. It has never gone wrong and apart from having to be de-frosted once a month, it works as well - if not better - than anything that could be bought new today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    Just get a miele


  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    ive got a spinner , a thing that spins wet clothes till they are just damp , it was my mothers and she had it for 10 years , ive had it for 20 , its kept in the cupboard and brought out when the washer or drier breaks . it seen off 2 driers and 3 washers in all that time with me and at least 2 washers with my mum.. built like a tank.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    You get what you pay for. Or, to put it another way, only a rich man can afford a bargain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    It's a sign of the times that i know of nowhere where i could actually have my TV repaired if it broke down, i would be expected to throw it away and buy a new one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    Our Miele freezer has just died at the ripe old age of 19 years we replaced it with a A* rated one so it should last longer seeming the motor will have less work to do due to the extra insulation, on the up side our washing machine is again a Miele and its 21 years old and is still going same with our 18 year old fridge its still chugging along.


Page 14 of 22


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