Modern Day Products: Cheap But Not So Cheerful?

Bound for the scrapheap? Bargains – from cars to kettles – are a false economy if they're not built to last. "Buy cheap, buy twice" is an old adage that warns shoppers to beware seemingly good value products. A bargain that dies after a short time isn't such a bargain after all.

The problem is that we tend to think only of how much products cost initially, not how much they cost per use or per month or per year. We're bargain-obsessed and we've grown used to prizing discounts and sales far more than quality.

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We've all experienced cheap kettles and toasters that magically die just after their one-year guaranty expires; the washing machines that conspiracy theorists might believe have a self-destruct mechanism that triggers the minute the warranty ends. Meanwhile your grandma's kettle, made sometime in the seventies, probably still works. Why is that?

It's simple: today's cheap products aren't built to last. OK, they're not actually cynically made to fail after a specific time, but if all consumers care about is the retail price, they will be made using the very cheapest materials and components possible. As long as most survive the warranty period, the manufacturer is happy.

The same is true for cars. Shoppers tend to buy on price versus features, not reliability. This is a false economy for everyone. Consumers aren't really getting bargains, manufacturers and retailers have ridiculously narrow margins, and small companies can't survive. What’s more, the local tip and scrap yard are piled high with appliances and written-off cars that are cheaper to replace than repair, so the environment suffers too.

How to beat the not-such-bargains
It's well worth looking out for long guarantees. Not so much the ones you pay extra for, but the ones that automatically come with appliances from some brands. Put simply: if a company is placing a bet that their washing machine will serve you well for a decade, it probably will. The machine will be dearer, but per year it will almost certainly work out cheaper. It will also be less stressful (no emergency laundrette trips) and more environmentally friendly (no appliances on the scrap heap).

There are also clever ways to extend products' lives and cut their running costs. For example, the Philips IronCare water filter is guaranteed to extend the lifetime of your iron by cutting calcium in tap water. Designed specifically to work with irons, it was shown in tests to quadruple the life of a steam iron.

When shopping for a car, first read reliability surveys – Which? magazine rates them for the UK, while US magazines like Autofoundry have pulled together research to pick out the longest-lasting makes and models (Japanese brands feature extensively).

And as a driver, eco-friendly techniques will cut fuel consumption and also increase a car's lifespan. Sticking to speed limits means your shock absorbers won't be trashed by speed cushions; keeping tyres at the right pressure means they'll last much longer and you'll use less fuel. Research by the AA and Auto Express magazine showed such techniques can save up to 33% on fuel bills.

So next time you’re looking for a machine, be it a dishwasher or a car, think twice, do your research, and be prepared to pay a bit more. Buying the cheapest option may end up costing you more in the long-run, as you pay for continual repairs and even new replacement versions, whereas a quality product is likely to stand the test of time, resulting in an overall cheaper cost-per-use.
Rizwan Ahmad
About the Author:

Written by Alexandra James, a lifestyle blogger who provides advice on shopping and consumer issues.

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