White Goods Right to Repair

Appliance repair

There’s been a lot of publicity in the media about the EU Directive giving consumers a right to repair white goods appliances. As someone with over 45 years in the white goods industry, who has spent the last 21 years complaining about their increasing lack of repairability on my white goods help sites, I should be pleased.

Will Right to Repair Make Any Difference?

The right to repair is a laudable concept. We desperately need to go back to repairing and maintaining white goods during a long and sustainable lifespan. But I honestly can’t see how it can make any real difference in its current form.

This is because the problem that the right to repair is trying to fix is the least significant reason why millions of white goods are being scrapped, as I’ll explain below. It’s more of a symptom of the big problem, and not even close to the problem.

What is the Problem they are trying to Fix?

Our appliances just don’t last long enough. Millions of them are being needlessly scrapped every year.

Apart from the financial impact on us all there is a massive impact on the ecology of the planet. Especially as most white goods are large and heavy appliances. This is presumably why the new directive is aimed at white goods first.

White goods appliances used to easily last between 10 and 20 years. Many lasted even longer. Now, things are very different.

Although many people are lucky enough to get a reasonable life out of their white goods, far too many people don’t. For example, 22% of Whitegoodshelp readers say their washing machine lasted 3 years or less in my poll – how long should washing machine last? The average life expectancy has plummeted to an all-time low of 6 – 7 years.

Causes of the Problem they are trying to Fix

I’ve been in the white goods trade since 1976, and we definitely did not have this problem then. Listed below are what I believe to be the reasons why appliances aren’t lasting long enough any more.

1: A substantial percentage of white goods are too expensive to repair compared with the cost of buying a new one.

2: The cost of having an engineer to come to the home has become extremely expensive and it’s virtually impossible to reduce this cost.

3: Spare parts for many white goods appliances are ludicrously expensive. Sometimes staggeringly so.

4: In order to keep costs down, white goods are now increasingly designed to be unrepairable.

5: It’s now so expensive to send an engineer, manufacturers and major repair companies have abandoned their traditional repair labour charges. They’ve switched to (often) insurance-based fixed-price repairs. Fixed price repairs means even the smallest of faults will cost around £100.

6: Manufacturers have made it increasingly difficult for independent repairers or competent DIYers to get any technical information. Secret error codes in particular make it impossible to troubleshoot many faults that may in fact be quite simple to fix. (error codes – friend or foe?)

7: A once thriving source of reasonably priced repairs by local repairers has all but disappeared.

8: Manufacturers are not keeping spare parts in stock for as long as they used to meaning it’s possible that if you were prepared to invest in a repair you may find a part is no longer available.

It’s important to note that the new right to repair only addresses point number 8. But although not being able to buy a spare part is an issue that can prevent repairs, lack of spare parts for old appliances is the least likely cause of them being scrapped. This

This is because lack of spares usually only affects appliances that are several years old when most people these days are likely to favour buying a new one.

If the average life of a washing machine is 6 or 7 years – maybe that’s the (understandable) reason why many parts aren’t available after that period.

So what needs fixing is that they don’t last long enough, and not that spare parts need to be available for much longer. However, if manufacturers aren’t providing spares for young appliances that could easily be repaired – that would need to stop.

What is the Right to Repair?

No spare parts

Manufactures of white goods must ensure that spare parts are available for up to 10 years after a product is purchased.

They need to also make appliances that can be repaired using readily available tools and make them available to professional repairers (only).

This new law is intended to make white goods appliances last a lot longer, and extend their lifespan by up to 10 years. Essentially this means they must want them to last on average around 17 years, which is great.

But if your washing machine is 12 years old and it’s going to cost £130 just to replace a door seal, and you can still buy a brand new one for £300 or even less – what are you going to do?

Or what if your washer is 12 years old and it will cost £150 to fit a new drum? It doesn’t matter how long spare parts are available if they are too expensive to use or have fitted.

Why Right to Repair isn’t Good Enough

It doesn’t address any of the real reasons why millions of white goods appliances are constantly scrapped. It only instructs manufacturers to make spare parts available for a set period longer than they currently do. Not only that, but it doesn’t bear in mind the reason they currently don’t stock the parts is probably rooted in them not being in big enough demand, because repairs are too expensive.

The right to repair directive does not in any way restrict how much manufacturers can charge for the spare parts that they currently don’t want to or don’t need to stock.

So all manufacturers have to do (which they may have already been doing for years), is to simply make the prices of the older parts so expensive that most people would not be prepared to buy them.

Update: This article demonstrates my last point perfectly. A manufacturer is now supplying spare parts to the public so they can carry out their own repairs (to comply with right to repair), but so expensive it’s pointless – Apple self repair more expensive than professional repair

Finally, manufacturers don’t have to supply these extra spare parts to the public, only professional repairers. This means hundreds of thousands of viable cheap DIY repairs would be impossible. Don’t underestimate how many people repair their own appliances, which is the cheapest repair of all, and needs to be at least some part of the solution.

I don’t know whether the reason spare parts for white goods get ludicrously expensive several years after they have been made is because manufacturers deliberately inflate their prices, or whether it is beyond the manufacturers control. It could be a combination of both.

It may even be that it’s genuinely impossible to stock the older parts at “reasonable” prices.

Either way the result is the same. If spare parts and repairs are too expensive compared to buying new then appliances will continue to be scrapped in their millions, and nothing will change. Forcing manufacturers to stock old parts for old appliances, when the minimum cost of any repair is around £100 plus, and consumers are generally afraid to risk a repair, is likely to simply cause more waste.

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5 thoughts on “White Goods Right to Repair”

  1. Could not agree with you more – my Indesit IDF125 dishwasher’s recirculation motor has packed up; the appliance is in great condition and approx 9 years old. Have no problem fixing it but the price of a new motor/impeller is NUTS (averaging 180 sterling across most spares websites). Clearly the maths does not add up.

    The motor itself looks cheap and plasticky and probably costs no more than 20 quid to manufacture. Somebody is pulling the piss here as regards the price of parts and there should be an enquiry into this. In my opinion, spares prices are the major cause of appliance scrappage as the service engineers/appliance repair shops have no control of these – as already referred to in your article. Right to repair is useless here. As an experienced technician, it galls me to have to make the decision to scrap the machine on economic grounds only. I hate waste and managed to get my mum’s 26 year old Creda dryer going again thanks to a set of bearings from a local engineering shop, cost me 10 quid! The current practices by most whitegoods manufacturers is not environmantally sound at all.

    I have a 46 year old Nilfisk GA-70 vacuum which still runs well, had to replace the carbon brushes and repack the bearings. I worked as a Nilfisk service tech in the late 80’s and their cleaners were designed to be repairable with good spare parts availability, but unfortunately, they have gone the same route as the other manufacturers. Seems like quality has been sacrificed for price and people cannot see beyond paying a cheaper price for a short – lived product vis – a – vis a higher price for a better made one. Growing up, we had a 1972 AEG automatic washer which we kept going until 1994 and a 1972 AEG dryer which lasted until 2003! Both machines were expensive at the time, but well built with good and reasonably priced spares. What done for them in the end was just sheer unavailability of the parts needed, due to age.

    Stuff today is designed to be unrepairable, like the one-piece plastic outer drums and smaller drum bearings on modern washing machines and the lower build quality in general. Yet, these same manufacturers greenwash us with sexy advertising and energy ratings with nonsense like IOT/WiFi control and a few ‘eco’ low temperature and part load/quick wash programmes. Back in the 80’s and early ’90’s, even standard average-priced washing machines by Hoover were well made (in Wales) with metal outer drums and solid construction with great parts availability and reasonable spares prices, now sadly no more.

  2. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

    Thanks for your comments Peter. This is all an inevitable product of uncontrolled capitalism. It gives on the one hand some wonderful products, technology and to be fair greatly reduced prices, but being an repairable is the downside and it’s a very big downside. It’s been happening for decades now and I think to a certain extent it’s worked reasonably well until climate change.

    A reasonable part of the answer is to facilitate DIY repairs as there are millions of people who are competent enough to repair many of their own appliances but having parts available is utterly pointless if they are too expensive to fit.

  3. What is needed is for low-lifespan electronic components to be banned from being used in kitchen appliances. That would increase the cost of appliances by a few pence but increase the average lifespan by a decent amount.

    1. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

      Hi Dave. Yes, a hell of a lot of stuff needs to be banned, but it would increase the cost of appliances by substantially more than that. When it comes to small appliances, I was in a supermarket last month and took a photograph of some of their ludicrously cheap small appliances. There was a kettle for £14, and a sandwich toaster for £10. Those appliances can never, ever be repaired. And because they are so cheap they are not likely to last a reasonably long time. The problem is, how much sandwich toaster and kettle need to cost in order for it to be cheaper to repair them than replace them? I would guess at least £100. And even then because these appliances have been so cheap for so long, there is virtually no one to take them too to be repaired any more.

      1. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

        I have direct experience and memories of repairing small appliances. The last time that it was still feasible to repair kettles, irons and toasters was around 1982. Back then, I was 22, and worked for a Hoover dealer. They had a small shop, and people used to bring in kettles, irons and toasters to be repaired. I have no recollection of how much we charged, nor how much these appliances cost at that time, but needless to say it’s obvious that we were able to repair them at a much lower cost than it would be to replace them.

        I used to replace the mains cables & thermostats, and with irons I even occasionally replaced the entire bottom sole plate, which contained the heating element. Of course this practice has presumably long since died out, but without doubt, it must come back if we are to stop this ludicrous throwaway society. This will only be possible if the minimum cost of the small appliances goes up massively. And this of course is very unlikely to happen.

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