The Decline of Durability: Why Modern Appliances Don’t Last

You may have seen it online, at your grandparents’ house, or perhaps even in your own residence: that fridge from the 1940’s that just doesn’t die, unlike the modern washing machine someone just bought that stopped working after its third birthday. We’re often told that new appliances are more powerful and energy efficient. They’re also more compact, more beautifully designed, and have more functions than older appliances.

Yet they never seem to last as long. Here are three reasons why:

1. Cost Cutting in Manufacturing

Since around the 1970s in particular, manufacturers have learned numerous ways to increase their profit margins and meet the growing consumer demand for newer and fancier household appliances. This could mean streamlining their manufacturing processes or investing in robots that can finish monotonous tasks more quickly than a human being could. Frequently, companies also choose to simplify their products and outsource labor to countries with cheaper production costs.

The problem with making devices smaller, more compact, and simpler and faster to assemble by design means that many components are now tied together. For example, the water sensor on a washing machine, which used to be only one part, is now tied to multiple others on a circuit board. Parts on older machines can be repaired or replaced after a call to the local handyman, but for newer and more technologically advanced appliances, repairs often require knowledge of specific skills in specialized fields, such as soldering and working with circuit boards, and simply aren’t as cost-efficient as replacing the appliance itself.

2. Use of Cheaper Materials

In order to lower production costs, many manufacturers also switched to flimsier materials when constructing household appliances. Sturdy metal casing were traded for plastic, and the appliances themselves were designed to be repaired rather than replaced.

3. Design Flaws and Planned Obsolescence.

You’ve probably heard the term “planned obsolescence”. before. Unfortunately, there’s some truth to the phrase, and manufacturers often adopt practices that encourage sales for their company instead of appliance practicality for their consumer base. The typical warranty period provided by manufacturers usually lasts only one to two years. Replacement parts are often made unavailable after only three to five years, but the parts and servicing information for your appliances may have been restricted to begin with.

Not everything is as bleak as it sounds, however. As more consumers begin to recognize the decline of durability in modern appliances, they have also begun to demand changes. After all, there’s no good in bragging about manufacturing an energy efficient device that saves money and is better for the environment if it’s thrown away after a few years — rendering both of those points irrelevant. Demands for appliance repairs, a previously declining industry, also went up during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If your household appliance has recently stopped working, just know that it’s easier than it has been in years to contact professionals for repairs – regardless of whether you want to continue preserving your old-fashioned fridge or attempt to save a more modern device from sitting in a landfill.

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