Right to repair or despair‽

Right to repair laws are a good thing on the face of it, but don’t go anywhere near far enough to give the public back control over their appliances.

As you might expect, I’ve been keeping a weather eye on our neighbours in France over the last couple of years and was pleasantly surprised when they announced a Repairability Index scheme, on the 1st of January 2021, the first European country to do so.

The scheme in France will make it easier for consumers to assess the longevity of some products on the market. But I nearly choked on my custard cream, when the UK Government announced a Right to Repair bill for UK consumers, which came into force on the 1st of July 2021.  The news report made it sound as if a magic wand had been waved by the Brits, and that all our gadget maladies had vanished.  Sadly not.

There’s always a backstory to any announcement like this, and the new UK ‘right to repair’ laws, are on the face of it, a good thing. However, don’t for one minute that the new laws passed will help the public directly.

The laws will make it compulsory for manufacturers to provide spare parts and documentation to professionals, whoever they are, for at least ten years. Consumer items such as TVs, fridges and washing machines, will in theory, be given the opportunity to last longer.  But there are problems, and here’s why. The legislation doesn’t specifically cover planned obsolescence, parts prices and consumer accessibility or product durability. These are all issues generally accepted as the main barriers to repair. Let me explain.

During the many years I’ve spent locked away securely in the workshop, I’ve regularly been presented with items which were designed, made and sold with no attempt on the manufacturers’ or retailers’ part to design-in repair. In other words, many items that I see are not meant to be repaired at all, and there’s usually no support network in place, when the product is out there in circulation. Sometimes I can fix these things, sometimes I can’t and many-a-time, I’m working without certainty. Over the years, I’ve built-up knowledge on certain products and have a working knowledge of various spares providers for many items, but this trainspotter knowledge, isn’t easy to acquire. It takes many shed-years and a limited social life.

Items such as complicated coffee machines and toasters do have some spare parts available, sometimes long after they’ve gone out of production, but prices for spares are often so high that repair might not be cost-effective.  I once attempted to repair my own UK made Triton shower as the heater inside had failed.  The shower was 10 years old and parts, were available here in the UK, for delivery next working day.  Price of a replacement boiler £80.  Price of the same brand-new complete shower from Screwfix, £50 with a new warranty.  Now, as much as I’m passionate about repair, I’m not daft.  I had a bath instead.

The new legislation, which is regarded by me and others in repair circles, is a step in the right direction and certainly highlights the current issues around our throwaway society. But it doesn’t scratch the surface of the problem. Not even close.

A true Right to Repair would enforce proportionate parts prices, sensible repair accessibility, free documentation and accessible repair support from manufactures and retailers directly to consumers and independent repairers.  Luckily though, there is good news.  Repair initiatives such as therestartproject.org, repair.eu and the Repair Café movement are actively campaigning, organising petitions and actively lobbying governments for change, and you can get involved. Repair Cafés operate in my own area of Adur and Worthing (Sussex, UK) and are home to dedicated repairers and tinkerers.

And there’s more good news. Over the last 20 years or so, eBay has revolutionised the second hand domestic goods parts market. If you need a cost-effective part for your vacuum cleaner, coffee machine or washing machine, you might just find the part you need online from parts breaker, on eBay. I’ve saved many a vacuum cleaner using a second-hand motor for a tenner and recommend it, if you know what you’re looking for and have the nerve. If the government is serious about right to repair, the circular economy and its goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions, the process needs to include all stakeholders. Honest and transparent consultation with robust legislation that includes the second hand parts market and the home repairer is the only way to truly gain back control of our appliances.

Matt, July 2021.

Old vs new, which is best?

Having repaired more than 100 Kenwood Chefs, I compare newish and older machines. Which is best?

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Believe it or not, people do ask me which is best: New or old machines?

There is of course, no right or wrong answer and the answer will vary, depending on the product and application.

But since the question comes up from time-to-time, I thought I’d give my opinion on the matter and have a bit of fun with the subject, a kind of shoot-out if you will.

My illustration focuses on an old favourite of mine; the Kenwood Chef. My chosen opponents are a model from the early 1980s, the ubiquitous A901 Chef, made in England, and the much later 2000s KMC010 Chef, made in China.

The Chef is a good example for the shoot-out as the machine’s purpose hasn’t changed since it’s introduction to kitchens in the 1950s. Many Chef accessories produced over the years are interchangeable, owning to the foresight of good design.

Some people think that new machines are best and more capable while other people think older machines are best as they were built to last. Since I’ve dismantled, used and admired 100s of these machines, here’s my take.

Round 1 – Performance

Older Chefs are less powerful than newer machines. For example, the A901 has a 450W motor, whereas the later KMC010 has a much more powerful 1400W motor. This means than the newer machine will be more capable to mix more stodgy mixtures for longer. Counter intuitively, the more powerful machine may be more efficient for some loads, compared to the lower power one, although I’ve never measured this.

A901 – 0 KMC010 – 1

Round 2 – Noise (from the machine)

Kenwood has tended to favour evolution rather than revolution with their product progression. Many models available over the years appeared not to change much on the surface, but under the skin, small tweaks and improvements were taking place. So, in general, the newer the machine, the quieter they tend to be. There are some model variant exceptions to this, but the KMC010 is much quieter than my own good condition A901.

A901 – 0 KMC010 – 2

Oh dear, new things might be better after all..?

Round 3 – Durability

Now this is where things get interesting. Many of the machines I receive in my workshop for repair are getting on a bit. Some of them are over 40 years old. The machines have served their families well with faithful service.

Faulty older machines can often be turned around within a few hours in the workshop, to be back with the customer, to make more cakes. The A901 Chef is a tough old beast. The materials and finish rarely give any problems and major components rarely fail it seems.

KMC010 Chefs (and all newer models) that I see in the workshop are obviously much younger than the A901s. While very capable and powerful, sadly, they seem to have failed, often only with occasional light use.

Seemingly, it’s true what they say, the older machines were built to last and I base that purely on customer enquiries and items I see to repair every week. The newer machines often have features and buttons that don’t serve any real advantage, but have associated circuits which can and do go wrong, rendering the whole machine useless, if they fail.

A901 – 1 KMC010 – 2

Round 4 – Repairability

Now obviously, I am ‘repairability-biased’, this is a blog about repair after all. However, the facts speak for themselves. Older Chefs can be repaired with basic tools, reasonably priced components and a little know-how.

Newer Chefs, like the KMC010 are more complicated and have less user-serviceable parts. This makes otherwise serviceable machines far more likely to end up in the scrapyard with seemingly minor faults, that were too hard to diagnose and repair. The A901 wins hands down in the repairability stakes.

A901 – 2 KMC010 – 2

The feeling is tense and there’s an air of excitement as I get to call the decider on this slightly odd dual.

Round 5 – Value for money (the decider)

A new KMC010 Titanium costs over £600 today and it should be said that all Chefs are great machines and a worthy addition to any kitchen. However, a decent second-hand Chef from the 1960s to the early 1990s is a worthy contender for a tenth of the cost.

Have a look on eBay and you’ll see A701s, A701a, A901, A901E, KM200 model Chefs, starting at £40, often with many accessories. They’re just as useful and capable to serve most home needs. Indeed, I have a customer who uses her standard A901 in an industrial kitchen, every day, with no problems.

A901 – 3 KMC010 -2

The non-scientific conclusion…

  • Buy an older machine and take satisfaction that it will last generations, can be easily repaired and work with most accessories available now. Buying an older machine is probably less environmentally damaging than the manufacture of a new machine.
  • Buy a new machine and take satisfaction with additional performance and a manufacturers’ guarantee for the first year…

You know which machine I would buy…

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Time to put the kettle on.