Sav­ings: Richard Scott

If a ma­jor ap­pli­ance breaks down, there could be a way to ex­tend its life

Money Magazine Australia - - CONTENTS - STORY RICHARD SCOTT

Not un­til they start cough­ing and splut­ter­ing do we re­alise just how much we take our white­goods for granted. While the price of re­place­ments is ever cheaper, are we throw­ing away money by throw­ing away per­fectly sal­vage­able house­hold ap­pli­ances?

“In a way, re­tail­ers have tricked peo­ple by giv­ing the im­pres­sion that if a ma­chine breaks down that we must rush out and buy a new one im­me­di­ately,” says John Moody, owner and oper­a­tor of John Moody’s Ap­pli­ance Ser­vice. “But a smok­ing wash­ing ma­chine doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean any­thing se­ri­ous. It might look bad, sure, but it may sim­ply in­di­cate that the pump’s failed, which is a fairly com­mon com­plaint and a pretty mi­nor and in­ex­pen­sive re­pair.”

Mov­ing into our first home last year, we no­ticed our 11-year-old wash­ing ma­chine (Sam­sung 7kg front loader) was on the blink. It made stran­gu­lated noises be­fore dis­play­ing an er­ror mes­sage and re­fus­ing to con­tinue. On­line, we dis­cov­ered it was a drainage is­sue; a re­place­ment ma­chine would cost up­wards of $499.

Pulling it out, we found the hose had cracked dur­ing the move, and af­ter my fa­ther-in-law’s abortive at­tempts to fix it (with elec­tri­cal tape, no less) we called in the pros. A new hose ($ 41) plus flat-rate ser­vice call ($110) saved us $348. Our washer has been run­ning hap­pily ever since.

How­ever, re­pair­ing older white­goods is al­ways a gam­ble. An Amer­i­can study (by the National As­so­ci­a­tion of Home Builders) found that the av­er­age life of a wash­ing ma­chine is 10 years, 13 years for a fridge or clothes dryer and nine years for a dish­washer (see ta­ble).

But such num­bers should be taken with a pinch of salt, warns Steve Rayner, a 31-year vet­eran of Wil­son’s Wash­ing Machines & Re­frig­er­a­tion in Goonellabah, NSW. “I tell my cus­tomers there’s no use-by date on the back,” he says. “I work on the as­sump­tion that you’ll get 10 years out of most wash­ing machines but that will dif­fer by brand, fre­quency of use and level of main­te­nance.”

The most com­mon com­plaints he comes across are fraz­zled elec­tronic boards and blocked pump­ing sys­tems in dish­wash­ers.

“Un­block­ing a pump is an easy fix, just a ser­vice call [and] labour,” he says. “But a new board can cost up­wards of $400, de­pend­ing on the brand. So if the dish­washer’s got a bit of age on it, I’ll try and talk [the cus­tomer] out of patch­ing it up. I can guar­an­tee the new board but if the rest of the com­po­nents are over 10 years old, I can’t and won’t guar­an­tee those.”

Re­frig­er­a­tors, once the most trou­ble­some item in a house­hold, are now built to last be­tween 15 and 18 years, says Rayner. “So if you’re spend­ing $3000 on a mod­ern sideby-side fridge, putting a $400 board in and extending its life­span up to 18 years is just good eco­nom­ics.”

Are there any tell­tale signs that an ap­pli­ance is com­pletely dead? If a dish­washer emits a burn­ing smell, it can ei­ther be the elec­tri­cal board, which is fix­able, or the whole har­ness has burnt out, which is not.

Fur­ther­more, should the com­pres­sor go on your fridge, a new one can cost up to $1000. How­ever, says Rayner, a bro­ken com­pres­sor is clas­si­fied as an elec­tri­cal burnout and may be claimable on your home and con­tents pol­icy.

So what should you do if an ap­pli­ance breaks down?

The first thing is to check whether your

ma­chine is un­der war­ranty. Most man­u­fac­turer’s war­ranties last be­tween 12 and 24 months – although some “parts-only” war­ranties can last up to 10 years – and then you’ve got ex­tended war­ranties, sold through the re­tailer, on top of that.

There’s a good chance you pur­chased an ex­tended war­ranty when you first bought your ap­pli­ance – a re­cent Choice sur­vey found 65% of Aussies who were of­fered an ex­tended war­ranty ended up buy­ing one and 33% felt pres­sured into do­ing so. Whether you ac­tu­ally need one, how­ever, is an­other mat­ter en­tirely (see box).

“Call­ing your man­u­fac­turer or re­tailer [in the case of ex­tended war­ranties] is your first port of call – they can au­tho­rise a job and ap­point an agent,” says Moody.

If there’s no war­ranty, you’ll need to call your lo­cal ser­vice agent, giv­ing a brief de­scrip­tion of what’s wrong with the ap­pli­ance, and see if you can work out a rough cost.

“The ben­e­fit of us­ing a qual­i­fied re­pairs spe­cial­ist is that they can of­ten pro­vide an ac­cu­rate cost es­ti­mate over the phone,” says Moody. “A larger ap­pli­ance re­pair firm may slap you with a ser­vice charge for send­ing a tech­ni­cian to your house only to tell you they can’t fix the thing.”

Have you con­sid­ered do­ing it your­self? Guido Ver­bist runs Aus­tralia’s first Re­pair Cafe in Mar­rickville, Syd­ney, where vis­i­tors can take their bro­ken goods (from elec­tron­ics to fur­ni­ture and bi­cy­cles) and learn how to re­pair them.

“To­day items are de­lib­er­ately man­u­fac­tured so that they are not eas­ily re­paired,” says Ver­bist. “Many elec­tri­cal ap­pli­ances have spe­cial screws that are de­signed to be thrown away, or re­quire spe­cial tools that aren’t read­ily avail­able and pre­vent peo­ple from fix­ing their own things. It’s cheaper, of course, to build elec­tri­cal ap­pli­ances this way but it leads to a one-off use.”

Fur­ther­more, he says that fun­da­men­tal re­pairs knowl­edge has been lost over the years, con­tribut­ing to moun­tains of elec­tri­cal waste. “Not only is [mak­ing your own re­pairs] sig­nif­i­cantly cheaper than the cost of re­plac­ing house­hold items but it’s a far less waste­ful ap­proach.”

While his re­pairs cafe of­fers free ad­vice and as­sis­tance, he doesn’t rec­om­mend novices tak­ing apart machines at home with­out

the proper knowl­edge, con­fi­dence and tools. Rayner con­curs: “Any­one work­ing with elec­tri­cal com­po­nents should re­ally be a li­censed pro­fes­sional. A cus­tomer might put a green wire where a brown wire should be and light them­selves up. There’s no get­ting around that.”

Ul­ti­mately, if you want to avoid shelling out for new ap­pli­ances, you re­ally should take bet­ter care of the ones you have.

While many newer wash­ing machines have self-clean­ing fil­ters, your dish­washer fil­ters need a reg­u­lar clean. Rayner rec­om­mends pay­ing spe­cial at­ten­tion to any shards from bro­ken wine­glasses, which can be trou­ble­some should they find their way into a pump.

It pays to use a vac­uum on your dryer’s lint tray, along with AC fil­ters and fridge units with fans at the base. If you’ve got cats and dogs, do it ev­ery six months, or an­nu­ally in a tidy, well-kept home.

“Reg­u­lar clean­ing and care are es­sen­tial,” agrees Moody. “Main­tain­ing your ap­pli­ances be­fore they break down can sig­nif­i­cantly ex­tend the life of any house­hold ap­pli­ance and dras­ti­cally re­duce the like­li­hood of ei­ther re­pair or re­place­ment.”

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