Last updated on February 6th, 2017
The short answer is no, most are a long way from the quality of the past but I think most of us realise this now. You can still buy high quality washing machines (e.g. Miele washing machines), but they seem very expensive compared with most "normal" ones because dumbing down of quality over the last 20 years has kept their prices artificially low.
Several previously trusted household-name manufacturers have also been taken over by foreign companies, who then substituted the old washing machines with their own but kept the old brand name. The washing machine changed its quality, but kept the original name. (related: list of who makes which washing machines)
Reduced build quality
Instead of bravely maintaining quality but seeing their washing machines rise in price most manufacturers have found themselves constantly having to reduce quality and cut corners to keep their appliances competitively priced. This trend has got progressively worse to the point where they now routinely redesign their washing machines from scratch ditching tried tested and reliable designs in favour of cheaper new production methods and cheaper suppliers of parts.
Most appliance manufacturers have been making washing machines for many decades, and could have developed incredibly reliable ones by now. Instead, they are selling new washing machines that still suffer the same faults their previous models suffered from over 10-years ago. Instead of their appliances becoming better with time and experience, they get worse, or at best stay the same.
Most current washing machines are way too cheap
It might not seem as though they are cheap, but compared to what they should be if standards had been maintained they definitely are. For example, Hoover used to sell a 1200 spin 4.5Kg washing machine at over £400 in the 1990s, yet in 2008, a Hoover 1600 spin 6Kg washing machine cost as little as £211. Even now in 2013 their current 6Kg drum 1200 spin washing machine is available at only £215. That's inflation in reverse, and it's achieved in part by reducing quality and repairability.
So in around 20 years a basic Hoover washing machine has increased in features, but reduced from over £400, to almost half the price. When inflation is taken into consideration it’s probably only a quarter of the price.
Going back further..
In 1973, a basic Hoover washing machine was £94.88, in today's prices that's £973.29 (Source Inflation calculator). Today – over 40 years later a similarly basic model but with faster spins and a bigger drum can be bought for £220. That's equivalent to just £21.47 in 1973. So in 40 years, the price of a basic washing machine has dropped (in real terms) by nearly 80% which is absolutely staggering.
An 80% reduction in cost is impossible without reducing the quality and longevity of the product. If you want to produce a washing machine made as well as the Hoover was in 1973 it would cost much more like £600+ and with extra features and technical advances it could easily be £800+.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking a more expensive appliance will last longer
Top quality, extremely well built washing machines are still available and they are every bit as reliable as they used to be – if not more so. They just usually cost between £600 and over £1000 . However, do not assume an expensive washing machine has to be high build quality – are more expensive washing machines better quality?. Most manufacturers prefer to sell to the mass market in vast quantities, but it's getting harder for them to compete on price and they've dug themselves into a big hole. Currently almost every washing machine available is virtually the same machine inside, with hardly any difference in quality, repairability and even design.
Consumers relentlessly batter down prices by rewarding those who can do it £5 cheaper and punishing those who can't by not buying them. Too many consumers focus on price over quality and choose faster spins and more features over solid build quality and repair-ability. The majority of consumers swap over to cheaper brands if the one they always had goes up in price. There's a limit to the savings to be made by clever, innovative production methods. Inevitably manufacturers had to resort to cutting down the length of the mains cable and the hoses, reducing the quality and sturdiness of the main casing, changing metal parts to plastic etc. and reducing the quality and repair-ability of components in order to satisfy the demand for cheap prices.