Appliance Error codes – Friend or Foe?

Good-or-Bad In the old days error codes on appliances just didn’t exist. In some ways those were better times. However, they do come with some serious advantages as well as the disadvantages.

Before error codes, 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 were quite nasty such as boiling the laundry or flooding the kitchen. But often they were benign symptoms such as sticking part way through a wash, reaching the end of a cycle without spinning, or leaving a small puddle of water on the floor.

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. The description of the symptoms would almost always point an engineer right to the suspected fault. Error codes now take a lot of the detective work away from being an engineer. But more importantly they conceal symptoms.

What’s wrong with error codes?

Error Code The clue is in the name, error code. Codes are generally 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. More alarmingly they are also commonly withheld from independent repair engineers.

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 are 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. If you don’t know what the error code means you can’t begin to have the faintest clue as to what is wrong and how serious or not it might be.

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 to restrict who can repair their appliances?

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?

Pros-and-cons 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 cycle. When appliances were controlled by mechanical timers instead of computer software 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. 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 washing machine is going through the cycle but the drum isn’t revolving.

So you take the back off and discover the carbon brushes have worn out. So you order new ones and fix it. When error codes shut the machine off as soon as it detects a small leak you don’t even know it’s leaking. It just shuts off, and displays a cryptic error code. When software detects that 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 is 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 –

  • Bosch
  • Siemens
  • Indesit
  • Hotpoint
  • Miele
  • Panasonic
  • LG
  • Samsung

Some white goods brands where technical information IS usually easily available to independent engineers are –

Electrolux | Zanussi | AEG (All owned by the same company)

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