The planned obsolescence of America


OK, I was just ranting out loud in my living room when it occurred to me that I had a blog, and that, instead of subjecting my family to my negative energy, I could subject you to it. So, prepare yourselves…

About seven years or so ago, Linette and I bought a new washing machine to replace the one that we’d inherited with our house, which was probably close to 40 years old when it finally stopped working. As long as we had to get a new one, we invested in a high-efficiency model that, we were told, would use significantly less water and energy. We did what we thought was the right thing… Less water. Less energy. Cleaner clothes. Everyone’s happy… Then, a few days ago, the washer began to act up. Going into it’s final spin cycle, it started producing an incredibly loud noise, a kind of quickly building whine, that, by the end of the cycle, sounded like a fighter jet accelerating into some kind of assault maneuver. We compensated by doing laundry during the day, when we wouldn’t either wake or terrify the kids, and we kept going. After a few days of this, though, things began to escalate. Yesterday, within 30 seconds of starting a load, water just started pouring out, onto the floor. So, deciding that we had to bite the bullet and summon a repair person, we called the store where we’d bought it. Less than a minute into our explanation, we were cut off and told the following. “High efficiency, front-load washers only last about five to seven years.” We were prepared to go into graphic detail as to what we’d experienced, but the repair guy on the other end of the line didn’t have to hear it. Acting as though he’d clearly received the same exact call a thousand times before, he said it was the bearing, and that we’d need a new washer. To replace the bearing, he said, would cost more than just sending this one to the scrap heap and getting a new one. And that’s why I’m so fucking pissed off. I’m pissed that no one told us, when they sold us the washing machine, that it was only likely to last five years, but, much more so than that, I’m pissed that a U.S. company would make a washing machine that they knew wouldn’t last more than than half a decade. I get that it’s probably good for their bottom line not to make things that last forever, but how can anyone, given the state of the world today, justify marketing a large appliance that they know, without a shadow of a doubt, will be sent to the junk yard in mere half-a-dozen years? It’s an incredible waste of resources. And, in my opinion, it’s totally irresponsible… And it’s got me pissed off to the point where I’m actually thinking about starting a fucking washing machine company of my own. So, if you see me, and I don’t smile and say hello, that’s why… I’m too busy plotting the downfall of Whirlpool, and the re-emergence of America.

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  1. Dan R.
    Posted November 19, 2013 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    Crap. I just bought a high efficiency front-load washer a few years ago.

  2. koosh
    Posted November 19, 2013 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    doing the right thing always bites one in the ass. imagine how upset you’d be if you bought a hybrid and had those nickel metal hybride batteries to throw in a landfill.

  3. anjali
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 2:02 am | Permalink

    Go and buy a front loading washing machine this month, but be careful about the price list.

  4. Fish
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

  5. Ace Davis
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    I usually find that anger directed outwardly protects an internal target. In this case, how do you feel about not asking about life expectancy before you shelled out for this “durable” good? Is that part of the “totally irresponsible” “waste of resources” you lament?

    I admire your spite-fueled entrepreneurial spirit though. Good luck with Mark’s Fucking Washing Machine Company. But I wonder about your path to sustainability if customers are so fucking satisfied that they won’t need to do business with you again until the return of Halley’s Comet, at which time they’ll charge into your store pissed off and smelling funky, which won’t bother the other customers because there won’t be any.

    Seriously, that does suck. Sorry about that. Better luck next time.

  6. anonymous
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    That’s what we call a false dichotomy, Ace. The choice isn’t between a washer that lasts five years and one that lasts 100. Is it responsible for corporations to produce durable goods that aren’t durable? Is it responsible to sell products that you know will fail in a relatively short period of time and can’t be repaired?

  7. roots
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Damn. Our front-load machine just celebrated its 5th year…

  8. Mr. Y
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    How long have you worked for Whirlpool, Ace?

  9. Diana Gonzalez
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    There are various class-action suits against washing machine companies right now, because they’re also making them so that they develop mold problems that can only be maintained if you buy another product from them regularly. It only gets worse. Put us on the queue for your washing machines.

  10. Liz DMG
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    We have a top loading HE washer and it’s only needed two repair calls in as many years. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) As an added bonus, I’m quite certain it wears our clothes out faster than our old, non-HE washer did.

  11. Dan Gillotte
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Wow, good rant. I want machines with parts that can be replaced at a reasonable cost. That’s how our modern world was built. A cog wore out, it was replaced. That’s the way it should be. But in nearly every industry, it’s “cheaper” to throw it out and buy a new one. Ugh! And yes, our front loader is 5 or 6 years old, so I”ll be waiting for this.

  12. Kate
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    You might not have to build your own. People seem to like the Miele from Germany.

  13. Sparklemotion
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Successful companies that make durable goods that are actually durable usually make their money not on the product itself but on the service/repair/parts of said product. For example, Xerox makes very little on their commercial printers, but (like all printer companies) cashes is huge on the ink. They also charge upwards of $150/hr for a service call. If you approach it with that business model you could be very successful.

  14. andre
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    New appliances are the worst. I bought an old, used washing machine and dryer off of Craigslist when we bought our house. They cost about $100 for the pair, and don’t have any modern features (on these, the water and drying temperature are more optimistic suggestion rather than fact), but they wash my clothes, and I can fix them if they ever do break, or – worst case scenario – just buy a new one, and I’m out $50. If it dies and the motor still works, I can use that to make a rototiller or something.

    In general, I think that buying used-but-serviceable is probably more eco-friendly than buying newer, energy efficient things – how much plastic goes into a high-efficiency washer? How much energy is used to make/ship a Prius?

  15. Dennis
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Only elitists own front loading washing machines. Billy Bragg would be very disappointed in you.

  16. EOS
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Get a second opinion from someone who is not trying to sell you a new machine.

  17. EOS
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    I’d love to see a picture of your home-made roto-tiller.

  18. tommy
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Dude – if the bearing is gone, you are better off getting a new machine. My guy – local repair guy – Lange Appliance – told me this a few years back when I had a similar issue. I actually had a discussion with him on buying an upgraded machine. He told me that a basic one would do the job and that the extra money for a better model wasn’t necessary because the same cheap ass parts were used for most all models.

    Live and learn Mr. Maynard.

  19. Fish
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

  20. Posted November 20, 2013 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    I know I shouldn’t respond to taunting. I can’t help myself, though. I feel as though I need to defend the claim of elitism. Which is ridiculous, I know. But, nonetheless, I feel like I need to explain to you all why I have a front load washer, like I’m some kind of ivy league professor or something… First off, it only cost a few hundred dollars more than a traditional washing machine, and simple math demonstrated to me that I’d more than make up the difference over a few years thanks to the energy and water savings. Second, I felt as though it was the right thing to do environmentally. And, third, and most importantly, a traditional washing machine wouldn’t work in the space. You see, our old washing machine died at at a point when we were dealing with a great many poop-filled diapers diapers, and, as it was in the basement, and somewhat of a pain in the ass to get to, we weren’t attending to laundry as much as we should have been, resulting in some pretty disgusting situations. At any rate, when the washer died, we decided that we’d take the opportunity to move our laundry upstairs, where we could keep more on top of it. And we decided to put the new washer and drier into a closet. And the only way it would work was to stack them. So that’s the whole story. I’m not sure if it makes me an elitist or someone who only had room upstairs for a stackable washer and drier. Regardless, I still maintain that the damn thing shouldn’t have stopped working after 7 years. Elitist or not, that’s not right.

  21. Posted November 20, 2013 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    Just buy a new one and get over it.

    Shit breaks. Seven years is a fairly reasonable run. You might find that a new one can use less water and power anyway.

    Remember when cars didn’t used to last more than five years?

  22. Posted November 20, 2013 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    And as for the people crying elitism, that’s just stupid.

    Should we all buy the cheapest, most inefficient crap out there just to keep our street cred?

    Please. That, to me, is true elitism.

  23. jcp2
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    If you had gone the disposable diaper landfill route, your washer probably would still have at least a year or two left in it. All those extra loads of heavy wet cloth diapers certainly shortened the bearing lifespan.

  24. jcp2
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    Many appliance repair firms do not recommend front loading washers. There are potential mold build-up problems, and the physics of a horizontal drum versus a vertical bearing in a top loader puts a lot more stress on the bearing in a front loader, hence the expected reduced life span. If you have bad luck, or heavy loads, the water and energy savings of a front loader can be wiped out by a premature failure.

  25. andre
    Posted November 21, 2013 at 12:34 am | Permalink

    Hey EOS: I haven’t built one yet because my washing machine is still operational, but the idea is illustrated somewhere down the page in this ancient article:

    I’ve seen a version of this in operation, it works great.

  26. EOS
    Posted November 21, 2013 at 7:46 am | Permalink


    Maybe Mark can give you his motor. Have you repurposed other stuff like this? Just curious…

  27. Eel
    Posted November 21, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    EOS, I’m glad to see you back. When Mark added the single digit math test, I thought that we’d never hear from you again.

  28. Posted November 21, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    I enjoy it when people get nostalgic about how well things were built in “the good old days.” Often, they base these assertions on their own experiences, such as “My grandparents’ washer lasted 40 years.” This is fine, but ends up a lot like claims that smoking doesn’t kill because “my uncle Joe smoked all his life and lived to be 80.” It ignores the fact that many people died horrible deaths because of smoking. Uncle Joe’s good luck doesn’t change that fact.

    There are certainly many cases where “old stuff” has lasted a very long time. I would point out, however, that most households in America don’t have “old stuff.” The vast majority of washing machines, ovens, cars and everything else fell apart and went to the landfill and had to be replaced.

    Having inherited a boat load of appliances numerous times from numerous family members, I can attest to the shoddiness and inefficiency of products made in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, not to mention the incredible expense for purchase and continual repair.

  29. jcp2
    Posted November 21, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Washboards require minimal maintenance and last for generations. And for the ultimate in water savings, the Huron River is only a short walk away.

  30. Ace Davis
    Posted November 21, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    “That’s what we call a false dichotomy, Ace. The choice isn’t between a washer that lasts five years and one that lasts 100. Is it responsible for corporations to produce durable goods that aren’t durable? Is it responsible to sell products that you know will fail in a relatively short period of time and can’t be repaired?”

    Agreed. But is it surprising that a corporation doesn’t meet our standards of responsibility when virtually none of society’s structures enforce those standards and virtually all of its economic incentives lean toward planned obsolescence?

    “How long have you worked for Whirlpool, Ace?”

    Never. Never shelled out for a HE washer either because caveat emptor. Always sucks when your big-ticket item bites it sooner than you’d hoped. Mark didn’t get hosed. He just had other priorities than lifespan when he bought, and he wasn’t especially lucky in the end.

    I’ve been a reader for over a decade, and I don’t blame Mark for ranting. It’s just that he’s better when he lights a candle (which he does quite often and well) than when he curses the darkness.

  31. Mr. Y
    Posted November 21, 2013 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Thank you Ace. I agree with you.

  32. Go Dog Go
    Posted November 21, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    If he actually starts the Ypsilanti Washing Machine Company, I’d say he lit a candle. Of course that’s not going to happen. Still though its a nice vision.

  33. Posted November 21, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Why do companies have a “responsibility” to sell products that last a (human) lifetime?

    Do car companies have a responsibility to insure that all people only have to buy one car over the course of their adult lives?

    Please explain this to me because I don’t get it.

  34. Captain Planet
    Posted November 21, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    If it’s so close, maybe you could douche in it, jcp2.

  35. anonymous
    Posted November 21, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Repeating myself for Peter.

    “The choice isn’t between a washer that lasts five years and one that lasts 100. Is it responsible for corporations to produce durable goods that aren’t durable? Is it responsible to sell products that you know will fail in a relatively short period of time and can’t be repaired?”

    No one ever said a washer should last a lifetime. What was said was that they should last longer than six years, as should cars.

  36. Posted November 21, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    No, companies usually only guarantee products (through promises of repair) for 5 years. Beyond that, there is no explicit claim that the products will operate.

    Why “should” products last any longer that that which is guaranteed by the seller?

    Again, your statements imply that companies have some moral obligation to create products which last an ambiguous length of time, but I say that no such obligation exists. Companies are only contractually obligated to honor a written guarantee of repairs for a stated length of time. The customer implicitly acknowledges this obligation through the purchase of the product.

    Mark’s washer is a fine example. The maker was not obligated to guarantee that the washer would last 40 years or even seven. I assume that Mark knew this when he purchased the product. Thus, should the product last beyond five years, Mark would do well to consider this time a bonus rather than an entitlement.

  37. Posted November 21, 2013 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    As an example, when I go to a restaurant, there is a guarantee that I will get the food that I order and the food will follow public standards of health and hygiene, but no guarantee at all that the food will comprise the best meal I’ve ever had. The restaurant has no obligation, moral or contractual, to make food that I will like.

    Of course, as a consumer, I am free to choose a restaurant which offers foods that are to my liking (or not return to a place that sells bad food), just as I can choose an appliance maker known to produce products which last beyond their guarantees.

    I’m interested to see that both the previous commentor, “anonymous,” and Mark himself conflate a broken washing machine with a moral issue.

    Do landlords have a “moral obligation” to provide any more than what is stated in the lease? Are tenants entitled to anything beyond what is promised in the least and by municipal laws?

  38. Ben
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    It’s ridiculous that it doesn’t last longer. The house I grew up in had the same washing machine for the whole time I was growing up. I mean, I feel like that thing lasted at least 20 years. When the one that came with my house broke, I bought one from the Habitat for Humanity Restore for 200 dollars. I hope it lasts a long time, but at least if it doesn’t last forever, it’s used and was inexpensive. I’m at least taking someone’s cast off because they got a new one (who buys a new washing machine if they already have one, for fun?).

  39. adrienne
    Posted June 10, 2014 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Exactly! I’m in the market for a new washer, and after reading reviews for 2 days, I’m wondering if my old raggedy machine can be repaired. Really, I would contribute to the start-up of a company that would manufacture a decent washer.

  40. Laura
    Posted March 22, 2015 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    Please do start that washing machine company! EVERYTHING out there SUCKS right now. We are cajoled and pushed into being environmentally friendly–whether we want to or not–but in the end, how much more are these terrible appliances costing the environment? The resources to manufacture them, consumers wasting water and electricity to do the same damn load 3 times TO GET THEM SOMEWHAT CLEAN, then disposal in 6 years. It’s unconscionable that this is being allowed. Folks need to contribute to their retirement plans, pay for kids to go to college, take care of aging parents–NOT BUY A NEW DAMN APPLIANCE EVERY TIME THEY TURN AROUND. Washer, dryer, refrigerator, stove, microwave, dishwasher. It never ends. I bet some bean counter in Washington’s done the math and this is the only thing keeping our economy afloat. It appears I’m having a rant of my own. Beating the damn clothes with a rock at the creek is sounding pretty good…

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