Coffee heat rising

Planned obsolescence

You know, one reason U.S. car manufacturers began, lo these many years ago, to lose out to Japanese and German manufacturers was that American cars were designed to crap out in about five years. Back in the day, a vehicle with 50,000 miles on it was a decrepit bucket of bolts that stayed on the road only by dint of miraculous intervention from master mechanics who had died and been transformed into angels in heaven.

You’d think product manufacturers would have heard the message when consumers moved in droves to Toyota and Volkswagen, which were making vehicles that not only ran more efficiently and more safely but also ran for at least 10 years or 100,000 miles without requiring a major landfilloverhaul. But noooo…. Planned obsolescence not only lives, it thrives. The notoriously short lifespan of computers and other electronic products is well known, though apparently consumers are too sheeplike to mount any serious protest. Back in 2006, the Christian Science Monitor suggested that manufacturers of obsolete PCs and iPods, which are full of fine toxins such as lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, and barium, be required by law to foot the bill for collecting their deliberately defunct toys and disassembling them. Too bad our soon-to-be-former leadership has proven to be every bit as irresponsible as the big-monied interests that put it into office.

If you don’t care what this ever-growing mountain of unnecessary garbage is doing to the water you drink and the air you breathe, you might consider what it does to your pocketbook.

bosheThe other day I learned my Bosch dishwasher, which has gone senescent at the age of FOUR YEARS, needs a $400 repair. The repairman assumed I would want to junk it and buy a new one, for a mere one or two hundred bucks more than the fix-it job.

Yeah. Nice timing, eh? Merry Christmas: you get to blow half your savings on another new piece of junk, just as an economic depression is rolling down on you.

Four years and a dishwasher dies? Used to be you could expect one to die in a seven years. But, my chickadees: back in the Paleolithic period, dishwashers, refrigerators and stoves could be expected to last forever.For the lifetime of your house!

Don’t believe me, do you?

Well, it’s true. In 1969 my former husband and I bought a fully renovated old house in the historic district of lovely downtown Phoenix. The KitchenAid dishwasher in the house was about two years old when we moved in. This miraculous machine allowed you to drop in dishes while they were really dirty—you didn’t have to prewash them at the sink before running them through the wash cycle. Back in the stone age, this was quite the innovation.

Despite the new technology that made such a trick possible, that KitchenAid was still running, and running well, when we moved out of the house over fifteen years later.That would have made it seventeen years old and still functional. It required, as I recall, one visit from a repairman in all those years.

The Amana side-by-side refrigerator did die about a year before we left: it ran trouble-free for over sixteen years.

Now we learn that a Bosch, a very expensive item, indeed, can’t manage to stagger along for more than four years?

I turned to Bosch after a negative experience with Maytag, once among the highest-rated household appliances. When I replaced the harvest gold clean-it-yourself wall oven and the el cheapo dishwasher in my last house, I bought Maytag appliances, having been assured by authorities such as Consumer Reports that these were top-of-the-line and would run for the full 15 or 18 years one would expect a big-ticket item to last.

Wrong. Five years later—almost to the day!—the oven’s heating element exploded and started a fire, and two days after that the dishwasher died. Both appliances had to be replaced. Fortunately, the fire in the oven caused so much damage my homeowner’s insurance paid for that. But I had to foot the bill to replace a dishwasher that should have continued to run for another five to ten years. At that time, an appliance repairman told me that kitchen appliances are engineered to give out in about seven years.

I will never own another Maytag product as long as I live. And now I’m thinking I’ll never own another Bosch, either. Four years is just not enough functionality for a $600 to $1,500 appliance! Especially one that ranks at the top of consumer ratings for “reliability”!

If this is “reliable,” do you get all of 18 months out of a less highly rated brand?

It’s one huge ripoff!

There’s simply no excuse for this kind of consumer abuse. We know kitchen appliances, like cars, can be made to last upwards of a decade. So, obviously, can computers: the only reason you’re forced to throw out a perfectly functional piece of equipment is that manufacturers deliberately design their product campaigns so that your computer soon will no longer operate in a rapidly—and unnecessarily—changing environment.
Consumers in America and worldwide need to get their act together and force their governments to bring a stop to this kind of outrageous waste and greedy exploitation. Write to your Congressional representatives and demand passage of bills to force makers of appliances and electronics to pay the real cost for manufacturing products purposefully designed to rip us all off.
landfill2photo by D’Arcy Norman

9 thoughts on “Planned obsolescence”

  1. My experience is that computers don’t go obsolete in 2 years- it’s just that in 2-3 years, the technology actually does improve enough to make a noticeable difference in speed, size, and storage room. It doesn’t matter if all you do is surf the web and use Office, but I regularly run computation-heavy programs like Matlab, and last year when I bought a new laptop I felt a huge difference between the new machine and my 4yr-old laptop.

    Cars, washing machines, and refrigerators, though? Not so much. (Although I would expect a new consumer appliance to be more energy-efficient than an older one.)

    I wonder if you should just get cheap appliances from now on. How much worse can they be?

  2. I think when you’re using a program like Matlab, you probably do need to keep up-to-date with the hardware–a higher-test machine is good. Also, over time no matter how much disk-cleaning-up and malware-blocking you do, computers do seem to work slower & slower.

    Some people say Frigidaire makes a low-end model that works as well as more expensive dishwashers (but is noisier, because it has less insulation). I do have to say that I’ve much appreciated the Bosch’s quiet operation. I felt the Kenmore was as good or better (liked the interior configuration; to get the model that has the racks that don’t chip and end up depositing rust on your dishes, tho’, you spend almost as much as the Bosch. Sears is fast earning a bad rep, though, so I’m inclined to avoid the Kenmore just based on the many complaints about the company’s fading customer service. sigh.

  3. Sears is trying to gack me for LABOR on a Lifetime Warranty part for my Washing Machine. The only problem is, the entire washing machine has to be disassembled before the Free part can be replaced. Something smells fishy, and I want the world to know.

  4. Bought a GE spacemaker washer and dryer in May 2005. The washer kicked the bucket in June 2007 and the motor on the dryer went this week. There are scorch marks on the inside and outside and a new motor would cost around $200. I was a mindless consumer before (back when most of us were using our homes as ATMs) but not anymore. I found a Kenmore 80 series dryer for $25 on Craigslist – it had a few rust spots but I just sanded those out and sprayed a couple of coats of appliance epoxy on it and it looks fine and works great! From now on I will buy used older models. This economy is a wake up call. Time to live by the motto USE IT UP, WEAR IT OUT, MAKE DO OR DO WITHOUT!

  5. I LOVE my 35+ year old, harvest gold Kitchenaid dishwasher! Fixing it doesn’t require you to pull it out, unhook it from power or water or any other ways to add to the hourly repair bill as you can do it all from the front of the washer. My only problem is finding the parts and I’m PETRIFIED of spending tons of money on the new expensive and poorly designed/cheaply made alternatives! When is some very bright designer going to come out with something that not only functions properly, but lasts like the old applicances?

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