In the old days error codes on appliances just didn’t exist. When an appliance went faulty, instead of aborting the program and displaying a mysterious error code – it soldiered on regardless and displayed symptoms. At times these symptoms might be quite nasty such as boiling all your laundry or flooding the kitchen, but often they were benign symptoms such as sticking part way through a wash or just reaching the end of a drying cycle without actually drying the laundry and so on.
These symptoms formed part of an engineers investigation into the cause of a fault, and carefully questioning the appliance owner as to what exactly happened certainly made me feel more skilled, and made the job more interesting.
A good engineer always knew what questions to ask, and listened carefully to the replies. I might be told for example that a washing machine sticks on its cycle and never finishes, whereupon I would enquire exactly where does it stick? If it stuck during the main wash I would suspect the washer wasn’t heating the water – or maybe it was – but for some reason the thermostat wasn’t registering the temperature with the programmer. Further questions were required to find which of these scenarios to investigate.
If the washing machine stuck during rinses, or on the spin section I would have a different set of suspects and questions. As an engineer I think those days were better because error codes now take a lot of the detective work away from being an engineer, and even negate the necessity to question the customer, which helped break the ice and forge some kind of relationship.
What’s wrong with error codes?
The clue is in the name, error code. Codes are secret by nature and although some very basic error codes are described in the user manuals the rest are usually kept from the owner of the appliance, and more alarmingly at times even from the rest of the white goods repair industry. If error codes are kept secret from qualified engineers then they can’t fix your appliance. This means prices will not be subject to fair competition, customers may be forced to use a manufacturer or their agent, and prices will be higher as a result. If the ability to repair an appliance is limited (by design) to the manufacturer and their agents it’s clearly a form of restrictive practice.
How else can error codes impact negatively on customers and repair engineers?
Before error codes an appliance owner had symptoms to describe to an engineer when phoning for advice or to book a repairman, or even to help decide if the fault was something they might be able to fix themselves or not. All appliances are essentially the same inside, and apart from differences in specific design and quality they all have virtually exactly the same parts. Therefore before error codes a good engineer could fix any brand of appliance as long as they could get the parts.
If a customer rang up saying their washing machine was sticking on the rinses the chances are that no matter what brand it was the fault was very likely to be a pump or a filling fault, so an engineer could advise accordingly and have a look. The problem with error codes is that they remove the symptoms of a fault and replace it with a code. These days if a washing machine develops a fault that would cause it to stick on the rinse cycle it just turns itself off and flashes various lights or shows a code, so you need to know what these lights and codes mean to fix the appliance.
If only the manufacturer or their dealers know the meaning then an owner has no choice but to call them. Every manufacturer has their own different error codes and there are many thousands of them.
Did manufacturers develop error codes so they can restrict who repairs their products to themselves or their chosen dealers?
Error codes are a natural and inevitable advancement which developed after microchips running software became available to control appliances. However, once developed it’s tempting for some manufacturer’s to control these error codes to their advantage and this has pretty obviously happened to an increasing extent with many appliance manufacturers.
Are there any good things about error codes?
The best thing about error codes is that as soon as a fault is detected the appliance can usually prevent serious symptoms or at least limit the damage by aborting the programme. Before software controlled appliances washing machines could develop an overfilling fault and flood uncontrollably causing countless damage, or they could overheat and if left unattended literally never stop heating until the water boiled dry and the heater fused the appliance.
Another good thing is they can help an engineer diagnose a fault in the absence of a customer to describe symptoms or they can prevent poor and misleading fault descriptions from some customers sending an engineer on a wild goose chase. As long as legitimate independent engineers can obtain lists of error code meanings they are a potentially useful thing to have.
What difference does it make if error codes are freely available or not?
If repairs are restricted to a manufacturer because error codes are kept from legitimate engineers then repair costs increase, and your choice of who services your appliances decreases. Also your ability to carry out diy repairs (if you are qualified and competent) are removed. Even your ability to try and judge the seriousness of a fault is removed because without symptoms you can’t possibly have a clue what has gone wrong.
E.g. Imagine you are an engineer yourself, possibly fixing things far more complex than a washing machine, or maybe you are a very competent diy person, who may have installed your own kitchen, shower, burglar alarm etc. and your washing machine develops a small leak. You pull it out, take the back off and see a small hose has a split, so you order one and easily fix it. Or maybe you notice the washer is going through the cycle but the drum isn’t revolving so you take the back off and discover the carbon brushes have worn, so you order new ones and fix it. With error codes shutting the machine off as soon as it detects a leak you don’t even know it’s leaking, it just shuts off and displays a cryptic error code. With error codes detecting the motor isn’t running it aborts and displays a cryptic error code. The symptoms of the fault have been intercepted.
To be fair it’s actually a great advancement that a washing machine can detect a leak and shut off before any damage is done. It’s brilliant. I only object to the fact that when a leak has been detected it is kept secret. What’s wrong with aborting the programme for safety and displaying “leak detected” on the control panel? Well, nothing other than it gives the owner of the machine a chance to have a look themselves or to phone a local engineer informing them their washing machine has detected a leak.
Who supplies good technical information to independent engineers and who doesn’t
When choosing which brand of appliance to purchase, factors such as how many people are available to repair it in the future should ideally be factored in. I personally would think twice about buying a brand that restricts your choice of who you chose to repair it. It’s not necessarily a big problem for everyone as the manufacturers are a legitimate and often good source of aftercare but independent engineers often provide a faster, cheaper and better service (as found by the likes of Which?) and they are being slowly squeezed out
Some appliance brands where technical information is not always available, or can be hard to obtain are –
Some white goods brands where technical information is usually easily available to independent engineers are –
- Electrolux | Zanussi | AEG (All owned by the same company)
Choose from my list of white goods appliance repairers.
- Washing machine error codes list
- Dishwasher error codes
- Appliance error codes advice – what you need to know
- LG Smart Diagnosis tool, advancement or con?
- Lost your instruction book? – Washing machine instruction books and user manuals
- Washing machine repairs (Main repair help section includes section on choosing a repair engineer as well as DIY help)
- DIY repair safety and tips
- Research Washerhelp’s washing machine repair forum archive
- DIY Washing machine repair help (common faults)
- Washing machine stops with lights flashing
- Program selector knob (dial) clicks round continuously
Find appliance repairs – Book washing machine (or other appliance) repair