This website has been online since 2003 or thereabouts and at the time of writing, some thirteen years later, we have seen more and larger product recalls or safety problems that we can ever remember.
We asked ourselves and others in the industry, is this something that we or the public should be worried about?
Way back in the mists of time any of us that have been involved in the appliance service industry have seen the odd recall or two, some have even been quite spectacular in nature and there’s been a few that nobody really noticed.
Most of the problems we’ve seen over the years in respect to service bulletins and so on are minor. We’ve had the odd “recall” that wasn’t anything to do with safety, just a problem that was endemic, often they’re not even billed as recalls or even safety notices.
Which gets us to the definitions of what a recall actually is or a safety notice but that’s a topic for another time.
Of course, there have been a number that we’ve seen even way back in time that has been actual safety concerns and, usually, when a manufacturer pulls the ripcord and let us rip on a full-blown mass modification there will be a very good reason for it. Usually, it’s a safety risk, more often than not a fire risk or something equally or more serious.
Keep in mind that, irrespective of how things go, this is going to cost the producer a small fortune to sort out so getting them to ‘fess up is often not easy. So you can see what we call “soft recalls”.
With that in mind, producers won’t fall over themselves to issue a recall or even a safety notice though due to the costs involved and the potential brand damage. Aside from them often being vilified in the media for trying to do the right thing!
This is probably one of the things that go on in the appliance industry (probably more if not for sure) that manufacturers, retailers and brand owners do not want people to know about.
What you’ll have is a problem with a product that is an issue, maybe even a safety one but there’s not enough of them out there to justify a full-blown recall notice or safety notice to get issued for. Could be that there’s not enough of them that have the problem, could be there’s just not enough out there, could be the producer or brand thinks they can get away without the cost and hassle of it all. Often we really do not know why there is no notification to owners that there could be a problem with the product sat in their kitchen.
What you will see is a service bulletin go out that advises of the problem and the cure.
This is really important to understand, often this is completely harmless and this sort of thing happens all the time in the appliance industry.
Parts will get changed, the original supplier could have gone bust or anything, and there’s a modification to replace what was there and has broken. The manufacturer may have gotten a better part. They may have found in one territory or in certain use cases that a better component might be needed or so on and it gets sorted out.
This is a good thing and should be supported. It is very responsible and sensible on the part of the manufacturers to do this.
Some, however, are a recall that isn’t a recall.
Most often it will centre around some sort of endemic failure that there’s a fix for and they just fix them as they come up as in when the machines break. There’s no proactive action before machines break.
And that, well that’s bad.
If you read through some of the articles on this site, the manufacturer section and more you will probably quickly get to realising that, whilst there’s slews and slews of brands in the appliance industry there aren’t really all that many actual makers of appliances.
The reason is that to set up one production line costs millions to get a return of a few pounds a box it makes and you need huge volumes to be competitive if even viable to make the machines. So, the number of producers has dwindled massively over the past few decades as there’s no value in the industry leaving much of the market serviced by massive global companies who make the vast bulk of all appliances sold worldwide.
Problem with that is of course if they get a problem whereby they need to take action on a safety issue, it’s a huge deal. In some cases staggeringly huge.
Recent safety modification like the Hotpoint tumble dryers going on fire, Beko fridge freezers that went up in flames, Samsung washing machines that explode or their fridges that go into meltdown, Beko cookers with carbon monoxide issues when used incorrectly and some others affect staggering numbers of products. Millions of them, usually across multiple different brand names.
That’s one cost to the buying public that nobody wants to know about, if you want things to be as cheap as chips then you have to accept they must be produced in monumental quantities to achieve that so when something goes wrong, you’ve got equally monumental quantities of dodgy stuff to put right.
But if it’s across multiple brands it may well not look to be as bad a problem even when it is in reality.
More worryingly, an issue might even never be picked up on just due to the way all this works.
Given all this and more that we don’t want to bore people to death with here but, we understand it all, we actually can see safety problems increasing, not decreasing.
The basic reason for saying so is twofold:
- Increased volumes on single platforms
- Reduction of costs
You can add to that, should you wish, an increased use of new technologies such as all electronic and connected products that we have already seen examples of being hacked. What happens if that hack sends the machine into a flat spin to the point it presents a real danger?
Thankfully so far, we don’t know.
Service is often split between different brands so factories don’t get enough feedback of an issue. Although for some that could be a bonus.
You can throw in that real-world testing seems to be an issue.
In fact, if you see some of the “claimed” ratings and so on actual testing at all could be a problem.
Then you’ve got batch testing from a factory, they only test a sample due to the huge volumes and hardly any of the machines that are sold will have been tested at all.
We could go on but hopefully, you get the point. A lot of what gets done is to sell more and/or reduce costs, not to make the products safer or better in our view.
Every now and then we will see the repair guys as well as some members of the public asking for more safety. In some instances they have a point for sure, some they really don’t but there are some fundamental problems with calls for greater safety.
First off there’s the use case when you put safety measures into play as many have been tried over the years.
The biggest hurdle in doing so isn’t the technical challenge of such things. No, it’s the users.
What we’ve found when manufacturers use sensors that shut down stuff, nag people to use the machine correctly or it won’t work and so forth is that the owners complain bitterly and do not accept that they have to or cannot do something in a manner that they are accustomed to. This is a huge problem in our industry often leading to the usual, “I know how to…. I’ve been doing that for years”, we hear in service departments virtually every day.
Often, people just don’t like or want change.
The more important point we think is that, as we’ve written about previously, domestic appliances are actually incredibly safe statistically.
Without a doubt, there are issues and some could certainly be solved if not addressed and made better but here’s the problem with that, it will cost more to do it.
Simply put, safety features cost money.
Adding cost in an environment where the buyers, retailers and in turn by default producers are almost all chasing the lowest possible price simply ain’t gonna happen.
As we are fond of pointing out, appliance prices have dropped in real terms over the past few decades by an astonishing amount, to expect greater safety and ever lower prices is at least in our opinion borderline delusional.
Safer domestic appliances, don’t expect them anytime soon.