White Goods Right to Repair

Appliance repair

I don’t think that the right to repair directive will extend the life of white goods.

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 lack of spare parts is the least significant reason why millions of white goods are being scrapped. I mean, you don’t scrap a washing machine because you can’t buy a new £250 drum – you scrap it because you can buy a new washing machine for just a bit more money. So, lack of spare parts is not even close to the problem that so desperately needs fixing.

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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11 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.

  4. Thanks for your work on this website!

    White goods professionals have been priced out of the market by manufacturers eliminating humans from the supply chain.
    What will always remain is lots of ‘ordinary’ people keen to repair their own stuff when it breaks.

    We (Haringey Fixers) have seen a lot of repairs brought to our fortnightly repair cafés in Tottenham. People here can’t afford to get stuff fixed so come to us who, unpaid, do it for free for the satisfaction of helping people and growing our skills. We know what we can and what we can’t fix (no microwaves, electric blankets etc)

    Let’s call white goods that are designed to be fixed by amateurs “sustainable”. Copy IKEA in providing step by step repair instructions. Include lots of pathways that say “you can’t do this at home” or “needs specialist intervention” but make the design so modular so people can carry the affected parts into a repair shop.

    If parts such as motors for example were more standard without quashing innovation we could be like the car industry when many ‘brands’ all use the same underlying ‘platform’. Spares work across brands interchangeably. The “Error Code computer chips” enhanced to aid diagnosis and repair.

    The EU have forced the phone industry to standardise on common parts (chargers), to not sell them along with phones and to not make proprietary charging cables.
    Apply this to white goods and maybe we’ll see replaceable elements in toasters and microwaves? Washing machines each using one of a fixed range of motors that can easily be removed? Standard tubing and connectors?

    Product designers are getting better all the time – if manufacturers incorporate standardised, replaceable components in all their products, growing a ‘repair’ culture, white goods professionals can concentrate more on what they’re good at – the hard stuff :)

    I’d like to see more repairers get together to plan a white goods future in which “no serviceable parts inside” was replaced with “designed to be repaired”.

    1. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

      Hi Chris. Sadly, my belief is that most things, including white goods appliances, will never ever be made to be repairable by anyone – or even by engineers. This is because it would destroy capitalism. Capitalism can only survive if people are constantly buying things they don’t need, and constantly replacing things that could be repaired. Imagine if a company made a washing machine so good that it lasted 30 years easily, and could be repaired easily and cheaply. They would without a doubt go bust, or they would be having to charge £2000 to £3000 for their products to make up for the fact that they hardly sell any, and make little or nothing on selling spare parts.

      If we all stop throwing things away, it will destroy the economy. I also believe that the chances are that sooner or later, if what they say about the environment is true, then the alternative we crave, will be forced on the world. This would knock us all back to living standards of the 1940s at least. Ordinary people won’t be able to afford cars, or to drive, and appliances will be massively expensive and so on and so on. Just like it always was before we created this problem.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be clever, or funny or dismissive. This is what I genuinely believe. There is no way the changes required to prevent global warming can happen without reverting our societies back to how we used to be nearly 100 years ago. There’s also no way any government is going to implement that, until things get so horrifically bad that the general population would accept it. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that :-)

      Meanwhile, people like you guys keep doing their best to make a difference, which is great, and sorely needed.

  5. Thanks Andy, appreciate you taking the time to respond. Cars used to rust away very quickly. People said that was how it was – the forces of capitalism in operation. So how come now cars don’t generally rust? Who maintains that having to make cars that last longer destroyed capitalism? The key to capitalism is innovation.

    I note that someone just open-sourced battery replacement for a very popular Electric Vehicle (the Nissan Leaf) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRk_W0O-WUU making it free – a real step forward. THe others will need to compete. A better way is possible and you are in a position of influence – suggest you dare to dream :)

    1. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

      Hi Chris, I apologise for a long reply. I’m obviously quite passionate about the subject :-) I’m not having a rant, it’s just there’s so much to the topic. All these environmental things are great, and need to keep going, but from what I see they are only just very slightly delaying the problem against the full force of capitalism.

      I don’t see as many old cars on the road these days compared to the past. They may have rusted badly back in the day, but they still kept running. Any garage no matter how small could repair any car and any fault. And any handyman could also do many maintenance and repair jobs themselves. But you need specialist equipment to be able to repair or diagnose many faults now. Manufacturers won’t give it to independent garages. (If I remember correctly the new law had to be passed in America recently to force them to do so, but there are always ways round this sort of thing as pointed out in my article above).

      These days people replace their cars more than ever, and they’ve never been less easily repairable. Manufacturers do the same as white goods manufacturers – only worse. Spare parts are also no longer available after a ludicrously small amount of time. Small local garages go out of business in their droves. My daughter bought a five year old car last year. The rear part of the exhaust fell off last week, and my son-in-law says that despite extensive research, the part is no longer available. Crazy times.

      If we turn the issue back to white goods, I believe we had the right balance in the 50s 60s and even 1970s. Back then, white goods appliances were very expensive to buy. Almost everyone had to either take out a loan to buy them (on HP) or rent them. They weren’t necessarily so well-built that they never broke down, but they were built at a time when throughout all previous history, anything made, needed to be made to last, and needed to be repairable.

      So appliance manufacturers didn’t know any different. They built them really well, and they built them with the full intention of supporting them through a long life. Every part, from the motor, the small water pump, and even something as small as an inlet water valve could be taken apart. So if the water valve developed a fault, you would unscrew the solenoid and replaced the solenoid. Or if the fault was that the valve had jammed, unscrewed the solenoid, took it apart and replaced the small rubber flange, or even a small rubber “nipple” that used to get swollen with age.

      If the pump leaked, we used to strip it down, rub away all the dried up detergent and limescale with a wire brush. Then reassembling it replacing a small “angus” seal, and a small “O ring”. Likewise the drum bearings and the motor could all be easily stripped down and any one of dozens of parts replaced.

      We now have a situation where no part can be stripped down and repaired. If a pump leaks, fit a complete new pump, if a bearing on a motor starts to squeak, fit a complete new motor. Even a part as ludicrously big as the main outer drum, comprising a big outer drum, a stainless steel inner drum, a main seal, a bearing seal, 2 bearings and a drum spider only comes as a complete unit.

      The thing is that when this new trend started didn’t seem so bad because these new complete parts were built of lower quality and actually relatively cheap. But over the years the price of these parts has now reached such a state where a three year old washing machine is likely to be scrapped and thrown away because it needs a drum bearing, or it’s developed a fault on the motor etc.

      So the only way back from this is to go back to making washing machines where all of the parts can be stripped down and repaired. That would be very easy to do, except it would mean that the cost of manufacturing them would go through the roof. Manufacturers of white goods appliances would see sales plummet as eventually more washing machines get repaired instead of thrown away.

      They would have to rely heavily on repairing appliances themselves to make up the loss in profits on sales of new ones. But the problem is that it is now way too expensive to send skilled engineers out to repair appliances in the home. I just had someone on my forums say that they have a Hotpoint washing machine, and Hotpoint have quoted them £245 for a fixed price repair. This will be despite the fact that it could be a relatively minor fault.

      I myself have a Miele washing machine that is now 17 years old. Miele have apparently stopped all sales of spare parts for their appliances by any third party spare site, and there are no spare parts available to the public on even the Miele UK site. So the only way to get a Miele washing machine repaired is through Miele and to pay their engineer to fit it. But Miele charge a minimum of £160 plus parts to send an engineer.

      So the only way that these kinds of repair prices could be economical to customers, is if a basic washing machine cost at least £1600. That would be in line with how things used to be in the early 1980s when a manufacturers Labour charges were about 8% of the cost of their basic washing machine. But Hotpoint’s fixed price £245 repair is about 95% the cost of the current new basic washing machines.

      So essentially my argument is that the only way to get back to appliances (and by definition every other product) that are well made, last very long time, and are easily and economically repairable, is for them to start to cost on average 10 times more than they currently do. And this is never going to happen unless someone, or something forces it.

  6. One thing is certain, Andy, white goods will suffer lots and lots of innovation in future – we can’t stop that happening. The Right to Repair laws can and will change washing machines and all white goods slowly. Maybe they will start shipping with AI chips to extend functionality (and reporting). The French publish a white goods repairability index https://repair.eu/news/the-french-repair-index-challenges-and-opportunities which is displayed at the point of sale. I’d like to see a repair chip in every product that can self-diagnose.

    Manufacturers seem to aim for sub-systems and repairers often end up replacing an entire sub-system by elimination – “de-skilling” will continue, it’s cheaper. Modern flat screen TVs often have just three circuit boards inside – generally, you can fix almost whatever’s wrong by replacing one. Whereas I can remember when TV service manuals came with circuit diagrams, nowadays many get repaired by people who are denied access to the inner workings so never accumulate the skills to trace a component fault – no need. The controller boards on washing machines contain integrated circuits that are almost impossible to repair if the OEM keeps them secret.

    So I disagree with you – the future is bright, the kit will get better and the more we legislate for repairability to keep OEM’s in tow, the better :)

  7. Brendan Joseph Madden

    Really interesting comments and I love the idea of the repair cafe. I have a ten year old magimix toaster, 10 year old AEG dishwasher, 8 year old AEG washing machine, and 5 year old kitchenaid kettle. If my toaster goes I’m going to replace it with the same brand or a dualit, both of which are repairable. I’ve never had to have any engineer repairs on the washing machine. Service and check seals and clean filter about once a year and keep an eye for any parts needing further service. Have had to have repairs on dishwasher as the plastic components break down, but only two engineer visits (parts cheaper through engineers, repair has warranty and it’s nice not having to do it sometimes!). It’s satisfying doing a repair and being happy but it’s “furioustrating” (a word my 8yo made up) to have to break a machine down again to redo a repair after you’ve closed it all up. Have had Zero hassle with full size aeg larder fridge and separate Electrolux matching larder freezer but both only five years old. Wanted an American fridge but learnt that the ice yokes always break and was told that a machine that only had to do one job with its compressor was less stressed.

    I have to say, having Miele for all my other appliances, they might last twenty years but they also might not and the parts are offensively expensive. It really makes me appreciate AEG for parts availability, parts diagrams, availability online and through servicemen direct to consumers, and ease of repair. When my mum’s Miele dishwasher went (more than one potential issue) we just replaced it with a hotpoint, (WEEE is great and who knows maybe the shop repaired it) which not only was about the same cost as the repair, but interestingly because it came with a multi year warranty, as opposed to a 90 day warranty, it meant that the extension of life was probably similar but was guaranteed instead of not guaranteed.

    The 2023 top spec hotpoint won’t have all the features of the 2023 entry level Miele, but it does have all the features of the 2010 mid spec Miele. That only dawned on me when I was complaining to my AEG serviceman that to replace my dishwasher with the same “model” in the current year was two thousand euro. He pointed out that for 800 I could get a new model that had all the same features (not missing a single one) cuz they’d cascaded lower down the range over the years and for the 2k I was getting a machine that was far above what I had currently. Obviously because it was repairable we were repairing it (for about 250) but it was good to do all the maths and to know I could go cheaper to match like for like and not feel I was missing out. So if my mums new hot point lasts 6-8 years on average, maybe longer if we’re lucky, it does the first 5years with a guarantee and unlikely there was more than 8 years left in the Miele even with expensive repairs.

    When our whirlpool engineer came out the first time to replace the element on a dryer he was telling me how he started out with Philips who got bought over, and that with whirlpool buying hot point and indesit they had been replacing hundreds of machines because they have a good customer service model and he’d found it interesting seeing the challenges of pulling up the quality but that it was no fun repairing machines designed to be dumped. He also showed me how to triage and troubleshoot and how to do all the common repairs and how to maintain preventatively, so when I “upgraded” to a Miele heat pump tank, I was able to make sure there was several years left in the whirlpool having replaced the belt myself etc, and tightened up all the frame bolts and checked all the seals to stop lint going in the element.

    Another point for people used to repairing older electronic items as I had been, I’ve just replaced my 2013 Apple laptop in 2023 (I refused to buy the unrealisable 2016-2019 models, and then was waiting for a model to come out that was “real world” actually better than the 2013 ones), but anyways, when I was servicing my old one while waiting for the new one to be out, it hit me that the biggest change was just miniaturisation of the same circuitry I’d been used to since I started repairing computers aged 8, and that I just needed a microscope and a more precision clinical approach to do repairs, or in my case luckily just a loupe and smaller tools to do the service preventative maintenance repairs (like replacing perished thermal paste, cleaning contacts to prevent arcing, replacing solder on some points, replacing components that had perished with age, etc). Back in 2012/13 I had been hesitant to buy THOSE newer computers that were built like mobile phones because I knew repairs were going to be so much more complex, but essentially they are still repairable and I guess for tech you can find donor parts easily and cheaply because most people don’t know you can extend the life of them so easily. Gives me confidence in my new investment where every chip is soldered to the main board.

    Obviously for white goods, that’s less relevant, but it’s funny, my experience in repairing Apple products had given me a confidence that is somewhat cross transferable. Although the engineer who I got to rebuild my digital camera was furious an amateur had opened it at all (to be fair I realised that I couldn’t get the part needed as an amateur even if I was cable of doing the repair and would have needed to have expensive calibration and setting equipment as well as the part but at least I did diagnose the problem correctly. Ten years old. Brand new. :-) how it should be.

    Ps. Extractive capitalism needs to die. The “growth” mindset needs to die.

    When I saw a Peugeot wheelchair taxi van with 600,000 km on it last year, not a brand known for its reliability, the driver said he gets it serviced every 10k miles and oil change every other 10k. It was driving butter smooth. So maybe the future is in brands warrantying used items and investing in servicing, like they do for their “approved used” cars, maybe instead of entry level products with compromised junk components, they’d sell ten year old models of the 2k machines. I personally prefer to buy used unless it’s a poorer economic value than buying new. Young people are starting to do this with fashion so there’s hope. A bit of hope.

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