Modern Appliances: Calculated Failure & Planned Obsolescence


Remember the old days when appliances and electronic devices actually lasted?

hoover twin tubWhen we were young, and our kids were little, my wife and I had a fridge which lasted 15 years and still going strong. We also owned one of the original twin-tub washing machines with a noise level akin to a 747 taking off. We’d always find it in a different part of the laundry as it jumped around doing its thing, distance traveled only restricted by the length of the electrical cord. Yet it lasted for years. We owned a black and white TV which was goodness knows how old when we finally upgraded to a new-fangled color model. Sure, it got to the stage where we had to bang our fist on top of the old TV now and then to change channels but hey, it was still working.

These days, you couldn’t be blamed for presuming that appliances and electronic devices in general are specifically designed to just outlast the warranty period. I’ve lost count of the number times I’ve purchased one of these types of products only for it to go kaput just after the warranty has expired. A few years ago I paid a small fortune for a big screen Panasonic TV which broke down exactly 14 months later… you guessed it, 2 months out of warranty. Coincidence? Methinks not.

They just don’t make ’em like they used to

Considering volume equals profit, it’s certainly in manufacturers’ best interests to force consumers into purchasing new products more often. So, the logical conclusion then is to design products in a way that will predictably shorten their lifespan. Using inferior quality components not only lowers a manufacturer’s costs but is also almost certain to shorten the product’s lifespan. However, not all premature breakdowns can be attributed to lower quality. Consider this for example; capacitors can be positioned in such a way that makes overheating (and subsequent breakdowns) less likely OR they can be placed in close proximity to heat sources thereby drastically shortening the lifespan of the product. Calculated failure.

oow-panic2

There used to be a time when purchasing a brand-name product was an almost certain guarantee of longevity – steer clear of generic names and stick with reputable brands being the common cry. These days however, that theory appears to be down the drain with calculated failure and planned obsolescence systemic throughout the industry.

Overall, I’m thinking it’s just another symptom of changing values – reputation having given way to the chase for the almighty dollar. Regardless of cause, deliberate or not; is there anything more frustrating than when that nice expensive appliance or device breaks down and you rush to locate the receipt only to discover that it’s just run out of warranty – <expletive, expletive, expletive>


Footnote: I’ll never understand how a $20.00 electric kettle and a $4000.00 big screen TV can both come with the exact same 12 month warranty period. It does not compute!

 

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About the Author

Jim Hillier

Jim is the resident freeware aficionado at DCT. A computer veteran with 30+ years experience who first started writing about computers and tech back in the days when freeware was actually free. His first computer was a TRS-80 in the 1980s, he progressed through the Commodore series of computers before moving to PCs in the 1990s. Now retired (aka an old geezer), Jim retains his passion for all things tech and still enjoys building and repairing computers for a select clientele... as well as writing for DCT, of course.

9 Comments

  1. It is amazing on how well timed an appliance breakdown is timed to the expiration of the factory warranty and the extended warranty that consumers are enticed to buy “like me” is usually not worth anything.

  2. And I’ll bet the $20 kettle is still working! Many years ago I bought a boom box for my wife, and the CD player died 3 days after the warranty. Took it to their repair center and they would not do anything for mje, except sell je a new unit for what I paid for it. No deal says I. I have never and will never buy that brand again in my life. My wife loves their brand of kitchen apliances, but I refuse to buy them. I may lose that battle, but she will know it!

  3. I bet that the cost for return postage and handling of the $20 kettle would be more than a brand new kettle, Mindblower!

  4. The American Express Platinum Card, as well as some other premium cards, double the warranty. I’ve used that feature a couple of times and it’s paid off. For big ticket items Square Trade is also a good choice. They took care of an expensive coffee maker that failed and covered shipping as well.

  5. Another thing that irritates me is that you have no chance of fixing them. Glue, hidden clips and odd screws stop you getting inside and fixing what should be a simple repair. Tracked a fault in a trailer plug on my Mazda to a plug on the blinker. Had to take it to a specialist to get the panel off so I could fix the plug.

  6. jim, you hit home with this one!! hahha…. my wife and i are not cheap, but we know what we like and when we find an appliance or whatever that we like and works the way we want it, we want it to last. we have found that repairing it is the way to go. cases in point… slide in stove, very expensive to replace, nothing out there but china crap..our controller quit. i found a place online that repairs them…i took out old, sent it in, got a brand new one in a week…120 bucks. works like new again. little freezer died. had repairman out, put in new thingamagig, works like new…85 bucks. spent days looking for a good new one…all china junk, all bad reviews…fix the old one and we are happy again. washer died..maytag when they were great…repairman out…motor gone..he said his place had some. wife went, found exactly the same model as ours…perfect condition..200 bucks delivered and installed with new hoses…works perfect..we laugh everytime we use it. so new is not always better…sometimes fixing the old, american made one is the way to go. your article hit home for sure…

    • Hi Clas – Things are a lot different here (in Australia). Just to get a repairer to the door here costs anything between $80 to $120, that’s before they even take a look at whatever’s broken.

      Our washing machine broke recently, quotes from repairers over the phone amounted to around $200, including the first hour’s labor. By the time we included an approximate for parts, it all added up to more than half the price of a brand new machine.

  7. I have a perfectly good, big, bulky Brother laser printer, except it does not lift the paper off the tray anymore. I tried to repair it myself.

    First problem was finding the official repair manual. Very difficult to trace, but I finally got it. Then you have to dismantle the thing. You’d think : turn a few screws, and voilà. Big mistake. It can be dismantled, and the manual purports to show how, but it’s devilishly difficult. It almost seems designed to discourage repair, as opposed to easing functionality or even fabrication. Buying the parts off the Internet was easy. Putting them in was difficult, but doable and done. Unfortunately, my printer still does not lift paper off the tray…

    And the alternative ? Compared to present-day Brother models, my printer seems to be made out of cast iron. The equivalent I could buy today seems to be made out of cardboard, with a horrible type of bendy plastic which shouts : I’ll be broken tomorrow.