I've long been annoyed by throwaway culture and things not being built to last or made easy to maintain. So I've been trying to buy products which buck this trend and last a decent length of time, or are at least economically repairable.
I've been pleasantly surprised in two recent cases. Our Hope Vision One light suffered from water ingress and Hope repaired it free of charge, even though it was bought some 7 years ago for around £70. More recently the 10-year old Rohloff SPEEDHUB on our tandem came apart when the nuts holding the cap on mysteriously undid themselves on a ride. We sent it back to SJS Cycles expecting a bill, but were told that Rohloff had paid for the repair as goodwill. We got it back a couple of days later with a new gasket and thread-locked screws. I recently heard that Brompton did a free repair of an aging frame which had been taken off-road and cracked the rear triangle. Not only did they fix it free of charge, they replaced the worn chain and brakes too. I've experienced similar good service from Carradice. The idea that products should last well or be maintained by the manufacturer is not limited to cycling brands; Patagonia encourage customers to repair their clothing or will even do it for you (that might be US-only).
German appliance manufacturer Miele have been trying to market themselves as a reliable brand, boasting that their washing machines are tested for "20 years equivalent usage". That strongly implies the machine should last better than most. On this basis we bought a Miele W5740 for the princely sum of £958.98 back in 2011. As you can probably guess from the fact I'm writing this, ours didn't last that long. In fact, after 4 years and 8 months of moderate usage - much less than the 5 washes a week they test for - it refused to turn on. On closer inspection by a local repairman, it seems a chip on the main board had exploded, along with an adjacent resistor.
We got in touch with the retailer and Miele, explaining the situation. The Co-Op Electrical said some nice things to give the impression that they cared, which sounded rather insincere when they added.
As the item is out of its guarantee period, at this stage you would have to pay and arrange for an engineer call yourself and upon providing evidence that the appliance is faulty due to an inherent manufacturing defect, then we will gladly reimburse you this loss you have suffered getting an item repaired, upon supply of the invoice. This is in line with the Sales of Goods Act 1979 (amended) because the appliance is more than 6 months old the onus unfortunately falls onto the consumer to prove that the fault is inherent. If the engineer cannot confirm that the appliance was faulty at the time of purchase then we will not be able to cover the cost of the call out and repair. I must advise that for us to be able to reimburse any cost to you there must be proof supplied of an inherent manufacturing fault, if this is not supplied or if a report is supplied that remains ambiguous we will not be in a position to assist you further. The report supplied to us must state: what the fault is, what has caused the fault, what is needed to rectify the fault and how much a repair of the item would be. Failure to supply a report with this information will mean we cannot assist you.
Miele themselves were similarly kind, caring and utterly unhelpful.
I can confirm that the quality of the after sales support offered to our customers is of paramount importance to the Miele organisation. Whilst we make every effort to ensure that all of our components are of the highest quality, we cannot guarantee that breakdowns will not occur in individual instances, as even with careful use and regular operator maintenance, parts can fail or wear out from time to time. However, we are confident that following the repair to your appliance, your machine should give you many years of satisfactory, trouble-free service.
We are constantly reviewing and updating our processes and procedures to offer the best service to our customers and as a result your comments will be used as part of our ongoing service auditing programme.
We wouldn’t be able to do this repair free of charge due to the age of the appliance.
I've replied to them with the following:
Apologies taking so long getting back to you.
I've pasted the text of my receipt from the Co-Op below. Here is my address and the serial number of the machine as requested.
For your reference I've also included a photo of the exploded chip.]
You say "the quality of the after sales support offered to our customers is of paramount importance to the Miele organisation". In the light of my recent experience, I find those nice words rather hollow. Your website boasts that your machines are tested for “20 years equivalent usage”. Failing in less than five years is not something a customer should have to pay for. It seems you're unwilling to stand by your bold claims of quality and reliability.
I'm also not impressed by your confidence that, once repaired the machine "should give you many years of satisfactory, trouble-free service". This presumably does not constitute any kind of guarantee. So if some part of the machine was to fail in the next few years, would I be looking at another sizable bill to repair it?
I'd be interested in what you can offer me in terms of repair, how much it would cost me and how long you'd be willing to guarantee the machine after that.
A new mainboard is about £300 and Miele's callout charge alone is £117. So if it's a quick job, I'm looking at well over £400 to fix a machine which has already proven itself to be unreliable, paid to a company who, it seems, are unwilling to stand by their bold claims of quality and reliability. If it fails again in a year's time I have no confidence that Miele would do the right thing and fix or replace it for free. Miele appliances are usually more expensive than other machines of equivalent function. They certainly feel solid and well-made, but if they fail outside of guarantee it seems you're no better off than with a cheap and cheerful brand.
Companies looking to establish a reputation as honest and reliable should treat repairs as an opportunity to show how much they care about their customers or at least the duty of a responsible manufacturer. Too often, in spite of boilerplate appeasements, repairing faulty products is considered an additional revenue stream.
I'm hopeful that Miele will see the sense in maintaining their "reliable" brand and differentiation from the competition, but time will tell whether they're a Brompton or a Volkswagen.
EDIT: See follow-up: Miele repair.