..but I don’t think I should have to pay for a repair
Guarantees are, “in addition to”, and do not affect our statutory rights. In fact there’s no law that says we even have to get a guarantee although no one would be crazy enough to try it. The guarantee we get with our washing machine is built into the price. It is not really free, and is quite separate from our consumer rights, which state that a washing machine must be "of merchantable quality", and "fit for the purpose it was made for". It’s also expected to last a "reasonable" length of time and be free from inherent faults.
If a major fault develops even after the guarantee has expired, you may still be entitled to claim the washing machine wasn’t of merchantable quality and therefore claim a partial refund or damages for up to 6 years (Sale of Goods Act gives us 6 years to claim for faulty appliances) though you are highly likely to have to fight for this compensation and may need to go to the small claims court.
Another way in which we are protected by consumer law is that we can claim compensation if a washing machine can be shown to have an "inherent fault" (usually the cost of the repair). An inherent fault is a fault that was present when you bought it. These faults will normally be dealt with under the manufacturer’s guarantee because they will be apparent within the first 6 – 12 months. But there can be inherent faults that are not apparent until much later. An error in design, or an error in manufacturing can mean that technically a faulty part was fitted into the washing machine, which takes a long time to fail, but still fails unreasonably soon. The "fault" may not become apparent immediately, but it was there at the time of sale, and so the product was not of satisfactory standard or might be shown to have had an inherent fault.
That’s alright in theory but..
Words such as "reasonable" and "merchantable quality" are open to subjective interpretation. What is reasonable to one person may not be accepted as reasonable to another, so the courts often have to decide. In practice, if any serious fault occurs outside the guarantee you will not normally find the manufacturer, or the company you bought your washing machine from interested in repairing it free of charge. The initial guarantee has expired and as far as they are concerned it’s sad, but tough.
Despite their attitude you could argue that a new washing machine should last longer than 4 years and therefore it was not "fit for its purpose" or it has not lasted a "reasonable" amount of time, especially if it was expensive. You may also find evidence that hundreds or even thousands of people have had the exact same fault, and that it is a design fault.
The problem is that you may need to take the company you bought it from to (the small claims) court (or at least threaten to) in order to force them to compensate you. Many have done so and been successful, but relatively few are prepared for such a confrontation. UK consumer law allows up to 6 years from purchase (5 in Scotland) to take legal action against a seller. Therefore it is possible to claim that your washing machine was inherently faulty, or simply not of good enough quality if it suffers a major fault even at 5 or 6 years old – especially one which renders it scrap. Whether you would win or not is pretty unclear and depends on all circumstances. If your washing machine cost only £200 and you’ve washed every day for 3 years for a family of 4 or 5 it may be judged that it has lasted a reasonable time under those circumstances. On the other hand if you paid £700 for a brand selling on a reputation of quality and only washed for 3 people it may well be judged that it has not lasted a reasonable time.
Fair wear and tear
You should be cautious about jumping to legal action unless you are sure of your case. There is help and advice available, but you may need to be prepared to fight your case. Don't make the mistake of assuming any breakdowns on your washing machine within the first 5 or 6 years means you can take the seller to court. A washing machine (like any other goods purchased) cannot be expected never to break down, and even a break down after a year or two of washing may be considered reasonable depending on the fault and the amount of laundry the machine has been washing.
To successfully claim under the consumer legislation when your washing machine is out of the manufacturer’s guarantee, you have to show that the washing machine either had an inherent fault, that was present on the day of purchase (but not detectable) or that it was not of reasonable quality (maybe because of repeated breakdowns).
All information is meant to be fair and balanced. All advice is given in good faith and without liability, and is meant as a general guideline only. With consumer issues, always double check advice using the free Government & consumer group’s literature as well.