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Buying Electric Appliances - Cheap is No Longer Expensive


A fancy Bosch iron box with floor showing electrical damage from the appliance. Though more expensive than standard iron boxes, the appliance has proved not to be as reliable nor easy to open up. 

It once used to be that the more you paid for an electric appliance, the better the quality you got.

Then, the world moved to China and it simultaneously became cheaper to make quality appliances, but incredibly cheap to make cheap appliances(here cheap means poor quality than low cost) Turkey also became a global manufacturing hub for appliances, which meant that we now had thousands of brands to choose from since anyone with some money could manufacture easily.

More choice, I am shocked to announce, has not been necessarily better.


So if paying more for an iron box or cooker does not mean you are paying for better quality, what does it mean? Well, it means you are paying for more features, including a long list of confusing features you may not need. Even more confusing is that sometimes the extra features are available in the cheaper product, but they are hidden or disabled!

Sometimes, paying more nets you an appliance that actually lasts - but with a catch. If the appliance has parts that need replacing often such as a coffee maker glass jug or nylon filter, you will find that the part is no longer available as the entire appliance has been replaced with a newer model with incompatible parts.

All these are things I found out when my Bosch iron box literally went out in a blaze of glory, and when I tried to replace the nylon filter in a Black&Decker Coffee Maker.

I had gotten the Bosch iron box about mid-2015 at a supermarket stock clearance, and it was a fancy model going for about KSh. 4,000 down from KSh. 8,000 ($40 from $80). It was a steam iron with a safety feature where it could switch itself off if accidentally left on or if left lying flat on a garment.

It was so much for safety features when sparks erupted from the bottom in the middle of ironing. Moreover, I realised that you couldn’t just open up the iron box. It uses a very proprietary screw with a 6-star slot and a protruding spike in the middle. The only place I can find that screw driver is possibly a Bosch service centre, and not for lack of trying. Few other appliances use such an impossible-to-unscrew screw.

Granted 4 years may be a long time with an iron box, but then purchasing an iron box that costs more than four times the average should deliver way more ironing days and they should not almost end in a catastrophe.

People tend to buy Bosch as a premium brand with longer lasting appliances, but I would suggest that this quality does not at least apply to their iron boxes. A cheap model from another brand will work just fine and save you money.

As for my Black&Decker coffee maker, it still works perfectly years later, save for the fact that its parts are no longer available. What you will find interesting is that it has been replaced by a model that looks exactly like the one I bought. The parts though have slight adjustments such that they do not fit into each other. You would wonder why such a model update would be necessary if it meant that parts for both models become hard to stock simultaneously.

An appliance buying strategy I once found dependable was buying a cheap appliance brand where the variety was limited and where the controls were largely manual. Such brands had few electronic circuits in them and were therefore less prone to failure as these are what tend to fail in fancy gadgets with touch and button interfaces. Such brands also took so long to replace a model that you knew what they had in stock had to be dependable.

China (and Turkey) have made it cheap for any brand to outsource their manufacturing. People also want to buy something that looks modern with fancy shapes and fancy colours. Therefore everything is manufactured at the same factories but with different names, and models change very fast based on what’s the latest feature.

The only way out of this quagmire is to buy based on reviews. This means buying last year’s or last-year’s-but-one model which was highly rated by those who bought it. Of course there may be a trade off such as increased power consumption from older devices - but you will all agree that slightly increased consumption from a fridge that lasts years is better than one that breaks down after less than six months.

For items like cheap coffee makers, old models with all-metal parts don’t need replacing and will probably last years.

It may be wise to begin your appliance purchase by looking up the brand on Google, Facebook or Twitter, or for specific models, looking up customer reviews on online sites. The challenge here is save for Amazon, most online shopping sites do not have proper customer review sections. This leaves you with searching for what people said on Google and social media.

Also brands do vary over time, and across their range of products. In Kenya, Ramtons, a local brand takes a lot of flack for fridges that keep breaking down. Yet, I have owned a Ramtons fridge for 8 years now with no issue and a Ramtons cooker oven for about the same amount of time too.

My fridge seems to be no longer available and replaced with the RF 267. Of course I should point out that the models people have been complaining about are the lower-priced smaller models which are refreshed more regularly and likely more modern compared to the larger, less moving stock. Either way, the complaints are quite numerous.

My takeaway here - Google before you buy and go with what gets overwhelmingly recommended. Price is no longer a determiner.




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