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How Much Money Is Too Much Money To Fix A Washing Machine?

How Much Money Is Too Much Money To Fix A Washing Machine?

A few weeks ago, I was participating in a meeting on Ecodesign where we discussed regulations for washing machines. Around that same time, something interesting happened: the display on my own washing machine started to fail. A few years ago, those two things wouldn’t have had anything to do with each other. Environmentally friendly products and repair were seen as two different things. Now, policy-makers are starting to recognize that they are two sides of the same coin.

Ecodesign, as a concept, now incorporates something we call material efficiency—which is a fancy way of saying that valuable resources (like appliances) shouldn’t wind up in the rubbish heap before they have to. Over half of the footprint of a washing machine comes from manufacturing it and getting it to your door. A washing machine with a short lifespan is just as bad as one that guzzles tons of water or electricity.

As the EU repair policy spokesperson for iFixit, I get to be part of the discussion on how a repairable, material-efficient machine should be designed. We’re working on standards to measure repairability—like iFixit’s repairability scores but officially applicable across all of Europe, and perhaps beyond. We talk about things like the ‘ability to access components’ and the ‘availability of spare parts.’

Which brings me back to my washing machine and its broken display. It’s so typical that an unnecessary feature brought down the whole machine. I mean, what’s wrong with a mechanical program button? Broken screens kill enough phones already without adding washing machines to the casualty list. But I digress.

The offending display. A bit hard to read, right?

We bought the machine a little over 11 years ago. According to this list of expected lifetimes (PDF), that means I got my money’s worth. So I shouldn’t complain, right?

If I discard the machine now, researchers would say it reached an average age. Washing machines produced in 1988 were discarded on average 16 years later, whereas machines made in 1999 lasted less than 14 years (see this report, p. 104). My 2005 machine seems on course to follow the downward lifetime curve. And even though manufacturers swear that shorter lifespans for modern products are a myth—if I buy a new washing machine now, I’d expect it to wear out even quicker.

The inside of my washing machine

If I decided to give up on my washing machine, the 12/05 production date on this capacitor would tell researchers that it’s right on track on the downward curve of product lifetimes. The number of machines lasting fewer than five years almost doubled in under ten years’ time.

Tackling the Repair

But, of course, I don’t want to give up on the washing machine I already have. Not without a fight. After all, I’m a fixer. So after fuming about my broken screen, I buckled down and started troubleshooting. The LCD was flickering and fading randomly. Sometimes the display lit up when we switched on the machine, sometimes not. I assumed there was a bad contact somewhere, so I decided to take the display out and check all of the connections.

The disassembly was a piece of cake. There were only ten screws between me and the electronic interface module, which consisted of a mechanical switch and two circuit boards. One of the boards held the display. I disconnected and reconnected all of the wires and ribbon cables. But nothing changed. No amount of wire wiggling made a difference.

The circuit boards connected to my washing machine display

I only need one of these circuit boards—and if I had the board schematics I’d only need to replace a component or two. But I have to buy the whole assembly.

There had to be a faulty component somewhere in the mix. If I could replace that, I could get the whole thing working again for a few bucks. All I needed was a circuit diagram. Alas, no luck. The manufacturer doesn’t release them to owners.

In the US and the EU, we’re fighting for diagrams and service manuals to be made available to anybody who wants to fix stuff, like independent repairers, repair café volunteers, and owners. We haven’t won that battle yet. The current draft for the EU ecodesign regulation on washing machines is one of the first to mention wiring diagrams, but not circuit board schematics yet. So, of course, I argued at the ecodesign meeting to have these included. But for now, with no way for me to fix the circuit board itself, I’ll just have to replace it.

You Can’t Wash Away Sticker Shock

I jotted down the product code and went to the manufacturer’s support website. I couldn’t find my model on their site, but after some searching and emailing, I finally found a part number and a price. That’s where the fun started. Because I couldn’t just replace the bad board. I had to replace the whole interface assembly. And that sweet little assembly costs … a whopping 488,99€. The whole washing machine cost me 983.89€. So the price of the spare part is almost exactly 50% of the whole appliance. Must be a coincidence.

Comparing washing machine part prices

Comparing more washing machine prices

Depending on where you buy the part, the part price is between 50% to 109% of the purchase price of the whole washing machine.

What’s a fixer to do? Spend half the value of the machine for a single part? How much is too much for a repair? I’ve heard from repair-minded producers that 30% of the product’s price is the limit for most customers. What’s yours? (Leave a comment and tell me.)

After some emails, I did manage to haggle the part down to last year’s price, which (for some reason) was 200€ cheaper. Apparently, washing machine spare parts age like fine wine: they get more expensive every year. What’s the part gonna cost next year? The washing machine’s German support website already lists it at 1073,28€. I’m not sure if that’s a joke, a mistake, or just the law of supply and demand. But it’s ridiculous.

In all of these policy discussions I’m involved in, prices are taboo—‘out of scope’ would be the official lingo. My washing machine story is perfect proof that that doesn’t make sense.

Pricing Out Repairs

Strictly speaking, the washing machine company met the ecodesign requirements we’ve been discussing in the forum I attended. They do offer spare parts for many years after production. But at that price, it doesn’t matter. Even a repair die-hard like myself wouldn’t pay more for the part than they would for a new machine. And neither would anyone else. As many as one out of five possible repairs don’t happen because the part is too expensive (see this report, p. 9). That’s a huge waste. We can’t talk seriously about longer lasting products without talking about the price of spare parts.

Me, I decided that I had to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Apart from the display, the machine works just fine. So I decided to buy those two pounds of electronics for 300€ instead of adding around 80kg to the continuously growing stream of e-waste. Hopefully, I can keep my washing machine alive for 11 more years. Or until a completely repairable, upgradable washing machine hits the market.

Whichever comes first.

Tech Life #502 – Cracking the Code of Distributors

A Show for IT Business Owners by IT Business Owners

Paco Lebron from ProdigyTeks Talks about running a Computer Repair Business

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Dare to Repair—A 3D-Printed Repair Parts Contest

Dare to Repair—A 3D-Printed Repair Parts Contest

Imagine a World with On-Demand Repair Parts

The 3D printing revolution is upon us, but printing repair parts hasn’t taken off just yet. Let’s make it happen! Together, we can demonstrate the viability of 3D printing consumer parts—and it’s not that hard! Ben Gottemoller created one of the most popular guides on iFixit featuring a 3D-modeled replacement impeller for his Breville coffee grinder. All it takes is one person to create the part model, and then anyone can print it themselves or order it online.

We’re calling all tinkerers, makers, and fixers, because today, we’re excited to launch Dare to Repair—a 3D-printed repair parts contest. Participants will compete to develop, model, and create a 3D-printed spare part for a common consumer product. As part of the process, contestants will document their repair and upload a 3D model using iFixit. The 3D printing team from HP will validate your model—and then you”ll be entered to win one of our cash prizes.

  1. Best Overall: $5,000 Visa Gift Card, sponsored by HP Inc.
  2. Most Useful: $2,500 Visa Gift Card, sponsored by iFixit
  3. 15 Honorable Mentions: $500 Visa Gift Card, sponsored by HP, iFixit, Phillips, and IKEA

Create, Share, Print, and Repair.

The competition is open to anyone. We’ve created instructions to get you started with scanning and modeling, so anyone—from novices to experts—can participate. You don’t even need to have a 3D printer!

The Dare to Repair contest is an exercise in cutting-edge innovation, but your participation will also help real people fix real problems in their real lives. Real-ly. All it takes is one person to create the 3D model, and then anyone will be able to use your 3D model to print out a replacement part and fix a broken product. It’s easy: Create, Share, Print, and Repair. Here’s how to enter:

  1. Check out our Getting Started Wiki—it walks you through the complete process of creating a 3D model for an original part, as well as printing solutions for producing a substitute part.
  2. Create a repair guide on iFixit for your replacement part following these instructions.
  3. Upload your 3D model to your guide so people can order it.

We’ll be accepting submissions through Monday, May 14th, and we’ll announce the winner on our blog on Friday, June 1st. We’ll be sharing projects on our social media channels using the hashtag #DareToRepair. So feel free to tag us while you work on your project—we’d love that! 🙂

What We’re Looking For

Broad appeal. Usefulness. Aesthetics. Stellar documentation. We want your repair imagination to run wild! Here are a few things to consider before you pick your part:

  • Part Design: Does the availability of this new part increase the product’s longevity?
  • Product Reach and Ubiquity: How large is the need that you’re solving?
  • Story Behind the Design: What problem are you solving? What personal experience led to this solution?
  • Documentation: Include usable, high-quality installation and repair instructions on iFixit.
  • Bonus Points: Does the design make any improvements to the original part?

If you need some inspiration, here’s a fantastic example from one of our community members: Coffee Grinder Impeller Replacement / Upgrade

Meet Our Judges

Per Stoltz, IKEA
Per Stoltz is the resource and waste manager for IKEA. He is focused on using the circular economy as a tool to make us more resource effective.

Markus Laubscher, Phillips
Markus Laubscher leads the company-wide business transformation program related to Circular Economy, where he internally facilitates the implementation of pilot projects in relevant business groups, tracks progress, and assures knowledge management and capacity building. Externally, he builds and maintains partnerships with key organizations in the field, works with media partners, and serves as a content expert for policy development.

Sam Lionheart, iFixit
As the lead teardown engineer and head of the technical writing department at iFixit, Sam has helped millions repair their devices. She and her team provide in-depth, prompt teardowns of the newest devices in order to discuss design trends and repairability. She also really likes cats.

John Ortiz, HP
John Ortiz leads the global product stewardship organization for HP Inc. Ortiz’s organization drives the environmental design of printing hardware products, ink and toner supplies, and paper products to minimize the impact of HP products throughout the product lifecycle. Ortiz is championing circular economy thinking and action across HP’s Print, PC, and 3D printing businesses.

Joe Iles, Ellen MacArthur Foundation
As Editor in Chief of Circulate, Joe’s role is to help deliver leading commentary, news, and case studies on the circular economy.

A Few Housekeeping Items

Entrants will upload the files to iFixit, releasing their work under the Creative Commons license.

iFixit’s license states:

Materials you submit to iFixit must be from one of three sources:

  • Content that you own the copyright to because you produced it yourself
  • Content that is in the public domain
  • Content that is licensed under a compatible license

Happy (3D) fixing!

Choose Repair Over Roses

Valentine’s Day has long been celebrated as a day of love—and call us crazy, but there’s nothing we love more than repair. This Valentine’s Day, we’re choosing repair over roses. We’re hoping you will, too! And if you do, we’ll give you a shot at some seriously sweet prizes.

Here’s How to Win

Snap a picture (or take a video) of something you fixed for someone you love. Or take a selfie with your favorite partner in repairromantic or not. Then share your repair love affair on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and tag your post with the hashtag #RepairOverRoses. Be sure to mention @iFixit so we don’t miss your post. We’ll be admiring, sharing, and eventually picking six of our favorites as winners at the end of the month.

Enter as many times as you want! The more entries, the better. We’ll announce the winners on our blog on February 28th. Five fixers will win a Fix The World T-shirt and an Essential Electronics Toolkit, and one lucky fixer will win the special Valentine’s Fix-Box pictured below.

Repair Over Roses Contest

Really? That’s it?

That’s it! We’re looking for heartwarming posts that will make the world fall in love with fixing as much as we have. Bonus points for creativity—and singing—we love when people sing.

Need a little more inspiration? Take a look at last year’s #iFixitLovesRepair photo contest winners for some ideas.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Hugs and Fixes,
iFixit

We Tore Down Apple’s HomePod to Mesh n’ Bone

We Tore Down Apple’s HomePod to Mesh n’ Bone

Apple just entered the smart speaker game, debuting their six-years-in-the-making HomePod. In classic Apple fashion they’ve had years to study the competition, so we’re betting there’s more to this HomePod than meets the ears.

One thing’s for sure, the HomePod wins at being the worst device ever to open. This thing is bulletproof—meant to withstand intense vibration and minimize buzzing components. Despite the abundance of screws, it took a ton of heat and cutting tools to get anywhere. And the thing is, it seems like the HomePod is meant to easily rotate open. We discovered a threaded ring and gasket that suggests that (at some point) the HomePod was able to be unscrewed to separate the woofer and power supply unit. Did someone change their mind about HomePod’s design last minute?

All told, we have to admit that we’re pretty impressed with the amount of tech Apple squeezed into this thing. From the speakers to the power supply, the internals are super dense, elegant and efficiently packed. Everything in it aims to deliver the biggest bang for the smallest area. Time will tell if this hermetically-sealed unit will age well, or become a paperweight.

HomePod Teardown highlights:

  • The seamless 3D mesh was designed to be acoustically transparent while protecting the HomePod’s insides from dust and debris. Sandwiched between the net-like layers, we found tiny wiry coils that allow sound waves to travel through the fabric with little to no reflection.
  • This bot was built for bass. To produce deep, dramatic bass notes a speaker needs to move a lot of air. Traditionally, that’s done by increasing the loudspeaker’s diameter, but Apple increased the travel of the voice coil instead. Now, the speaker diameter stays small, but it can still move enough air to effectively bass your face off.
  • The vents on the sides of the voice coil bobbin and the four holes at the rear of the tweeter prevent air pressure from building up and distorting both the music and the dome as it moves several thousand times a second.

Want even more teardown? Perfect—you can get the full HomePod teardown on iFixit.com.

HP EliteBook: A friend to the User

HP EliteBook: A friend to the User

HP has been a reliable supporter of repair, and the EliteBook 800 G5 is no exception. If you think we get tired of perfect 10/10 laptops, you’d be wrong. This EliteBook grants us a glimpse at the repairable future we’ve been fighting for.

Everything in this device is thoughtfully arranged to enable repair and, perhaps more importantly, reassembly. The rear cover is secured by simple Phillips screws, and they’re even held captive so you don’t need to worry about putting them back in the right place or losing them. Some simple prying with a plastic tool pops that cover right off.

Those screws aren’t going anywhere, but this cover is coming off with opening pick ease.

Once the laptop is opened, name a component—it’s probably right there for the picking. The relatively flat design gives immediate access to all the commonly replaced items: battery, display, USB port, RAM, SSD, wireless cards. It’s like a dream come true.

Modularity of the EliteBook 800 G5.

Such a wealth of modularity! It brings a tear to this repairer’s eye.

There are no wily tricks needed to replace a worn out battery, or to upgrade your RAM. No traps and no special tools required. Screws are labeled on the motherboard, cables are carefully annotated, and even card slots have reminders of what you just removed. Everything about this device says, “HP cares.” This manufacturer wants you to upgrade and maintain this device as long as physically possible.

Lifting the keyboard on the EliteBook 800 G5.

Here there be screws—we know, ’cause HP gave users a map!

Don’t get us wrong: no device is perfect, and this is no exception. After the initial honeymoon, we had some trouble getting to the next components. The device has a linear disassembly process that requires you to remove the keyboard before the fan and motherboard, which seems like a little bit of a detour. But again, this isn’t malicious user-proofing—the service instructions are available online, for free, and they detail exactly how to proceed. The motherboard does have some external ports soldered on, and usually we don’t like to see high-wear components in a non-modular setting—but there’s still a modular USB port you can easily replace. Plus, motherboard replacement shouldn’t be too pricey, considering RAM and SSD are removable.

After emptying the case, we turn to the display (which is replaceable from the outset by the way). The hinges, cable cover, and bezel come right off, and the screen is easy to free. All that’s left are the antenna cables, which means they’re easy enough to get to should they ever fail.

Layout of the EliteBook 800 G5 components.

The HP EliteBook 800 G5 earns a 10 out of 10 on our repairability scale (10 is the easiest to repair).

Okay, so there were some soldered ports, the trackpad has some afterthought-looking foam glued to it, and there are a lot of little interconnect cables. But this is a far cry from the glue-filled, solid-state, fused-display “laptops” that by all rights are disposable tablets with a hefty price tag. All in all, the EliteBook 800 G5 earns a 10 out of 10 on our repairability scale for its modular construction, standard tool set, and manufacturer-provided documentation.

Best Instagram Repair Photos of 2017

If you need a little motivation before starting your next repair, check out our Instagram account. Our followers are a mighty tribe of what I like to call Instafixers. Over 23,000 of them have followed us on their own personal mission to fix the world. Everyday, I get more repair photos with awesome repair stories. They say sharing is caring, so I put together a few of my favorites from 2017:

A post shared by RP Cuenco (@rpster) on Mar 30, 2017 at 10:10pm PDT

A post shared by Noor Gaith (@nuurglass) on Dec 10, 2017 at 9:27am PST

A post shared by Keita Kameyama (@polorii) on Oct 16, 2017 at 3:08am PDT

A post shared by Derek (@nxtgenpcs) on Jun 23, 2017 at 5:31pm PDT

A post shared by Solder Sport (@soldersport) on Jul 23, 2017 at 8:09am PDT

A post shared by iFixit (@ifixit) on Aug 10, 2017 at 8:05am PDT

A post shared by Alex (@siralexthetech) on Jun 27, 2017 at 3:43pm PDT

A post shared by iFixit (@ifixit) on Feb 5, 2017 at 10:34am PST

We need to prove to the world that we’re capable of fixing all the things we own, so share your repair photos by tagging us @ifixit and using #iFixit on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You might just see your photo featured on our account. Happy Fixing!

Fix Your iPhone Battery Yourself (All the Cool Kids Are Doing It)

Thanks to Batterygate, it seems like everyone with an older iPhone is looking to swap out their battery. A little birdy told us that the wait times at Apple are awful—so a lot of folks have been going DIY. That’s fantastic! Replacing your battery yourself is a great option for folks who don’t have AppleCare. And it’s especially attractive to those who don’t live near an Apple store and don’t want to mail away their iPhone for a few weeks.

We’ve been hearing from first-time fixers from all over the world that are successfully swapping out their batteries using our iPhone Battery Fix Kits. But doing anything for the first time can be daunting—so we gathered up all your questions and put together this FAQ and video that tell you everything you need to know about replacing your iPhone battery yourself.

We get it. Tackling a battery replacement for the first time is scary—no matter how many videos you watch or guides you read. Your phone is your baby, your life rests inside of it—but you don’t need to be afraid. In December, iFixit helped more than 500,000 people learn how to replace their battery. If you need some courage before attempting your own replacement, check out these battery replacement success stories—sent to us by real people just like you! We wouldn’t want to peer pressure you into fixing your phone—but seriously, all the cool kids are doing it:

When in doubt, heat it out.

Repair went great. The instructions were very clear and the toolkit provided was awesome. The only snag was that one of the adhesive tape strips under the old battery did not come out cleanly, so I had to use a hair dryer to heat up the back of the phone and loosen the adhesive tape. Other than that it was easy peasy. It was really fun to open the iPhone and see the internals and how things are connected. I missed my calling! :)”

Really? That’s it?

“As with any task, the project is always easier when you’ve done your homework. So, spend a few minutes on the instructions/videos just to familiarize yourself with your device. You won’t be sorry ;-)”

Geezers can too!

“Living in a rural community has challenges when it comes to purchasing repair parts for almost any household item, much less cell phone parts, but iFixit was easy to use.”

Who says repairs can’t be perfect?

“Everything went perfectly. The battery was a perfect fit and electrical connection was solid. I have no complaints. The phone performs as well as it did on the very first day. Take that, Apple!”

Don’t let this repair frenzy die out! This type of fix-it mindset is just what we need in 2018, don’t ya think? If you’re still not convinced to DIY, check out our battery replacement FAQ. You’ll get all the details on how to swap out your iPhone battery without Apple’s help.