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 414.

    Mine (washing machines) have always lasted 12 -15 years with not a service between them. I always followed the instructions, never overloaded them and always dried the rubber seal after use! Simple! AND I always bought the cheapest and simplest model. Abuse it and lose it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.

    ..machines will last longer like long-life lo-energy bulbs,environmentally friendly!
    ..lo-energy bulbs do not last anywhere near claimed life expectancy..often far shorter than filament..
    ..led tech
    The mercury vapour when they get broken (as all bulbs do sometimes) *isn't* enviro-friendly,either for ur (temporarily evacuated) room or for landfill
    LED seems better bet

  • rate this

    Comment number 412.

    Buy any electrical appliance in Europe and you get a full two year warranty, yet in the UK it is still only a one year warranty and yet most of the products here are still more expensive. WHY !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 411.

    In the engineering industry a components mean time between failure can be requested and you you usually pay more for a longer mtbf component if it is available. Experience also indicates that better built goods also produce better and more consistent performance of the service for which they were built. Ask yourself why Dyson was so popular even though it was much more expensive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 410.

    Save money hang your clothes out when it rains.

  • rate this

    Comment number 409.

    After numerous new toasters from the far east that only last 2 year max I got a nearly new Dualit, made in England. All the key components can be replaced, it's designed to be repaired. In 10 years I've only had to replace the timer, but it's great that you can buy the bits. It's been worth paying more to get a maintainable product (and one that doesn't add to the trade deficit).

  • rate this

    Comment number 408.

    A lot of modern appliances fail because they require more care in using them, washing machines and dryers are filled with all sorts of plastics (which melt on teh electronics) and other objects which block the filters etc, Freezers and fridges are turned up to max in summers thinking this will compensate for idiots constantly opening the doors and overfilling with warm beers and the like etc etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 407.

    Basically you get what you pay for.Many moons ago a washing machine mechanic told us that a cheap Indesit would last around 6 years, a Hotpoint / Hoover around 8, and an AEG, Siemens, Bosch around 12.
    We had a Bosch washer for 13 and used it at least once a day, often more, and now on our second so we tend to favour that make.
    Bosch's sister Siemens is still made in Germany if you have the cash!

  • rate this

    Comment number 406.

    I don't trust an expensive appliance to not break down just as soon as a cheaper one tbh. The manufacturers have all the info, we have none. Past reputation is no guarantee of future performance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 405.

    Yes I can see your view but then again people complaining about things that have traditionally been a certain colour which is how they got their name. Care to guess what Hi Fi and other electronic entertainment stuff used to be known as? The clue came from the default colour which I won't mention as it might upset you. Be thankful the white goods break down & are useless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 404.

    The trick is to always by from an establised manufacturer. My fridge/freezer is over 30 years old and when it's thermostat failed a couple of years back, I phoned them up and they were able to find a new/old stock replacement.

    I am not sure how a more modern manufacturer who have handled such a request.

    It's not about paying more, but paying for quality !

  • rate this

    Comment number 403.

    Don't worry about the machines taking over. Given the quality of most stuff these days, the terminators probably wouldn't even work properly when new and I don't think they had a warranty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 402.

    It's not just white goods but white sparkling wine too. I bought 24 bottles of Dom Perignon chateau de Chablis vin du plonk in 1988. I really don't think recent years can compete. Maybe it's something in the water. Does anyone else have large quantities of alcohol just waiting to be drunk. I'm saving mine for a special day. Friday is a good day but Saturday is special

  • rate this

    Comment number 401.

    As the goods are branded, perhaps we should make the manufacturers responsible for their de-construction and recycling. In other words, at end of useful life they go back to the manufacturer - I think they'd soon get fed up of them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 400.

    I bought a Hotpoint WMPF 742 for £328.00 just under two years ago. I bought it from John Lewis, who give a two year guarantee.
    After seven months the machine stopped working, and had to have a new PCB board fitted.
    Two weeks ago the machine failed again, and the Hotpoint engineer replaced both the heating element and PCB board.
    The repair isn't guaranteed, as it was a 'warranty repair'! RUBBISH!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 399.

    Bought a VCR in the 80s with extended warranty. Every year, it went wrong and the warranty man came to fix it, each time it was a little end-stop sensor" bulb which had blown. Each time I paid £40 and then got it refunded by the insurance two months later.

    Good value?

    Then, out of warranty, the bulb went again. I bought one for 50p in the local shop and fitted it, and it lasted ten years :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 398.

    OMG 'White goods' is such a racist thing to say. You wouldn't say 'black bads' would you. No wonder uber neo facist racists such as Mr Top Gear have found a place at the BBC. I mean this is just so absolutely totally innit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 397.

    It's not just white goods, buying cheap clothes is a false economy too. I bought a winter coat in 1991 for £120 and it is still a perfectly good coat. Not only is consumerism killing the planet, but we are exploiting people in developing countries just so that we can own more stuff that we don't need.

  • rate this

    Comment number 396.

    Another reason that is not mentioned in the article is that its almost impossible to tell before you buy something how long the item is likely to last. Thus cutting costs which has an immediately noticeable effect on price is often more important for manufacturers than build quality, which is hidden and provides unclear benefit to the manufacturer's brand.

  • rate this

    Comment number 395.

    I have a Neff oven I've had for 15 years now - no trouble whatsoever.

    My Bosch fridge lasted 3 years and was replaced with a Zanussi (10 years now), my Zanussi dishwasher lasted 17 years and can't be replaced but I'm on my 4th washer in 20 years - probably due to replace it now.


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