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  Are Machines Too Cheap

We explain why we think that washing machines are stunningly cheap these days


People will often look at a washing machine and simply think that they are all the same, they all do the same thing and that they all cost roughly the same. Usually, when asked, people will say that a machine will cost about £2-300.

The thing is, back in 1983 a good Hoover, Hotpoint or Zanussi washing machine cost £400, that was over twenty years ago! So, what happened?

Well, below is a graph of how a £399.99 washing machine would have tracked if we simply added inflation year on year through to 2015 using figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

Washing machine price tracking with inflation

2015 ----------------------------------------------> 1983

If the same quality etc. Was maintained then, in 2015/16, a comparable product should cost a whopping £1079.53 and that's just the basic annual inflation rate that is published by the ONS applied.

If you work the figures back the other way it means that, in today's money the £399 you spent in 1983 would buy you about £142 worth of washing machine today.

And, in 1983 £399 got a you a decent but basic 1000rpm (at best) washer with a 5kg (at best most were 4.5kg or less) load that guzzled water and electricity in comparison to today's models. So a basic machine today should cost over £1000, fancy ones even more! 

A £1000 washing machine is standing still from 1983 in terms of price, it's not expensive at all, it's realistic. 

  Comparisons, Expectations & Why

We often forget, because we're human, that everything else has risen quite substantially in price as well over this period and, after a little research here's a few examples.

  1983 2015
Average UK House Price £34,795 £288,000
Basic Ford Fiesta £4162 £10,345
Litre of petrol £0.377 £1.119*

It appears that many people, when it comes to some goods, do think that they can completely ignore inflation, expect prices to stay the same or even drop as well as retaining the quality and durability of the goods and, the bitter truth is, you just can't.

We're looking at washing machines but, this will apply to other goods as well that long the same lines, these things are primarily mechanical devices made from steel (or, they should be at least) and other metals. The cost of these raw materials have not dropped.

They need labour to build them, the costs there haven't really dropped although manufacturers have tried to dodge that bullet by moving production away from high labour cost countries to low cost ones because we want lower cost consumer goods. How stupid is that, we are the reason we have no manufacturing base left!

Yes, sure, they've automated a lot and reduced a huge amount of cost that way but, that happened in the late seventies and early eighties. Since then it's really been pretty much static as far as automating the production goes. There's been an efficiency gain here and there sure, but nowhere near enough to account for the price disparity from the mid-eighties until the present day.

You need energy to make them, that's not stayed static or dropped in price either.

And, you need to ship them which is one of the most expensive parts in some cases and, that's not gotten cheaper or the prices stayed static either.

So, the only conclusion that you can logically reach is that, if you want the same quality and durability as you had in 1983 then a washing machine simply has to cost more today than it did some twenty years ago. There's no getting around this and no way to sugar coat it.

We have to ask though, why is it that people think that they should still cost about £300 or so?

It's actually very simple. People have it in their heads that this is the sort of price they should pay as they are exposed to advertising that tells them this from large electrical chains. Their interest and motivation is to get people through the door with tempting (and often plain stupid) offers and sell you not only a washing machine or whatever but an expensive warranty to go with it. If you take out the warranty and probably suffer the hassle of breakdowns or poor performance of the years, you will find your self paying as much, if not more, than it would have cost to buy a decent machine in the first place.

Good machine in the first instance, sharp intake of breath at the price and a big initial layout.

Cheap machine, no problem it's only a couple or few hundred quid but it bleeds money from you in other ways.

You choose your poison.

But either way you will spend as much, but most likely more, on cheaper goods than more durable ones.

  Cheaper Washing Machines And Other Appliances

How do they do it though, how do they manage to beat inflation AND effectively lower the retail prices?

These are questions that, when you buy any mechanical device including appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers, that you ought to be asking yourself. How do they do that?

Well it's a combination of many different things and we'll only cover the highlights here within the scope of this piece. If you want to know more about choosing the best washing machine then there's an article here that offers some more advice.

Washing Machine Components

The first thing you do is use cheaper and lower quality components. You can cut the costs considerably by compromising on the quality.

For example, you can buy a good washing machine drain pump from Hanning for say £10 landed and that's a really good pump, an Askoll for about £3-5 depending on the grade and specification and that's a decent pump or, you can buy a cheap Chinese knock-off one for about £1.

Life expectancy for the Hanning, 10-20 years. The Askoll, 5-12 years. The Chinese one, 1-3 years.

You can repeat this for bearings, seals, water valves, heaters, motors, electronics, thermostats, wiring… the list is almost endless. Just like the complete machine, the difference is more than double the lifespan for each jump in quality level but, interestingly, it's not usually double the cost. This is often why you see disparities in spares pricing as well and why some online spares sellers can do really cheap parts, even if they're not actually any good. This is a game we obviously don't play and we're taking the time to explain it to people rather than just hitting you with "the lowest price ever" nonsense. If you've got any intelligence or common sense we think you'll work all this out for yourself with the information we provide.

What components you use in building an appliance has a massive effect on lifespan and durability, the better the components the longer it will last but, the more it will also cost.

More Plastic Parts In Modern Washing Machines

Next top trick is to use plastic instead of more durable materials, like steel.

This has two effects, it reduces the weight and therefore can reduce shipping costs but it also massively reduces the production costs.

So we now have plastic tanks instead of steel or vitreous enamel ones. On many machines everything that can possibly be made from plastic, from shock absorbers to tanks to bases to spray arms now is to reduce costs.

Only trouble is, it's not as durable and is more fragile so the components and, the machine, don't last as long. More can be found out about how long a washing machine should last in this article.

Remove Washing Machine Parts

The next thing we've seen is the removal of parts so that you can only buy a fully finished assembly.

This started with drain pumps where you used to be able to buy the seals but now it extends to motors where you can't buy armatures and, in some cases not even a set of carbon brushes, just a complete motor.

Or doors for fridge freezers where you can't buy the seal as it's formed into the door, you need to buy a complete door at many times the price you would expect to pay for a simple door gasket.

But now, it's gotten to the point where a tub and drum unit is complete, doors and other items. You can find out a lot more about sealed tubs or tanks in this article and why you really ought to care about it before you but a new washing machine.

You can't replace the part than may have broken, you have to buy the full assembly and this is so because, quite simply, it's cheaper to produce them this way than use individual parts that you can buy as spares.

The effect of course is that, in relation to the price of the product or a replacement the parts seem ludicrously expensive so instead of repairing what you have you decide it's more economical to replace it. Good news for the retailers and manufacturers, repeat business from you and even if you buy from someone else, so what, someone else will be equally hacked off with another brand or retailer so they'll buy. We refer to this as "Brand Bingo". 

  Washing Machine Brand Bingo

Brand Bingo is an internal term we use for people that often say to us, "well I'll never buy another XXXXXXX make again and tell all my friends not to either". 

Do you really think the large global corporations that own all and, we do mean ALL the major brands you can actually buy really care? Frankly, they couldn't give a stuff so long as they're selling thousands of white (black, grey, stainless or whatever colour these days) of boxes a month. 

But it really makes us smile when people stomp off in a huff because, for example, their Indesit dies after a mere eighteen months to go and buy something "better" and get a Hotpoint. It's the same machine in a different box with another badge on it!!

It happens all the time.

Or, they go off and buy a Hoover because the Hotpoint was rubbish. It's just as bad, it's just got another name tag on it.

The point is, within a certain price band they're all much of a muchness but you can find out more by browsing the manufacturer section and by having a read of this article which shows most of the big groups.

  Washing Machine And Other Appliances Lifecycle

One of the big reasons people think that they should still be paying £400 or whatever for a good washing machine is that they paid that much in the past, see the adverts for cheap machines and think that this is a reasonable amount of money for a good washing machine.

The big problem there is that (apart from the fact it just isn't a good washing machine most probably) is that the replacement cycle on a good appliance is ten years plus. So, you've got to add at least ten years inflation and most people don't.

Most people also give absolutely no consideration for the level of use that they will give their washing machine, often thinking that they are just "average" but the actual averages we explain in this article can massively affect how long a washing machine will last.

Meanwhile we've got all this cost cutting going on and prices actually falling in real terms.

And, since washing machines and other appliances aren't exactly considered to be "sexy" products that people keep track of, most people haven't got a clue what's going on in the industry or have the remotest idea about all this stuff.

So, people get confused.

They get the marketing messages about lower energy use, prices, load capacities and all that nonsense and ignore the fundamental, simple, questions.

We can't give you all the answers, that's not our job here.

Our job here is to make you think that maybe £400 just isn't realistic to buy a good washing machine and maybe you should look at things in a slightly different light when you go to change any appliance as, all too often, what seems like a bargain isn't and what seems like a good product, isn't.

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