Why New Refrigerators Fail

 

We all remember the old refrigerators: the appliances that lasted for decades and seemed like they could run forever. I wish I still owned one. I just had an expensive refrigerator die – a top-of-the-line Electrolux that keeled over exactly two years after we installed it. And now I understand why.

The repair guys have told me that all fridges and freezers sold now have a short life — something like four years on average. Why?

The answer is a combination: they banned Freon (for so-called “environmental” reasons), which did not corrode the heat exchanger pipe the same way. The new refrigerants have all kinds of nasty lifetime issues.

And, to save a little money, they use thin-walled copper pipe instead of the classic thicker walls, or aluminum.  So with condensate comes corrosion, pinholes, and … the refrigerant goes bye-bye.

So I have just paid too much money (but still one-third the cost of replacing the fridge) to replace a flawed part with the same damned part – just newer. And now the clock is ticking anew.

This is nuts, of course. I understand about a manufacturer saving some money here and there. But on units that cost $1-3k… really?!

If anyone has a manufacturer who actually is willing to pay the extra few dollars needed to make long-lasting appliances (and is not a five-digit SubZero-type brand), please let me know. We have a big home and we feed a lot of people: I think we have seven full-size standing freezer-only units and three to four refrigerators. I cannot replace them all every four years!

Published in General
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 137 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Nancy Pelosi might have some recommendations…

    • #1
  2. Vince Guerra Member
    Vince Guerra
    @VinceGuerra

    Maybe ask around of the appliance repair guys in your area. We have a couple of places here that refurbish and sell used appliances at discount rates for the very reason you describe. Ours offers a short warranty but the cost is well worth it versus a ridiculously expensive but crappy new one. 

    • #2
  3. Fritz Coolidge
    Fritz
    @Fritz

    Certain sacrifices must be made. It’s for the planet! (IIRC, wasn’t freon banned because of a so-called ‘hole in the ozone’ emergency? In the Reagan era? Hasn’t the hole in the ozone closed? There now. You see?) You gotta get with the program, Comrade.

    • #3
  4. Nohaaj Coolidge
    Nohaaj
    @Nohaaj

    I buy scratch and dent… still new, still warranted, (for whatever that is worth) and I have a good friend who is in the buggy whip appliance repair business. 

    • #4
  5. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Fritz (View Comment):

    Certain sacrifices must be made. It’s for the planet! (IIRC, wasn’t freon banned because of a so-called ‘hole in the ozone’ emergency? In the Reagan era? Hasn’t the hole in the ozone closed? There now. You see?) You gotta get with the program, Comrade.

    I have read, though I have no way of confirming it, that when DuPont’s (I think) patent ran out on freon it started funding green groups campaigning against it.

    • #5
  6. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Fritz (View Comment):

    Certain sacrifices must be made. It’s for the planet! (IIRC, wasn’t freon banned because of a so-called ‘hole in the ozone’ emergency? In the Reagan era? Hasn’t the hole in the ozone closed? There now. You see?) You gotta get with the program, Comrade.

    For all we know, the hole is cyclic. The hole could just open up again one day. Gaia will require another sacrifice.

    • #6
  7. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Nothing works as well as it used too. Nothing can be built quickly either. 

    We are in a decline. This is an example. 

    • #7
  8. Nohaaj Coolidge
    Nohaaj
    @Nohaaj

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Nothing works as well as it used too. Nothing can be built quickly either.

    We are in a decline. This is an example.

    Well, I do have to disagree, at least as a general principal. Modern technology and manufacturing is an incredible and incredibly complex process that has advanced the convenience and quality of our lives.  

    It is true, that back in the 50 – 70’s every man could adjust a carburetor, adjust the timing belt, and check the gaps on his spark plugs.  The reality was, he had to frequently perform those tasks, otherwise his car wouldn’t run or would “chitty-chitty- bang bang” down the road, if it ran at all. 

    Todays autos are a miracle of complex systems that are in essence capable of driving themselves, and the life expectancy is 250K+ miles, where it was uncommon to achieve 100K during the rust buckets of the 70’s. 

    The speed, accuracy and enhanced tolerances routinely achieved in manufacturing today is astounding.  So no, I disagree. 

    Where you might find decline, is in the second tier, and third world manufacturing, where products are made cheaply, with counterfeit goods, and no comprehension of what a QC control plan might entail.  It looks shiny and new, but the product is inferior. and breaks.

    The area where my friend in the appliance repair business claims we have a problem (and I concur) is in the electric control systems.  The chips and control panels that fail.  These often times cost up to 50%of the cost of a brand new appliance, can not be repaired, must be replaced.  When you perform a cost benefit analysis of replacing a board for 50% cost, or buying a new upgraded unit, you often opt for the new unit. (making my friend’s business the equivalent of a buggy whip salesman)

    In my own manufacturing experiences, we have had PC boards assembled in Taiwan, with “non-certified equivalent” components.  Six months after these boards were installed, they all started exploding, causing a massive recall and replacement. We were unaware of the deficiencies in the “equivalent” product.  In fact they were supposed to be the exact name brand, but uncertified, open package, product.  Saving a few pennies per component (and lead times, as the certified product had long extended lead times) eventually cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct recall expenses. 

    • #8
  9. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow
    @TheScarecrow

    People think Hell is fire and brimstone.

    I think Hell will be a place where everything looks normal, like what you were used to.  But when you use a screwdriver, it looks like a Craftsman but it says something like “Croftsman”, and the tip snaps off every time. When you use a saw blade, it looks like a Lenox but it strangely says “Lynx”, and the teeth break and it goes dull after the second try. You buy a new vacuum, which says “Electrolucks”, and the belt breaks as soon as it touches the floor. “Kobalt” comes up a lot.

    You feel comfortable and confident because everything looks just like you remember it in life. But every interaction with the beautiful world in front of you results in frustration and defeat. This eats at you mood continuously: key snaps off in the lock, battery terminal won’t seat properly, cupboard latch sticks then releases as soon as you walk away. This goes on off-and-on all day, every day. For ever.

    When you try to return something, the laughing demon at the counter says you must contact the manufacturer directly for service, and gives you a number in Chinese.

    I hope this is all a dream, and I wake up back before the Nixon Administration. Maybe there’d be time to talk him out of it.

    • #9
  10. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    For the past two homes we’ve purchased we bought two of the cheapest, close-out 18 – 20 cu ft friges at Home Depot, $700 to $800 a piece and put them side by side with opposing opening doors.  They look great, have 36 – 40 cu ft, and last ten years or more.

    When I was a teenager we replaced our frige and it cost about $100?  In the late 90s I had to buy a fridge and there were expensive ones of $350!! so we bought a $150? one and it lasted close to a decade before we moved away and left it still running great.  And yes, now most friges run more than $3,000 at Home Depot last I looked.

    And espresso machines that cost 1/10th the price last ten times longer.

    • #10
  11. Marythefifth Member
    Marythefifth
    @Marythefifth

    At lowes.com, 18 cu ft, $600.00.

    It will do the job.

    • #11
  12. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    The Scarecrow (View Comment):

    People think Hell is fire and brimstone.

    I think Hell will be a place where everything looks normal, like what you were used to. But when you use a screwdriver, it looks like a Craftsman but it says something like “Croftsman”, and the tip snaps off every time. When you use a saw blade, it looks like a Lenox but it strangely says “Lynx”, and the teeth break and it goes dull after the second try. You buy a new vacuum, which says “Electrolucks”, and the belt breaks as soon as it touches the floor. “Kobalt” comes up a lot.

    You feel comfortable and confident because everything looks just like you remember it in life. But every interaction with the beautiful world in front of you results in frustration and defeat. This eats at you mood continuously: key snaps off in the lock, battery terminal won’t seat properly, cupboard latch sticks then releases as soon as you walk away. This goes on off-and-on all day, every day. For ever.

    When you try to return something, the laughing demon at the counter says you must contact the manufacturer directly for service, and gives you a number in Chinese.

    I hope this is all a dream, and I wake up back before the Nixon Administration. Maybe there’d be time to talk him out of it.

    I used to enjoy beef and lobster until I was told that they weren’t typos on the Bef and Loobster I was buying.  (H/t to Cheers.)

    • #12
  13. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    The area where my friend in the appliance repair business claims we have a problem (and I concur) is in the electric control systems.  The chips and control panels that fail.  These often times cost up to 50%of the cost of a brand new appliance, can not be repaired, must be replaced.  When you perform a cost benefit analysis of replacing a board for 50% cost, or buying a new upgraded unit, you often opt for the new unit. (making my friend’s business the equivalent of a buggy whip salesman)

    In my own manufacturing experiences, we have had PC boards assembled in Taiwan, with “non-certified equivalent” components.  Six months after these boards were installed, they all started exploding, causing a massive recall and replacement. We were unaware of the deficiencies in the “equivalent” product.  In fact they were supposed to be the exact name brand, but uncertified, open package, product.  Saving a few pennies per component (and lead times, as the certified product had long extended lead times) eventually cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct recall expenses. 

    The reason for above is RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous substances), a directive put out by the EU in 2006.  It totally removed lead from all electronic products, including the solder that sticks chips to circuit boards.  That one rule alone resulted in the expenditure of probably trillions of dollars in non-value-added engineering effort all over the world; electronics manufacturers changed all the components to non-lead-bearing terminals, which greatly reduces the useful life of all electronic products.  Every single one.  My company needed lead-based components for some of its aerospace applications, and when they could be found, they cost orders of magnitude more to purchase.  I challenge anyone to come up with a reduction in harm rate due to this elimination of lead in electronics.  The rest of the world could have stopped this by simply refusing to comply with the EU regulation, but no one did.

    • #13
  14. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    Our fridge was $ 600 and purchased five years ago. The seals are already falling apart, and its not just how the adhesive is failing, the plastic or whatever that makes up the seals  is disintegrating.

    The fridge was purchased due to the prior fridge, which hailed from the early 1970’s, losing  its seals.

    So we’ve gone from a fridge born around 1973 and that died in 2016 – at the age of 43! – being replaced by a fridge that most likely won’t make it to year 7.

    • #14
  15. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    I’m pretty sure my first husband still has my parents’ 1948 Philco refrigerator in the basement, storing photo chemicals.  That would make it 73 years old.  It needed a new door seal in about 1985.

    • #15
  16. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):

    Our fridge was $ 600 and purchased five years ago. The seals are already falling apart, and its not just how the adhesive is failing, the plastic or whatever that makes up the seals is disintegrating.

    The fridge was purchased due to the prior fridge, which hailed from the early 1970’s, losing its seals.

    So we’ve gone from a fridge born around 1973 and that died in 2016 – at the age of 43! – being replaced by a fridge that most likely won’t make it to year 7.

    Well, to be fair the two pairs $700 and $800 friges we bought were half-price close outs.

    • #16
  17. Vince Guerra Member
    Vince Guerra
    @VinceGuerra

    Nohaaj (View Comment):

    Todays autos are a miracle of complex systems that are in essence capable of driving themselves, and the life expectancy is 250K+ miles, where it was uncommon to achieve 100K during the rust buckets of the 70’s. 

    The speed, accuracy and enhanced tolerances routinely achieved in manufacturing today is astounding.  So no, I disagree. 

    The electronics are what make them so expensive and inconvenient to repair. There are also lots of manufacturers stuck in production hell waiting for resupply of parts. 

    Most mechanics I know recommend simpler cars with less doohickeys if you want to save money and headache in the long run. 

    • #17
  18. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Nohaaj (View Comment):

    I buy scratch and dent… still new, still warranted, (for whatever that is worth) and I have a good friend who is in the buggy whip appliance repair business.

    Me too.  Have an enormous fridge with a bottom freezer (which I like, and which has an icemaker, and where I keep stuff I use all the time (ice cream, bread, frozen fruit and veg, gin, etc).  Retail on it was about $2K at the time I bought it (6-7 years ago).  Mine cost $600, because it looks as if someone tightened a chain around the lower half of the freezer drawer, and marked it up pretty badly.  Really, the only ones who can see it at eye level are the dogs, and they don’t care much. Next to is is a full-height freezer, similarly marked down (only because, as far as I can see) the door was dirty.  I scrubbed it up with Goo-Gone, and it’s good as new.  Far too much fridge and freezer for little me, but they do enable me to buy ahead and reduce trips to the shops.

    I also have a friend who is a chewing-gum and bailer-twine style appliance repair artist.  So far, so good, although I haven’t had any trouble with either of these units yet, and I’m perfectly capable of removing and replacing the control board of my washing machine or dishwasher myself.  I’ll probably have to call my buddy though if there’s a refrigerant problem with the fridge or freezer.

    • #18
  19. DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) Coolidge
    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!)
    @DonG

    iWe: I think we have seven full-size standing freezer-only units and three to four refrigerators.

    Wow.  I don’t know what is more surprising, the number of appliances or that have so many you are not sure of the count.  At some point you need to switch to a walk-in, right?

    • #19
  20. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Vince Guerra (View Comment):

    Nohaaj (View Comment):

    Todays autos are a miracle of complex systems that are in essence capable of driving themselves, and the life expectancy is 250K+ miles, where it was uncommon to achieve 100K during the rust buckets of the 70’s.

    The speed, accuracy and enhanced tolerances routinely achieved in manufacturing today is astounding. So no, I disagree.

    The electronics are what make them so expensive and inconvenient to repair. There are also lots of manufacturers stuck in production hell waiting for resupply of parts.

    Most mechanics I know recommend simpler cars with less doohickeys if you want to save money and headache in the long run.

    There’s a difference between using a pair of calipers or a torque wrench to measure something and plugging in a diagnostic pack to be told something.  Chuck Yeager used to say that he was talented with good eyesight and good mechanical skills.  He also flew by cable or rods and not by electronic wires.

    Today I cannot work on my own cars, and dislike driving cars that don’t give road feel, don’t give good control feedback, that are so quiet inside and out that you can’t hear what the car is doing, and that can think and act on my behalf.  I never really got used to sway and electronic turn control in any car.

    And I like hand roll-up windows, they’re a lot easier and cheaper to repair.

    • #20
  21. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow
    @TheScarecrow

    A refrigeration compressor is one of the simplest and most trouble-free motors there is. A well-built line set and coil to keep a simple box cold can be made comparitively cheaply, and, as long as the compressor is allowed to keep from overheating (very simple maintenance), an electric icebox could easily be expected to last 50 years. Every one of them.

    But where’s the profit in that?

    The induction motor is one of the most amazing things every concieved of by the mind of man. (And it was Tesla. The original.)

    A 3-phase induction motor, made with quality, and maintained routinely, should easily give service longer than the life of a man. And they’re not expensive to make.  So what’s going on? 

    • #21
  22. Fritz Coolidge
    Fritz
    @Fritz

    Nohaaj (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Nothing works as well as it used too. Nothing can be built quickly either.

    We are in a decline. This is an example.

    Well, I do have to disagree, at least as a general principal. Modern technology and manufacturing is an incredible and incredibly complex process that has advanced the convenience and quality of our lives.

    It is true, that back in the 50 – 70’s every man could adjust a carburetor, adjust the timing belt, and check the gaps on his spark plugs. The reality was, he had to frequently perform those tasks, otherwise his car wouldn’t run or would “chitty-chitty- bang bang” down the road, if it ran at all.

    Todays autos are a miracle of complex systems that are in essence capable of driving themselves, and the life expectancy is 250K+ miles, where it was uncommon to achieve 100K during the rust buckets of the 70’s.

    The speed, accuracy and enhanced tolerances routinely achieved in manufacturing today is astounding. So no, I disagree.

    Where you might find decline, is in the second tier, and third world manufacturing, where products are made cheaply, with counterfeit goods, and no comprehension of what a QC control plan might entail. It looks shiny and new, but the product is inferior. and breaks.

    The area where my friend in the appliance repair business claims we have a problem (and I concur) is in the electric control systems. The chips and control panels that fail. These often times cost up to 50%of the cost of a brand new appliance, can not be repaired, must be replaced. When you perform a cost benefit analysis of replacing a board for 50% cost, or buying a new upgraded unit, you often opt for the new unit. (making my friend’s business the equivalent of a buggy whip salesman)

    In my own manufacturing experiences, we have had PC boards assembled in Taiwan, with “non-certified equivalent” components. Six months after these boards were installed, they all started exploding, causing a massive recall and replacement. We were unaware of the deficiencies in the “equivalent” product. In fact they were supposed to be the exact name brand, but uncertified, open package, product. Saving a few pennies per component (and lead times, as the certified product had long extended lead times) eventually cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct recall expenses.

    Exactly. When the oven of my electric stove would no longer function, I thought “Aha, it needs a new element.” Wrong. It needed a new digital control panel, the electronic brain of the thing that cost several hundred dollars to replace. But, I was “lucky” because same was actually still available. 

    • #22
  23. Dr.Guido Member
    Dr.Guido
    @DrGuido

    Why when I mailed this did it come in Chinese characters?

    • #23
  24. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Fritz (View Comment):

    When the oven of my electric stove would no longer function, I thought “Aha, it needs a new element.” Wrong. It needed a new digital control panel, the electronic brain of the thing that cost several hundred dollars to replace. But, I was “lucky” because same was actually still available. 

    Same thing happened to me. Stupid design: if you wiped the front of the control panel to clean it, moisture got into the buttons, and corroded the brain.

    I’ve heard that modern fridges go teats-up faster because the compressors are cheap. Apparently Brazil was a major supplier, and quality control was . . . well, Brazilian. 

    • #24
  25. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    She (View Comment):
    I’ll probably have to call my buddy though if there’s a refrigerant problem with the fridge or freezer.

    You’d better call a licensed refrigerant replacement guy, or it’ll probably be illegal.

    • #25
  26. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    Dr.Guido (View Comment):

    Why when I mailed this did it come in Chinese characters?

    Its all Mr Miyagi.

    • #26
  27. JustmeinAZ Member
    JustmeinAZ
    @JustmeinAZ

    Maybe I should knock on wood. We have a 9 yr old 33 cf Kenmore with never any trouble. An 18 yr old Kitchenaid side by side and a 20 yr old chest freezer in the garage which have been surviving un-airconditioned heat here in AZ. Sure. Now they’ll break down.

    • #27
  28. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    I have a 25-year-old 48″ 6-burner countertop Jennair down-vented gas stove that has a fan and an electric clacker.  It’s been all over the world and in 6 houses.  It will operate in purely mechanical mode and works in a black out.  I’ll never give it up.

    • #28
  29. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    I was told by dishwasher repairman that dishwashers were really bad. None of the eco-stuff matters if it doesn’t last as long or it doesn’t clean very well.

    • #29
  30. The Cloaked Gaijin Member
    The Cloaked Gaijin
    @TheCloakedGaijin

    There was a great Richard Brookhiser article in National Review about this sort of thing a few years ago.

    He inherited his parents’ or in-laws’ 1950s washer and dryer from their country house. The repairman told him never to get rid of these as they don’t make stuff like this anymore and just to replace the parts as needed.

    I have two super cheap refrigerators.  Both still work.  I think I bought one in 2001.  Two others were sort of essentially given to me in 2008 with one getting donated to the Salvation Army.

    • #30