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Planned Obselescence....A Good Thing?

Discussion in 'Electronic Repair' started by Too_Many_Tools, Jan 14, 2007.

  1. In my

    I intentionally try to have older appliances, vehicles, machines to
    lower repair costs and keep overall ownership cost to a minimum.

    Your thoughts?


    Irreparable damageBy Bryce Baschuk
    January 9, 2007
    Bill Jones, after 42 years, is finally closing the Procter Appliance
    Service shop in Silver Spring.
    "You can't make a good salary to survive on the way you could years
    ago," said the 61-year-old owner of the oven, refrigerator and
    washer-dryer repair shop. "Everything has changed in the appliance
    Mr. Jones recently sold his home in Laurel and is in the process of
    moving to Bluffton, S.C., with his wife, Jeannette.
    Mr. Jones is one of the many Washington-area repairmen who have
    struggled to stay afloat as residents replace, not repair, old
    "It's a dying trade," said Scott Brown, Webmaster of and self-proclaimed "Samurai Appliance Repairman."
    The reason for this is twofold, Mr. Brown said: The cost of
    appliances is coming down because of cheap overseas labor and improved
    manufacturing techniques, and repairmen are literally dying off.
    The average age of appliance technicians is 42, and there are few
    young repairmen to take their place, said Mr. Brown, 47. He has been
    repairing appliances in New Hampshire for the past 13 years.
    In the next seven years, the number of veteran appliance repairmen
    will decrease nationwide as current workers retire or transfer to other
    occupations, the Department of Labor said in its 2007 Occupational
    Outlook Handbook.
    The federal agency said many prospective repairmen prefer work that
    is less strenuous and want more comfortable working conditions.
    Local repairmen said it is simply a question of economics.
    "Nowadays appliances are cheap, so people are just getting new
    ones," said Paul Singh, a manager at the Appliance Service Depot, a
    repair shop in Northwest. "As a result, business has slowed down a
    "The average repair cost for a household appliance is $50 to $350,"
    said Shahid Rana, a service technician at Rana Refrigeration, a repair
    shop in Capitol Heights. "If the repair is going to cost more than
    that, we usually tell the customer to go out and buy a new one."
    It's not uncommon for today's repairmen to condemn an appliance
    instead of fixing it for the sake of their customers' wallets.
    If they decide to repair an appliance that is likely to break down
    again, repairmen are criticized by their customers and often lose
    business because of a damaged reputation.
    Mr. Jones said he based his repair decisions on the 50 percent
    rule: "If the cost of service costs more than 50 percent of the price
    of a new machine, I'll tell my customers to get a new one."
    "A lot of customers want me to be honest with them, so I'll tell
    them my opinion and leave the decision making up to them," he said.
    In recent years, consumers have tended to buy new appliances when
    existing warranties expire rather than repair old appliances, the
    Department of Labor said.
    Mr. Brown acknowledged this trend. "Lower-end appliances which you
    can buy for $200 to $300 are basically throwaway appliances," he said.
    "They are so inexpensive that you shouldn't pay to get them repaired."
    "The quality of the materials that are being made aren't lasting,"
    Mr. Jones said. "Nowadays you're seeing more plastic and more circuit
    boards, and they aren't holding up."
    Many home appliances sold in the United States are made in Taiwan,
    Singapore, China and Mexico.
    "Nothing is made [in the United States] anymore," Mr. Jones said.
    "But then again, American parts are only better to a point, a lot of
    U.S. companies are all about the dollar."
    Fortunately for the next generation of repairmen, some of today's
    high-end appliances make service repairs the most cost-effective
    The Department of Labor concurred. "Over the next decade, as more
    consumers purchase higher-priced appliances designed to have much
    longer lives, they will be more likely to use repair services than to
    purchase new appliances," said the 2007 Occupational Outlook Handbook.
    Modern, energy-efficient refrigerators can cost as much as $5,000
    to $10,000, and with such a hefty price tag, throwing one away is not
    an option.
    In some cases, repairmen can help consumers reduce the amount of
    aggravation that a broken appliance will cause.
    Consider the time and effort it takes to shop for a new appliance,
    wait for its delivery, remove the old one and get the new one
    In addition, certain appliances such as ovens and washing machines
    can be a bigger hassle to replace because they are connected to gas and
    water lines.
    "It takes your time, it takes your effort, and if you don't install
    the new appliance, you'll have to hire a service technician to install
    it anyways," Mr. Brown said.
    Some consumers bond with their appliances like old pets, and for
    loyalty or sentimental reasons, refuse to let them go.
    Mr. Rana said some of his clients have appliances that are more
    than 30 years old. It makes sense, he said. "A lot of old refrigerators
    are worth fixing because they give people good service. They just don't
    make things like they used to."
  2. Rick Brandt

    Rick Brandt Guest

    This raises an apparent contradiction. Most people believe that appliances were
    built much better in the past than they are now and yet in the past a whole
    industry survived on doing appliance repairs. Perhaps they only seemed to be
    built better in the past because we kept them longer and the only reason we kept
    them longer is because we repaired them instead of replacing them. The flipside
    of that same coin is that perhaps today's appliances only seem to be inferior
    because we replace them more often and the only reason we replace them more
    often is because we don't repair them.
  3. On 14 Jan 2007 09:30:59 -0800, "Too_Many_Tools"
    While I like this approach, it is getting harder all the time.

    Maintainability and lowest initial cost are not generally
    compatible design objectives for products with significant

    Products are increasingly non-reparable in that the components
    are permanently attached/sealed, and replacement items, other
    than the most basic standard hardware such as screws, are not
    readily available. Most people are unwilling or unable to have
    an appliance such as a stove or refrigerator down for repair for
    an extended period waiting on parts.

    The increasing complexity of many new products also presents
    problems, particularly those with "computer" control.

    Unka' George [George McDuffee]
    On Theory: Delight at having understood
    a very abstract and obscure system
    leads most people to believe
    in the truth of what it demonstrates.

    G. C. Lichtenberg (1742-99),
    German physicist, philosopher.
    Aphorisms "Notebook J," aph. 77
    (written 1765-99; tr. by R. J. Hollingdale, 1990).
  4. Ecnerwal

    Ecnerwal Guest

    Perhaps you've not been adequately involved with your appliances to see
    that there is not a contradiction, even "apparently".

    The old ones were, for the most part, designed to be repairable. "This
    part always breaks eventually, we'll isolate it and make it easy to

    The new ones are, for the most part, designed NOT to be repairable,
    and/or parts prices/availability are manipulated to render them
    effectively non-economic to repair. "This part will (by design) break
    about 1 year after the warranty runs out - let's put in in a monolithic
    module containing all the most expensive parts of the machine." The
    appliance industry would much rather sell you a new one than have you
    fix the old one, and they have taken steps to ensure that only the
    maddest of mad hatters will stubbornly stick to repair; and when they
    do, the industry will still profit mightily due to inflated pricing. But
    not making the parts at all will knock even the mad hatters into line
    soon enough, so long as they keep all the parts adequately non-standard
    that it's not economic for anyone to second-source them.

    The same logic is driving the production of hybrid cars that are less
    fuel efficient than some non-hybrid cars. When the battery pack dies in
    8-10 years, the car will be junk (non-economic to repair), clearing the
    way for more new car sales.
  5. Pete C.

    Pete C. Guest

  6. nonrepairable is not the same as planned obsolescense. A new product may be
    impossible to repair because it uses custom electronics and special assembly
    techniques but that doesn't mean it's planned to quit working in 3 years.
    If you buy a new good quality stove, you could expect decades of service
    from it - I am still using a stove dated 1947, I'm sure others have older
    ones, but the only improvements in stoves since the introduction of natural
    gas are the electric igniters (reduces gas usage and heat load in teh
    summer) and improved insulation. I am still using an Amana microwave bought
    in 1972 - again, newer products have no advantages (and personally I prefer
    an analog timer). But, I buy a new computer occasionally as technology
    changes, and I just replaced a perfectly good 17" high end monitor with a
    flat panel LCD monitor because it's larger and uses less desk space - that's
    an upgrade, not really obsolescense (by the way, anyone need a really nice
    monitor?). Planned obsolescense might be something designed to actually
    wear out and be dead in an amount of time - like the printer ink cartriges
    that, even if full, cannot be used more than XXX days after you open them.

    my two cents

    bill (
  7. Rick Brandt

    Rick Brandt Guest

    What you say speaks to the issue of why did we repair in the past and why don't
    we repair now, but it says nothing about the comparable reliability. If
    appliances in the past were "built to be repaired" that can be interpretted to
    mean that failures were expected. If failures were expected and people could
    make a living performing those repairs then that suggests that the appliances
    were not that reliable.
  8. But what you had was a relative handful of items, that people took great
    care in deciding about before purchasing, and cost quite a bit, and of
    course when they needed repair the parts were generally generic, because
    the items were generic.

    No, the whole household is loaded with things. INstead of buying a few
    things that you expected to last pretty much forever, and you'd want
    to get the most out of, you buy something cheap because it might
    be nice to have that sandwich maker or that $15 rotary tool. The things
    have become cheap in part because demand has lowered costs (design costs
    and profit can be spread over far more units), but also by cutting out
    the expensive stuff.

    So a tv set forty years ago was handwired (I have no clue whether that
    was a good or bad thing, but it was costly) on a heavy metal chassis, and
    was a significant purchase for most households. But when something
    broke, the cost of repair was low compare to the cost of replacement, to
    that tv set would be taken to the local repair shop. But, pretty much
    all the parts in that tv set were generic, so that repair shop did not
    have to be in some relationship with the manufacturer, and the parts could
    be had at the local electronics store (and since those stores were selling
    to all kinds of people, the same general parts to repair that tv set were
    also used by they hobbyist and even the professional, the stores could
    survive with a relatively small stock that was bought by many), so the
    repair shop often didn't need to keep a lot of stock, especially not
    a lot of specialized stock.

    But in order to increase the market, manufacturers had to lower prices
    so those who couldn't afford before could now. So they shifted to printed
    circuit boards, and when ICs came along they started using them, which
    allowed for higher integration (ie fewer overall parts). The smaller
    parts meant no heavy chassis, which would have gone anyway because
    that cost money, not just to buy the metal but you had to ship it
    to the store near the consumer.

    The price goes down. But the cost of repair stays the same, or goes
    up, because tracking down the problem is labor intensive. Manufacturers
    often switch to replacing boards, which keeps labor costs down but
    means you aren't paying for a fifty cent part but the whole board.

    So if you paid a thousand dollars for that color tv set in 1966 (just
    a figure I pulled out of the air), the repair cost was a small percentage
    of the cost of buying a new one. Plus, it was easier to pay out a little
    here and a little there than to come up with another thousand to buy a new
    tv set.

    But if you paid a hundred dollars for that tv set today, you'd be
    paying a good percentage of that cost in having a repairman try to
    find the problem. That tips things in favor of buying new. Plus,
    in order to get that tv set price so low, the parts aren't generic,
    and the repairman has to deal with the manufacturer to get the replacement
    parts. That ends up being problematic, or requires some sort of
    contract with the manufactuer (and added cost). The tv sets are
    no longer as generic as they were forty years ago, so the repairman
    finds it harder to figure out what is wrong, often requiring service
    material from the manufacturer, again an extra cost.

    The cheaper something is to manufacture, the less sturdy it will be
    mechanically, since that is one way to cut cost. Hence things are
    less likely to last as long, even if people were willing to spend
    the money to repair them rather than buy new.

    And I want to add something about "planned obsolescence" because it
    is often misused. If people are choosing to buy cheap, it's hardly
    that the manufacturers are making things so they will break. The
    consumer often wants that cheaper tv set or VCR.

    And there is the issue of just plain obsolescence. Forty years
    ago, there'd hardly be any electronic items around the house. A
    tv set or two, some radios, maybe a stereo. But look around now,
    and everything is electronic. It's either been invented in the past forty
    years (not even that long in many cases), or at the very least could not
    have been a consumer item until recently. Once you have consumers buying
    the latest thing, things are bound to go obsolete. Buy early, and things
    still have to develop, which means the things really may become obsolete
    in a few years. It's not the manufacturer doing this to "screw the
    consumer", it's a combination of new developments and consumer demand.

    If my computer from 1979 had been intended to last forever, it would
    have been way out of range in terms of price. Because they'd have to
    anticipate how much things would change, and build in enough so upgrading
    would be doable. So you'd spend money on potential, rather than spending
    money later on a new computer that would beat out what they could
    imagine in 1979. And in recent years, it is the consumer who is deciding
    to buy a new computer every few years (whether a deliberate decision or
    they simply let the manufacturer lead, must vary from person to person.)

  9. terry

    terry Guest

    Ecnerwal wrote: In part ..................
    Maybe that's stating it rather strongly?

    Although recent discussion/discovery that IPods will exhaust their
    batteries in approximately one to two years do clearly raise the
    question? "Designed to fail?".

    But it's the same reason that I continue to accept and use old
    appliances that I can repair myself.
    For example I refuse to buy a stove that incorporates a digital
    timer/clock; they are virtually unrepairable! Eventually can see
    myself, however, ending up with one of those and deliberately
    disconnecting the digital timer clock or modifying the stove to use one
    my older (saved) clock/timers or just dong away with the timer
  10. M Berger

    M Berger Guest

    Things are built differently now for reasons other than
    cost. At one time you changed a thermostat in your car
    twice a year (if you lived in the midwestern U.S.) and
    had the carbon cleaned out at 50,000 miles. You got a
    tune-up and spark plugs every 15,000 miles.

    The spark plugs on new vehicles are rated for $ 50,000
    and up. A computer takes care of the tune-up for you,
    and the regular maintenance involves basically adding or
    changing fluids.

    On your old clothes dryer you were supposed to oil the
    drum bearings and motor every so often. That's no longer
    considered necessary.

    Amazingly, these "cheaply built" appliances and vehicles
    are awfully reliable considering how little maintenance
    and attention they get. Most refrigerators actually still
    cool when they're scrapped. It's the inside door trim,
    or door gasket, or a clogged vent that causes people to throw
    them away.
  11. Guest

    being in the service industry myself fixing office equiptement, much
    isnt designed to be easily repaired. ever wonder why nearly every
    copier has white covers?

    so the look shabby in a couple years to encourage you to buy a new

    some manufactuers intentially make their products expensive and hard to

    turned service parts into a profit department since theres low margins
    on new machine sales
  12. Rick Brandt

    Rick Brandt Guest

    I think another big factor is the ratio of cost on parts versus labor. In the
    "old days" you might have a repair that was 70% parts and 30% labor cost-wise.
    Nowdays those percentages would be reversed and that just irks people who just
    don't see the value of anyone's labor (other than their own of course).

    You see posts about this all the time. "Called a guy to come out and do foo and
    couldn't believe what he wanted to charge me!" Labor really induces a lot of
    sticker shock these days.
  13. Rod Speed

    Rod Speed Guest

    I dont believe it happens in the sense that its actually possible
    to design something to fail early and still have a viable product.

    And there is plenty of stuff that clearly aint anything to do
    with planned obsolescence at all. Most obviously with stuff
    as basic as bread knives which are all metal. Those wont
    even need to be replaced when the handle gives out.

    And heaps of kitchen stuff is now stainless steel, which
    will last forever compared with the older tinplate crap.
    Works fine with some things, but can bite. I just replaced
    the switch in the vaccuum cleaner which is about 40 years
    old. Cost peanuts and was very easy to find a new one.

    The big 9¼" hand held circular saw that I built the house with
    35 years ago has just seen the power switch fail and that is
    no longer available from the manufacturer. Fortunately its
    failed on so the saw is still usable tho more dangerous.
    It uses blades with a 1?" hole. The current blades have
    1" holes with washers which allow smaller shafts but no
    easy way to use them on my old saw. There doesnt appear
    to be any readily available source of different collets for that.

    Just had the chain adjuster failed on a dirt cheap relatively
    new electric chainsaw. I assumed that they wouldnt bother
    to supply parts like that, but I was wrong, readily available
    and in fact free. Clearly no planned obsolescence there.

    And power tools are now so cheap that they are very viable
    to buy even for just one job. I had to cut a copper pipe thats
    buried in the ground and it costs peanuts to buy a very decent
    jigsaw to cut it, just to avoid having to dig a bigger hole around
    where I needed to cut it. Its been fine for other stuff since,
    no evidence that its going to die any time soon. Could well get
    40 years out of that too like I did with most of the power tools
    that I used to build the house.

    Cars in spades. I've just replaced my 35 year old car that I was
    too stupid to fix the windscreen leak with which eventually produced
    rust holes in the floor which wont pass our registration check.
    While its possible to plate the holes, I cant be bothered, I intended
    to drive that car into the ground and decided that that had happened.
    No evidence that the replacement new car wont last as long. Its
    certainly got more plastic, most obviously with the bumper bars that
    the new one doesnt have, but that mostly due to modern crumple
    zones, not due to planned obsolescence and might save my life etc.

    People were raving on about planned obsolescence when
    I built the house and I've had very little that has ever needed
    replacement apart from basic stuff like light bulbs and the
    occassional failure of stuff like elements in the oven etc.

    More below.
    That isnt planned obsolescence, thats the fact that its a
    lot cheaper to pay a very low wage asian to make you
    a new one than it ever is to pay a first world monkey to
    repair your existing one with all but quite trivial faults.
    It has indeed, but not because of planned obsolescence.
    Sob sob.
    Because its generally better value to replace.
    Wota fucking wanker. Bet he doesnt disembowel himself when he fucks up.
    So much for your silly line about planned obsolescence.
    They arent in other industrys that are still viable,
    most obviously with cars and trucks and houses.
    He should have had a clue 13 years ago.
    The writing was on the wall long before that.
    Must be rocket scientist shinybums.
    They actually prefer a decent income.

    That claimed 'prefer work that is less strenuous and want more
    comfortable working conditions' clearly hasnt affect car, truck or
    house repair and the construction industry etc. Tho there will
    always be some of that with a 5% unemployment rate.
    Yep, only a fool wouldnt if the new one costs about
    the same as the cost of repairing the old one.
    Must be rocket scientist apes.
    What makes a lot more sense is to factor in the failure rate of that appliance.
    Hardly surprising given that they are now so cheap.
    Pig ignorant silly stuff.
    I had some reservations about my 35 year old
    dishwasher that does have a plastic liner. Its lasted fine.
    And now china.
    Bet that will have **** all effect on the employment prospects.
    Pig ignorant drivel. You can buy plenty of modern energy efficient
    fridges for a hell of a lot less than that. I've done just that a month ago.
    Bet the fools stupid enough to buy those will anyway.
    I did mine in 30 mins total, literally.
    Just changed washing machines over too, with a free
    one I inherited. Changing the water over took minutes too.
    Only the incompetant fools that cant change the washing machine over.
    Wrong, those are normally lousy energy efficiency.
    Yeah, they make them much better today energy efficiency wise.

    And much better design wise too with the shelves and bins etc too.
  14. Rick Brandt

    Rick Brandt Guest

    The planned obselescence theory has one huge flaw. If I intentionally design my
    product so you will have to replace it rather than repair it and (even more
    deviously) intentionally design it so it will not have a long life (just past
    the warranty period) I have no reason to believe that the replacement you
    purchase will be my product. In fact it is way more likely that you will
    purchase the other guy's product next time.

    A far more plausible theory is that building the most reliable "whatevers" at
    the lowest cost just happens to result in manufacturing methods that produce
    goods that are not as repairable as they were in the past. No need to introduce
    any big conspiracies.
  15. Guest

    did you know theres all qualitys of stainless, some will last literaLLY
    FOREVER not so for kitchen stainless, try a magnet on stainless the
    better quality is non magnetic
  16. JR North

    JR North Guest

    Unfortunately, you have to plan for Planned Obsolescence several years
    For instance: my Kenmore washer/dryer set is 16 years old. Still going
    strong. No repairs. Lots of posts in S.E.R (and here) on current W/D
    models puking after 2 or so years.
    My JC Penney (Eureka) canister vac is 22 years old. Only thing replaced
    was power head belt a couple years ago. New vacs are garbage.
    I could go on and on....
    Dweller in the cellar

    Home Page:
    If you're not the lead dog, the view never changes
    Doubt yourself, and the real world will eat you alive
    The world doesn't revolve around you, it revolves around me
    No skeletons in the closet; just decomposing corpses
  17. In my opinon, it is a symptom of a larger problem....

    Companies are setting up the situation that you are forced to buy new
    versus repair the used applicance, car, electronics, computers, cell
    phones....because they make a larger profit.

    The MBAs that are crafting the company policy are behind this.

    And the consumer is being left holding the bill...including paying for
    the cost of disposal.


  18. Rick Brandt

    Rick Brandt Guest

    Only if the same company sells me the replacement. For the theory to work
    entire industries would need to collude on this. I don't buy it.
    Nah, cooking the books maybe, but not making design decisions.
    Actually newer laws are holding manufacturers accountable for any "special"
    disposal costs required of their products. That could put a whole new spin on
    this topic.
  19. Rod Speed

    Rod Speed Guest

    Or perhaps you havent.
    Yes. And so are the current ones too with the exception of plug packs etc.
    That is just plain silly with domestic appliances. There is bugger
    all except light bulbs that cant be designed to last indefinitely.

    And even that has changed just recently too.
    Oh bullshit.
    More bullshit. I've done just that fine with a modern electric chainsaw.
    Not even possible.
    That in spades.
    Sure, but what they would rather and what is possible
    design wise are two entirely different animals.
    Utterly mindless conspiracy theory.
    Completely off with the fairys now.
    Thats always been the case with domestic appliances.
    Nope, that isnt due to any conspiracy, thats just the usual design stupidity.
    Another fantasy.
    That happens even when the cars are economic to repair.
    Just because new cars are cheap enough to allow that.

    Domestic appliances in spades.
  20. Rod Speed

    Rod Speed Guest

    Doesnt explain stuff like cordless phones that use standard batterys.
    That can mean that you have to do without
    some of the most elegantly usable appliances tho.
    Mindlessly silly. My microwave is still going fine 30 years later.
    Or get a clue and only bother with that if it actually does fail.
    And get the benefit of a decent modern design when it doesnt.

    I've never actually had a single digital clock in any system
    ever fail and I've got heaps of them, plenty 30+ years old.
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