They just don’t make them like that anymore

9 Apr

This fridge looks new, right? Actually, it’s nine years old, which is still fairly new, right? Wrong. Apparently, these days they are only made to last seven years.

April 9, 2012

By Geoff Meeker

Very recently, my side-by-side Frigidaire refrigerator developed a problem. Food and drinks on the fridge side were freezing solid. It was just nine years old, so I called in the repairman.

He tested all mechanical and electronic components, and found one relay that malfunctioned. It was part of a module that would have cost $180 to replace, so I was happy to repair it. However, a day later, the repair didn’t take – food items were still freezing up.

On the phone, the repairman explained that module replacement would be the next step but, since the problem was intermittent, he couldn’t guarantee it would fix the problem. From here on, he could replace the next-most-likely component, a process of elimination that could cost $500 in parts alone. Then he dropped a bombshell.

“Your best bet is to buy a new fridge,” he said. “They don’t make them to last much longer than seven years anyhow.”

I was floored – utterly flabbergasted. In my view, appliances should last at least 20 years.

But it had a ring of truth. I know someone else who recently replaced an appliance, so I called to get his story.

Kevin Wright bought a new Kenmore smoothtop range just five years ago. Recently, it made a loud popping noise, then failed completely. After numerous attempts to diagnose the problem, it became apparent that an electrical short fried the stove’s electronics. It was cheaper to buy a new one, than attempt to repair it. Kevin was not impressed.

“I’m not going to knock the repair guys who came in, because they tried their best,” he said.  “But it was too expensive to fix it.”

Wright purchased a new stove, but reverted to the old-school model with cheap, easy-to-replace coil elements. “I will never buy another smoothtop,” he said. “And the repair guys were saying they have other customers who feel the same way.”

Emboldened, I posted a question on Facebook, asking if others had experience with appliances that fail too soon. Within minutes, I had more than enough material to fill this column.

Most complaints were about dishwashers. Barbara Nugent Penney has been through four of them in 14 years, including several high-end models from Bosch and Jenn-Air, and standard brands like LG and Kenmore.

“The current one (Kenmore) is just over a year old and already showing signs of falling apart,” she wrote. “I really believe that our modern day appliances are made only to last a short number of years.”

Deanne Dawe purchased a new Whirlpool refrigerator in 2010. Recently, she noticed water leaking from the bottom freezer compartment. She called Whirlpool, only to discover that the warranty had expired two days before. Repairs cost her $300.

I also heard from people who had laptops that failed, soon after purchase, and laser printers that were not repairable. There were complaints about TV sets that developed serious problems, like a line of distortion across the screen, immediately after warranty expiration, resulting in repairs that would probably cost more than replacement.

Several people had issues with how their hot water heaters seem timed to fail immediately after the warranty ends.  “We had a hot water boiler with an eight-year warranty,” said Deirdre Greene Lono. “It leaked all over the floor at eight years, three weeks. What I don’t get is why appliances could once be made to last 30 years, and now they can’t – in this age of environmentalism, conservation and the three Rs.”

A special note on hot water heaters: because failure is potentially disastrous, you really should replace it after the warranty period expires. It’s a sad but true fact.

Back to Kevin Wright’s smoothtop range, which, he said, had a critical flaw. “There were fuses in the old stove, in the top, so that if something went it didn’t take out the electronics inside. They stopped using those (in the new model). That’s insane.”

Kevin has a theory about what’s behind this, and it’s difficult to disagree with him.

“Manufacturers are making things to wear out in a certain time frame,” he said. “And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. It seems you can complain all you want, but they’re driven by selling more and more. In this day and age of being environmentally responsible, the waste is extravagant.”

There’s definitely a pattern here, and I’d like to pursue this matter further, perhaps by creating a forum online to share experiences and expose product failures. If you have an appliance horror story of your own, please drop me a note at geoffmeeker(at)bellaliant.net.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.

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