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 434.

    @ (402) AliBenSawali
    Alcohol never lasts long in this gaff. I do not want to live so long that I pray for the assisted death that is denied me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 433.

    We moved house back in xmas 1976, I was 14. They left a phillips electric razor but took the aerial. I was given the shaver, my 1st, & I'm still using it now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 432.

    "Why washing machines are no longer built to last"

    Because when they break down, we buy new ones....

  • rate this

    Comment number 431.

    I know someone who collects loads of old stuff on their farm, old motors, Landies etc, & washing machines for spares. An inspired part re-use was the glass washing machine windows, which are now large, v.tough pasta/salad serving bowls - useful for big family mealtimes, and if they're dropped, they won't break; one's foot might though..

  • rate this

    Comment number 430.

    Bought a new w/mc. Failed after 3 years. Found a molten blob which was the start capacitor. Got a spare from the dealership - made in China. Did the sums, and found it to be seriously underrated, worked out the correct value and got german made unit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 429.

    I have my mother's 'terracotta effect' slow cooker from the eighties and both our TVs are behemoths from the local British Heart Foundation Shop. My washing machine went after 21 years in January and I bought another second hand for £100, same with the fridge after 16 years. A food mixer broke after a year.... luck or skill?

  • rate this

    Comment number 428.

    I bought a tv licence once, bloody thing I have had to replace it every year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 427.

    I don't have a fridge, nor a freezer, nor a microwave oven for that matter, and I go to the local laundrette where the industrial machines clean, dry and press far better than any cheap household machine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 426.

    I don't count £300 as cheap. To those of us on low or average wages that is a huge outlay, and I expect something that expensive to last me 20 years. Which they don't any more.Once you could fix things yourself or a workman could fix them for you, but often now with a TV or washing machine etc the 'man who comes to fix it' says that there is nothing he can repair as it is all electric circuits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 425.

    my mum had a creda 2kw stand alone room heater from new in 1960 to keep my bedroom warm, we only had coal fires in those days.. It is still in use today 54 years old and still going stong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 424.

    I repair domestic appliances for a living. Modern machines are junk. Once washing machines get noisy, due to bearing failure, you have no choice but to throw it away. Virtually all manufacturers now produce a drum/tub assy. which is too expensive to replace. The main problem is that even the quality manufacturers have to cut costs to compete with the junk coming in from, mainly, China.

  • rate this

    Comment number 423.

    I've found it easy to get a new or 2nd hand washing machine, but extremely rare to find one that actually gets clothes properly clean. Why is 'grey' acceptable?

  • rate this

    Comment number 422.

    I've got a microwave that I've had since the mid 1980's and it's still going strong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 421.

    The longest Appliance in my household is the Electrolux fridge freezer which is 16 years old, and still going strong! Now i better touch some wood as I Hoping another 5 years +!

  • rate this

    Comment number 420.

    @Dr Teeth (no53), no I refused a free flat screen tv last year, so you're not alone - mainly because it wouldn't fit in the shelf unit! Glad to hear someone else out there doesn't measure the quality of their life by the size and flatness of their screen. The kids watch videos on an old tv and they don't care either. Use iplayer/DVD on the mac, what would we do with 2 big screens anyway?

  • rate this

    Comment number 419.

    412. The Misteron asked:

    "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... WHY !!"

    It's that vile EU interfering in our God-given right to be ripped off, of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 418.

    Many people won,t buy spare parts because they don,t have the knowledge to diagnose the fault and fit them.
    Also, once a warranty expires high labour charges added to huge parts price mark ups makes buying a new appliance instead of having an engineer repair the old one preferable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 417.

    Due to a new kitchen I decided to change my 19 year old dishwasher that was still working without ever having a fault.I bet the new one will not last any where near this!

  • rate this

    Comment number 416.

    411. mafab

    Dyson on was once popular as he bypassed the overpricing of bags for the normal vacuums. As time has gone by we now find them useless, no suction compared to old style, and breakdown. All we needed was generic sensible price bags or simple reusable emptyable ones.

    These days they advertise effectively we use patents to stay overpriced and keep out competition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 415.

    I have three Miele appliances - dishwasher, washing machine and tumble drier, all 20 years' old. Heavy usage with kids, just serviced for first time. Engineer: 'Good as new'.


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