EUROPEAN consumer watchdogs have released a study on how companies plan products’ obsolescence – and called for a law giving people information on the longevity of goods and longer guarantee periods.
The move comes as the French Senate prepares to debate a bill by Green senator Jean-Vincent Placé tomorrow which will transform consumers’ rights by extending the minimum life span of electrical and electronic products and create a minimum two year fault guarantee.
CEC watchdogs want a similar law in Europe and highlighted some products they say do not last as long as they should.
Apple iPods: Early iPods had non-removable batteries which failed after about 18 months so the iPod had to be replaced. Apple has started offering replacement batteries after unhappy US owners launched a class action court case. Users also complain operating system updates on iPads and iPhones make older versions run slower. Rapid product launches such as three iPads in 18 months mean technological change makes older models obsolete.
Cars: A lack of spare parts for some vehicles can mean that they become unusable and consigned to the scrap heap.
Computer printers: They tell users when they are out of ink or toner – even though they will continue to print for some time, especially in draft mode. Some manufacturers use a chip on the cartridge to count the number of prints and halt printing once the pre-set limit is reached.
Mobile phones: Several types of obsolescence affect these, whether it is a failed battery or a lost charger and a problem in finding replacements; updated applications needing more memory than is available, or application updates no longer being available. Plus, they go out of fashion with each new version launch and many are changed every 20 months.
Televisions: A few years ago TVs with cathode ray tubes would commonly last for 10 or 15 years, but now the CEC says they are programmed to work for 20,000 hours – or at most nine years. On LCD or plasma TVs common faults include the condenser failing due to a power surge or excess heat.
Washing machines: It is thought they are programmed to do only 2,000 to 2,500 washes. Eight out of 10 use plastic instead of steel for some components, such as the drum, which means they are more liable to fail if damaged by a coin or too high a temperature in a dryer. The bearings have also been integrated, so a failed bearing means a complete new drum assembly.
The plan before the Senate would extend the legal minimum life of products from the present two years to three years by January 1, 2014 and up to five years on January 1, 2016. Companies will also have to offer replacement parts for 10 years after manufacture and repairs within a month. The minimum fault guarantee would also be extended from six months to two years.