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28 Dec 2021

Built to last: were appliances really made better in the past?

We interview the owners of a fridge from the 50s and a vintage appliance expert to find out whether our modern appliances are still built to last

'They don't make things like they used to' goes the old adage - but is there any truth in it? To mark the release of this year's Which? large appliance brand survey results, we visited the owners of long-lasting appliances and interviewed vintage appliance and repair expert Dorian McGrane to find out.

Here at Which? we spend a lot of time and effort working out which brands will go the distance and which ones might let you down.

Every year we survey thousands of Which? members and members of the public about their appliances to find out which people love and which stay fault-free for longer.

This year we also put out a call for Which? members to submit their old appliances and have sifted through the responses to find some of the oldest in the country.

Read on to find out more or follow the link below to see which brands you should buy now.

The best and worst large appliance brands: new Which? survey results revealed

Westinghouse Custom Nine fridge: 64 years

Peter and Robyn Cormack, Which? members, Surrey

'Robyn bought the 1957 Westinghouse Custom Nine fridge in 1975 in Sydney, from her then-husband's work colleague who had no further use for it. It was already second- or even third-hand at the time.'

'It was used as Robyn's main and only fridge for a few years, but was mainly used as the overflow (mostly for the beer and the wine).'

'In 1985 we moved to the UK, bringing all our worldly goods, along with this trusty old fridge, travelling more than 10,000 miles from Sydney to the UK.'

'These days it's in the integral garage, where it's used as a beer, wine and champagne chiller. It's never given us any trouble. Even the ice-making compartment is still in full working order.'

'We used to have a side entrance to the garage and every morning the milkman would come in and put our milk order in the fridge. It was like magic - it just kept being topped up with milk! Pity it is not the same with the wine. We still have the milk delivered, but the side entrance is now closed.'

'As for looking after it, just the occasional dust, defrost and wipe out. It runs just fine - with a little musical accompaniment of some clunking as the motor cuts in and out.'

'Compared to our modern indoor fridge, it's solid and heavy and we don't believe any modern fridge will go that distance. Of course it is old fashioned, has external deterioration (as would we have) from being in the garage for 37 years.

'It doesn't have all the bells and whistles of newer fridges, but it actually keeps its contents colder than our kitchen fridge, which is just great for the champagne and white wine.'

'Why have we kept it so long? Simple, it's not broken and does the brilliant job it was originally bought for.'

Find out which fridge freezer brand is best

Philips chest freezer: 51 years

Pat and Ian Campbell, Which? member, Luton

'We bought a brand-new Philips Chest Freezer in 1970 for our first house in Luton, and it is still working today.'

'Since, it has never stopped operating properly at any time and remains in full working order.'

'No repairs to it have ever been needed, and even its casing is good considering its age. Even the fast-freeze function still works, as does the yellow in-use light alongside the switch.

'During power cuts it has kept our goods frozen until power has been restored. And the only attention needed is to very occasionally chip some ice off its internal walls.'

'The only fault is that the handle has broken off - but that was solely because some years ago I accidentally dropped a heavy paint tin directly on it!'

Read our guide to the best freezers for your garage before buying

Zanussi Z9292 washing machine: 36 years

Stuart Rackley, Which? member, Loughborough

'We have a Zanussi Z9292 washing machine that we bought in 1985 which is in regular use.'

'It is still in good working order and so far, (touch wood) has never had a repair of any sort. Having said that, of course, Sod's law will apply and it will break down the next time we use it!'

When looking through our own archives at Which?, we found our original review for this tumble dryer in 1985.

It was a Best Buy and we wrote 'These machines have spin speeds of 1000rev/min or more (so get your washing much drier) and should also perform well and be convenient to use.'

Before replacing read our guide: Common washing machine problems and how to fix them

Miele tumble dryer: circa 32 years

Jane Scarfe, Which? member, Shipdham

'Our tumble dryer has had no TLC other than a few replacement internal lights since we bought it longer ago than I care to remember.'

'Its companion Miele washing machine was eventually replaced after about 25 years - and I reckon that was at least seven years ago.'

'It dries far quicker than modern machines but I hate to think what the running costs are.'

'It came from Myhills in Attleborough. When we told him we'd come in for a tumble dryer he immediately took us over to the Miele and said that was the one for us.'

'He offered us a bit off the ticket price and my husband Robert wrote him a cheque for slightly more than £500. Yes, a huge amount at the time, but you bought once and bought well - and I think you'll agree we've had our money's worth.'

When buying a new dryer, make it a heat pump model. Read our tumble dryer reviews to find the best

How to choose an appliance that lasts

Want to keep your fridge, washing machine or dryer for more than 30 years? We can't guarantee it but following these tips will give you a good start.

1. Keep it clean

It may sound obvious, but keeping your dishwasher, fridge freezer or vacuum cleaner clean can help it to perform better and ward off problems in the long-run.

One of the most common problems plaguing dishwashers, for example, is when they stop draining properly. The issue accounted for 11% of reported dishwasher problems in our survey, and can often be remedied simply by giving the dishwasher filters or pump a good clean. Similarly, regularly maintaining your vacuum cleaner by cleaning the filters and removing hair and fibre from the brush bar can help to keep it fault-free for longer.

2. Choose a repairable appliance

No one wants problems to happen, but they are a fact of life. Which is why you need to make sure you can repair your appliance.

In June 2021, new 'right to repair' laws came in which meant manufacturers must supply spare parts to you or professional repairers for up to 10 years.

Before calling a professional, check if you can fix the problem yourself: see What to do when common appliance faults happen.

3. Choose a trusted brand

Knowing which brands develop the most faults and how quickly they come up, should be an important part of any buying decision.

Our large appliance brand survey analysis takes into account which brands are more susceptible to faults and whether they were serious enough to need to get the appliance repaired, or worse, replaced entirely. This will help you find the very best appliance possible for your budget.

Read all our kitchen appliance reviews