They Don't Make Them Like They Used To

We’ve all heard the expression, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to.”

For the most part that has been a good thing, at least from my viewpoint as an engineer. Take autos, for example.

It used to be that cars were pretty much used up at 100,000 miles, ready for the junkyard. That started changing during the 1970’s, the time when cars were both poorly designed and incorporating more technology to help them burn gasoline more efficiently, i.e. burn cleaner.

The 1974 model years were the worst, at least when it came to emissions controls and fuel economy. Looking under the hood, all anyone could see was a web of hoses, pumps, and unidentified canisters and gizmos. The engine itself was buried under all those bits and pieces. The engines ran like crap, didn’t have much in the way of power – even the V8’s – and were a nightmare to service. One year later, everything changed.

Gone were all of the hoses, pumps, and canisters. Instead there were catalytic converters, electronic ignitions and engine control modules, and EGR valves. Carburetors could also be adjusted on the fly to maximize efficiency. You could actually see and service engines without having to work around all of the extra bits and pieces.

Since then, things have only gotten better.

Now auto manufacturers offer 10-year, 100000-mile warranties. Cars last 250,000 miles and 20 years. Carburetors are a thing of the past, having been replaced first by throttle-body electronic fuel injection and then by multi-port fuel injection systems. Today some cars and trucks use direct injection systems, further increasing both the fuel efficiency and power of the engines. They are also more comfortable, handle better, and do not require maintenance nearly as often as they used to. Cars and trucks are also safer than they used to be, with better safety features and higher crash-survivability for passengers.

A lot of other things have also gotten better over the years, doing more, doing them better, and doing them for a lower cost. The list of such things is long.

But not everything has gotten better with time.

One such item that comes to mind – washing machines.

It used to be that all washing machines cleaned clothing pretty well with enough warm water and a decent detergent. They also lasted 20+ years. (The washer I had at The Manse was 20-years old when we sold the house a year-and-a-half ago and the new owners wanted to keep it and are still using it.)

Just a few years ago Deb had thought about us replacing our tried-and-true Maytag Neptune with a new, more efficient machine. She researched some of the models she was interested in via Consumer Reports. CR didn’t recommend any of the machines she had been looking into because none of them cleaned clothing very well, even the top-of-the-line machines. The push for energy efficiency, the so-called Energy Star program, did create machines that were energy efficient. But they couldn’t clean clothes very well.

They are a bit better now, with changes made to make them clean clothes better. However, another issue has raised its ugly head.

They don’t last nearly as long as they used to.

The WP Mom bought a new washing machine last year, replacing a 25-year old top-loading machine that had become increasingly unreliable. She’s had the machine for a little over a year and it just broke down. It had been acting up for a month prior to finally becoming inoperable. Checking online, I found that both this product line and a number of other related product lines (under different name plates) have had the same problem.

Digging a little deeper I’ve been finding that appliances like our washing machine, clothes dryers, dish washers, and refrigerators don’t last nearly as long as they used to. Where we once got 20-years out of our white goods (i.e. appliances), we’re lucky if we get 5 to 10 years before they need to be replaced. They also appear to require more maintenance than the older appliances.

They certainly don’t make ‘em like they used to.