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.


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.

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