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.

 

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    +1

    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
    +1

    Comment number 413.

    @368Gama
    ..machines will last longer like long-life lo-energy bulbs,environmentally friendly!
    -
    373GabrielOaks
    ..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
    +2

    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
    +1

    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
    0

    Comment number 410.

    Save money hang your clothes out when it rains.

  • rate this
    +1

    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
    0

    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
    0

    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
    +1

    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
    +1

    Comment number 405.

    398.AliBenSawali
    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
    +1

    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
    +1

    Comment number 403.

    382.
    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
    -2

    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
    +2

    Comment number 401.

    @388
    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
    +1

    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
    +1

    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
    0

    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
    +1

    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
    +1

    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
    0

    Comment number 395.

    @393
    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.

 

Page 2 of 22

 

More Business stories

RSS

Business Live

  1.  
    10:45: Club Med takeover battle
    ClubMed advert

    The stakes have been raised in the game to buy French holiday group Club Med. China's Fosun has raised its offer to €24.60 per share, which values Club Med at €939m. It trumps an offer from Global Resorts, which is controlled by Italian businessman Andrea Bonomi. His bid valued Club Med at €915m. Fosun wants to expand the firm in China and Brazil.

     
  2.  
    Via Twitter Douglas Fraser Business and economy editor, Scotland

    "Standard Life Investm'ts expands to new-build on sth St Andrew Sq Edinburgh: 10 new offices from Tokyo to Stockholm, expanding existing ones"

     
  3.  
    10:26: Air France shares slump
    Striking Air France pilots

    Shares in Air-France KLM have slumped 6% after the airline issued its third profit warning of the year late on Thursday. It blamed continued costs from a strike by pilots earlier this year. Sales, particularly of long-haul tickets, are weak, according to the airline. It also said that it was not yet seeing the benefit of falling oil prices.

     
  4.  
    10:13: Russia crisis
    A board showing currency exchange rates

    The Russian rouble has steadied gaining almost 3% and at one point it traded below 60 to the dollar. It comes after Russian finance minister Anton Siluanov said the rouble would definitely hold firm at the beginning of next year. He also said the ministry had been selling foreign currency.

     
  5.  
    10:00: Government borrowing falls

    Borrowing was also revised down for the first half of the year. Overall, year-to-date borrowing was £2.4bn less than first thought, mostly reflecting lower estimates of central government spending and higher assessments of receipts. The borrowing figure for November also came in £1bn less than the City expected.

     
  6.  
    09:49: Oil prices
    Brent crude price

    Oil prices have strengthened a bit this morning. North Sea Brent Crude is up 1% at $59.87 a barrel. You can see what a volatile week it has been from the chart above, with oil trading in a near $5 range and this week and breaking well below the $60 a barrel mark.

     
  7.  
    09:37: Government borrowing falls

    Government borrowing in November was £14.1bn, that's down £1.6bn compared with a year earlier, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) says.

     
  8.  
    Government borrowing falls 09:33: Breaking News

    Public sector borrowing from April to November 2014 was £75.8bn, a fall of £0.5 billion compared with the same period in a year earlier, official figures show.

     
  9.  
    09:20: Market update

    The FTSE 100 is stronger in early trading following that big jump for US shares on Thursday. Oil services firms have been hit this morning, Petrofac leads the FTSE 100 lower with a 4.5% loss.

     
  10.  
    09:02: Cyprus denied bailout cash

    The Cypriot parliament says it wants more time to draft a new law to protect people from losing their homes as a result of last year's banking crisis. The IMF says it will discuss the next steps with Cypriot authorities. The European Union had released a €350m instalment before the vote, bringing the amount of bailout cash given to Cyprus so far to €5.7bn.

     
  11.  
    Via Twitter Douglas Fraser Business and economy editor, Scotland

    "Big contract win for Schlumberger, providing drilling + well services for Statoil, in big new Mariner heavy oilfield, east of Shetland"

     
  12.  
    08:45: Cyprus denied bailout cash
    A  man walk outside a branch of Bank of Cyprus in Nicosia

    Remember last year's bank crisis in Cyprus? Well, the island nation may be in trouble again. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is refusing to give Cyprus an €86m tranche of rescue money after the Cypriot parliament voted to suspend an insolvency law - due to take effect at the end of the month - that would have made it easier for banks to start to collect on bad loans.

     
  13.  
    08:40: North sea oil outlook BBC Breakfast
    Dominic Laurie, BBC Breakfast

    Around 375,000 people work in the UK oil industry and half of those are in north east Scotland says a cold looking Dominic Laurie from Aberdeen docks on BBC Breakfast. He speaks to the chief executive of Wood Group Bob Keiller. He says the industry has been through this kind of challenge before when the oil price collapsed in 1986 and 1998. He says the oil industry came out stronger.

     
  14.  
    08:25: North Sea oil outlook Radio 5 live

    More from Sir Ian Wood. He thinks that oil prices will be around $60 to $65 a barrel over the next 18 months and then will recover. That could prompt job losses of up to 10% in the UK oil industry, although he thinks it is more likely to be 5%. He says that investment plans are made 2-3 years in advance, so the impact is not immediate.

     
  15.  
    08:18: North Sea oil outlook Radio 5 live

    "Well over the top and far too dramatic," is how Sir Ian Wood describes a warning that the North Sea oil exploration business is close to collapse. Sir Ian is the Scottish billionaire who was commissioned by the government to carry out a review of the UK's oil industry.

     
  16.  
    08:09: Newspaper review
    Business pages

    The bid by IAG for Aer Lingus dominates today's business pages. Times Chief Business Commentator, Alistair Osborne says IAG's timing is not great as Aer Lingus shares are up 54% over the past year. Away from that, in the Financial Times Gillian Tett warns about the amount of dollar-denominated debt held offshore by companies from emerging markets. Graham Ruddick of the Telegraph warns that next year could be even worse than this year for the big supermarkets chains.

     
  17.  
    07:59: North Sea oil outlook BBC Radio 4

    Ian Theophilus an oil and gas consultant tells Today he expects a number of North Sea oil projects - planned with a higher oil price in mind - may be reduced or cut altogether. He says he is very worried about the prospect for North Sea oil in 2015. He says he and colleagues "remember the late 1980s and 1990s" when the oil price was between $9 and $11 per barrel and "everything was stuck". "The chances are that could happen again," he adds.

     
  18.  
    07:51: Keeping the lights on

    Reacting to the completion of the energy auction Energy Secretary Ed Davey, said: "This is fantastic news for bill-payers and businesses. We are guaranteeing security at the lowest cost for consumers. We've done this by ensuring that we get the best out of our existing power stations and unlocking new investment in flexible plant."

     
  19.  
    07:41: Keeping the lights on

    Companies will be paid £19.40 per kilowatt by the government to provide backup power following an auction process that has been going on all week. The new scheme is designed to ensure the nation has a sufficient energy buffer to cope with peak demand - usually over the winter.

     
  20.  
    07:32: Premier League TV review
    Premier League logo on a football

    Ofcom has launched a consultation on its view that the current division of Premier League and Champions League football between Sky and BT harms competition between pay TV retailers. Back in 2010 Ofcom ordered Sky to offer its sports channels to rivals at a price set by the regulator. It is now reviewing whether that has helped competition and "remains appropriate". There will be a second phase of the review in 2015.

     
  21.  
    07:20: North Sea oil outlook Radio 5 live
    North Sea oil platform

    It's extremely difficult to tell if the North Sea oil business is heading into the same kind of crisis that it saw in 1986, says Aberdeen businessman Charles Skene on Radio 5 live. Kenny Anderson the boss of an Aberdeen construction firm remembers the "strife" caused in 1986 when oil fell to $36 per barrel. But predicting oil prices is an "impossible game" he points out.

     
  22.  
    07:10: Samsung shareholder payout

    Samsung Electronics is considering increasing its dividend payout this year by between 30% and 50% compared to 2013.

     
  23.  
    06:56: Nigerian currency crisis BBC Radio 4

    Phillip Walker of the Economist Intelligence Unit, tells Today the crisis facing Nigeria is far bigger than the one facing Russia. Nigeria's currency the naira has fallen 15% against the US dollar this year forcing the country's central bank to impose foreign currency trading controls. "Nigeria has a bigger population than Russia, its economy relies on oil exports more than Russia, so it's a big problem," Mr Walker says.

     
  24.  
    06:48: Gas prices BBC Radio 4

    Professor Green says energy suppliers have an eye on politics at the moment. He says Labour leader Ed Miliband's promise to freeze energy prices for 20 months if his party wins next year's election may mean suppliers will keep prices artificially high despite currently benefitting from lower gas costs.

     
  25.  
    06:34: Gas prices BBC Radio 4

    While falling oil prices have recently caught the attention of many, the cost of gas has also been coming down. That's because demand in Europe has been falling due to a relatively warm winter so far. Richard Green professor of sustainable energy business at Imperial College London tells Today we shouldn't expect lower energy bills are a result. That's because energy suppliers are selling us gas they bought at last year's prices.

     
  26.  
    06:32: Asian markets

    Asian stock markets have had a mixed session. They Nikkei 225 is up more than 2%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng is up 1.4%. Shares in Shanghai have fallen back after hitting a four-year high in early trading. The Shanghai composite is down 0.1%.

     
  27.  
    06:21: China recalculates growth
    Chinese flag

    China's economy is bigger than originally thought. The government has revised up the size of the economy in 2013 by 3.4% to 58.8 trillion yuan ($9.5 trillion). The increase was mainly accounted for by a greater contribution from the services sector. In comparison, the US economy was worth almost $17 trillion in 2013.

     
  28.  
    06:14: IAG bid for Aer Lingus Radio 5 live
    Dublin Airport

    British Airways owner, IAG is "good at integrating new airlines" says Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown. He is explaining why IAG made a bid for Aer Lingus. The Irish airline is attractive because it has lots of landing slots at Heathrow, says Mr Hunter. IAG may also have a bit more spending power because of the lower oil price, he adds.

     
  29.  
    06:06: North Sea oil jobs Radio 5 live
    Oil worker

    North Sea oil companies are cutting wages, rather than jobs at the moment, says Alan Savage chairman of recruitment company Orion Group on Radio 5 live. For agency workers wages have already been cut by up to 20%. He says that the British oil industry is highly taxed and the "government has a lot to answer for".

     
  30.  
    06:02: Russian crisis Radio 5 live
    Russian President, Vladimir Putin

    Next year is going to be grim for the Russian economy, says Craig Botham, emerging markets economist at Schroders on Radio 5 live. The economy is likely to contract 4.5%, inflation is forecast to be betweem 11% and 12%. The rouble could keep on weakening, "it's hard to see a particular floor for the currency" Mr Botham says.

     
  31.  
    05:59: Ben Morris Business Reporter

    Do get in touch. Email bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or tweet @bbcbusiness.

     
  32.  
    05:59: Matthew West Business Reporter

    Morning folks. The news the US Federal Reserve is in no hurry to raise interest rates boosted shares on Wall Street and in Asia to new highs. Meanwhile the Bank of Japan maintained its commitment to government bond buying at its last meeting of the year. And we'll be keeping an eye on the Russia rouble and oil price again today and there may be more on IAG's bid for Aer Lingus. Stay with us.

     

Features

From BBC Capital

Programmes

  • A prosthetic legClick Watch

    How motion capture technology is being used to design bespoke prosthetics

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.