Durable goods sadly unenduring

Written by erin


Although I blog semi-frequently about things I buy, mostly I work at buying as little as possible. Which is why I’m perturbed about the state of so-called durable goods around my house.

Durable Goods are items which last a long time and are hence infrequently purchased. In a household, typical examples include refrigerators and furniture. Unfortunately, my durable goods seem to be less durable than they should be, leaving me with a collection of sort-of-broken appliances. For example:

* About a month ago, the electronic spark ignition on my stovetop stopped working. No more clicks, no more sparks, no flame popping up. I’ve reverted to a system akin to my grandmother’s: a propane lighter (a bit safer than matches) next to the stove.

* I have a built-in microwave. When it was 3 years old, its interior light bulb burned out. No surprise here, of course a bulb will burn out. But for reasons I can’t fathom, the light bulb is not user-replaceable. Seriously, it takes a service call. So we blast our food in the dark.

* Our oven is controlled by an electronic panel. With increasing frequency, the panel refuses to obey my commands and instead displays contrary commands back at me. Most commonly, the oven will stop heating once it reaches 160 degrees and blink the words “Insert probe.” The oven thinks it’s in thermometer mode so it wants me to insert its temperature probe into whatever I’m cooking. Even if I wanted to use the thermometer, inserting the probe doesn’t stop the blinking message. And, there isn’t a reliable reboot sequence; I have to cancel and restart the oven several times to get it to accept a temperature and resume cooking.

* Our washing machine… the story is long but suffice it to say that after 10 years, 3 repairs and a class action lawsuit, we gave up after the latest fault and replaced it.

I’ve heard lots of rage about our throwaway society, but usually it’s in the context of goods made to be disposable or electronics which are so cheap as to encourage premature tossing. I am more worried about the apparent inability of large durable goods to be durable. It makes me wonder about spending extra money to buy the highest efficiency models – it doesn’t help to trade durability for efficiency.

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  1. Kerstin DeRolf

    One problem with electronic touch pads on ovens which they don’t mention to you on purchase – if you use the oven to self-clean, the high temperature will cause your electronic touch pad to fail prematurely – guaranteed.
    Does this mean electronics don’t fail more quickly than the old analog buttons and dials? No, but just knowing that should keep ovens working properly longer.

  2. Kristian Boose

    Planned obsolescence. It’s all a part of the larger plan to keep us buying more and more and keep the consumption economy chugging along. It’s intentional. Check out Annie Leonard’s new book “The Story of Stuff”. It’s a great read…engaging and informative. Very thought provoking.

  3. Woody

    You don’t mention brand names or models of your failing products. We all know that some products are less reliable than others. Consumer Reports is all about this. Also many online sellers allow customers to post reviews of products that they sell. Go Green–research product reliability and repairability before buying.

  4. mbghtri

    I am just as concerned about the quality-control of these durable products as I am the durability with regular use. Too many times I have made a large purchase, only to find out that the product is broken right out of the box.
    If the manufacturer cannot ensure a working product when brand new, how are we supposed to rely on the product for years to come?

  5. Jodi Ingram

    My understanding is it is done intentional to keep people having to buy more. I believe the term is “planned obsolescence.”

  6. Mark Taylor

    I’ve been seeing this for many years. I’ve been fixing thingsl like this for people locally inexpensively. I do this for two reasons: To keep things out of the landfill that can still be repaired, and secondly to help people see that there is a greener way to do things. Whenever I am repairing something, I mention how much greener it is to fix something, rather than replace it. Montgomrery County Maryland is not the greenest place in the USA, but we are moving forward, and we are ahead of most of the USA. I’m just trying to do my part, and educating others in how they can help do theirs.

  7. JWTrent

    WHY do you even “need” a light bulb in your microwave oven? I’ve never bought one with a light bulb. My stove only has knobs. Correction. It has buttons for setting the clock, which I do not use. As for the washing machine, that’s not “that” bad of a lifespan. Although it does sound like you got a lemon.
    Stop buying the lazy rich-man’s options on stuff and you’ll be fine.
    But, with so many people in the world needing jobs, if we had a wonder device that did everything that every person needed and lasted their entire life, no one would have a job. Just my opinion.

  8. Mark Taylor

    Please don’t take this as an argument, JW, it’s not. I have a different theory:
    Most people in the US spend almost everything the get their hands on, and save very little. I think we can agree on that. Next, let’s agree that IF Erin was the average American, than had she not had to replace a clothes washer, she would likely spend that money on something else. Whatever industry she would have supported had she not replaced the washer is now looking at $500 less income for the year.
    If washers lasted longer, most people would spend that money somewhere else. “lost jobs” in the washer industry would mean “gained jobs” in another industry.
    I am greatly oversimplifying, but the theory is sound, in my opinion (as well as others.) Of course there are others that will not agree with this theory, but there’s always an opposing theory to everything.
    Of course my biggest disagreement is that (on balance) wasting huge amounts of resources to save a given number of jobs is not good for the planet. We (as a race) are smart enough to be able to find ways to keep people employed without destroying the environment.
    Just my thoughts.

  9. MSJohn

    It’s true. The first of many times I had my refrigerator fixed (I bought the extended warranty, thank goodness), the technician told me the parts are designed to only last so long. It’s not the sale of the appliance itself that makes the company money, it’s the continued maintenance.

  10. Erin Craig

    I very much agree with doing consumer research before buying, especially with larger-ticket items! One challenge I run in to, is that super-efficient products tend to be newer on the market so the reliability data is unavailable. My washing machine was among the first American-made front-loaders and was winning all kinds of awards and press. It wasn’t cheap, either. Sadly, I can’t say it was a great decision.

  11. Purple Rider

    One thing I believe in is recycling. I joined “Freecycle” many years ago and it has worked out well. I have replaced furniture, appliances, clothing, etc. all for free. I have also given lots of stuff to fellow “freecyclers”. I am always amazed at the things I find that are almost new. In fact, some are new! This is a good way to go greener, save money, and help others. Join a freecycle group and yoy won’t regret it. Just Google “freecycle” and I’d bet you will find a group close to you.

  12. Ross

    Adam, I

  13. Ross

    Sorry, I meant ERIN!!!

  14. JWTrent

    Something I have noticed on this string, No one has commented about “word-of-mouth” research. That is also a great research method. I employ it a lot myself.