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January 2010
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A reliable microwave oven

My microwave oven is falling to pieces. It still works, but all the plastic trim round the door has become brittle and bits are falling off every time we open it.

So all praise to Sharp for their ‘Carousel II’, circa 1986 – yes, it’s nearly 24 years old (it’s even coloured beige and brown, for Heaven’s sake; when did you last see a beige and brown microwave?) and in all that time it has not skipped a beat.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Something seemed to go wrong about 12 years ago. On a couple of occasions it refused to heat the food and blew a fuse. But then it picked itself up, dusted itself off, and just started working again with no intervention from anyone and it has been fine ever since.

I think that is stunning reliability and I’m not naive enough to believe that we’ll get the same from its replacement; yes, after 24 years you can’t get replacement parts and, with the door seal disintegrating, it looks like the end of the line.

From what I can see, the modern equivalents look prettier (beige and brown – what was I thinking?) and are 50% more powerful but most of their user interfaces are unnecessarily complicated and there are a lot of functions my family will never use.

So let’s cross fingers that I don’t have to update this post for another 24 years.

Update 6 Jan; someone else had a similar experience and has reinforced my worry that we won’t get anything as good, certainly not from Sharp: http://www.amazon.co.uk/review/R1AVEAZL814BHE

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62 comments to A reliable microwave oven

  • Michael N B

    Add me to the list of unsatisfied GE customers. Microwave was bought in 2011 and died today. Model was JES1145DP1WW. Looked up the model to find its not even manuafactured anymore. Guess that’s there way to try to trick you the newer models will be better.

    I appreciate everyones comments! It has helped me decide what is the next step i should make to find a long lasting microwave. I believe I will try Costco. Ask if they still do the satisfaction guarantee on microwaves. If they dont, it would be hard to want to spend $1000+ on a commercial one. I will research on them as well after my Costco visit.

    This same quality decline is hitting desktop computers as well
    ASUS tend to overclock their CPUs causing more heat and shut downs due to it. In the long run I’ve had harddrive control bridge something or other fails. I still have a 1200mhz computer running from 2003 or something that i never shut off and it doesnt heat my home like the 2.4gighz. I digress. Just saying technology is striving for speed over quality. I agree with everyone here that price plays a big roll. AMD used to be popular because it was 1/3 the price of dell. Now DELL makes a few mistakes that AMD does.

  • Tom G

    Lia and Michael, thanks for the comments and I am sorry to hear of your bad experiences. I have always been told that combi microwaves (conventional grill plus microwave) are particularly prone to blowing, but in truth it is a broader problem with cost reduction (driven by us, the consumers) leading to impaired long term reliability. You can only cut costs of a basic, simple product such as a microwave oven so far before performance starts to suffer.

    Semiconductors and computer technology double in capacity/complexity every 2 years (Moore’s Law). Put simply, there is more to go wrong and it is easier for tiny blemishes in the semiconductor material to cause actual faults. I have a friend who used to work in Quality Control at Asus and I know they try hard to produce good quality, but there is a long-term trend pushing in the opposite direction as discussed, so QC’s job becomes more difficult over time. We need to keep complaining and favouring companies with better quality products – all recommendations welcome! (By the way, although I have many clients who use Dell, speaking personally I have had several Dell products but no longer buy from them as I have been disappointed…)

    Tom

  • Ivan Siekmann

    I just thought that microvawaves lasted forever. When my Panasonic died last week I turned it around and realized that it had been made in July of 1980. 33 years!! This website has made me depressed. It echos what I have been reading online for the last week. Just bite the bullet and plan on spending $100 a year for the use of a microwave. I’m really tempted to have the Panasonic repaiarman look at the old one, but that will cost $100 just to evaluate it. And then there is the fear of “What’s going to start failing now – at this age?

  • Tom G

    Ivan, sorry if the blog has made you depressed – that was never my intention! It may be tempting to repair your old one but, as you say, are other parts of it about to fail? Also, will the spares used to repair it be as long-lasting as the original parts? Let us all know what you decide to do. Thanks for the comment.
    Tom

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    http://www.debard.nl/defauit.asp?p=76 http://www.debard.nl/defauit.asp?p=76

  • LindaC528

    When I graduated college in 1979, my total debt was $400 which I owed my Mom. When I moved back in with her during the ’81-’82 recession, I gave her my new $399 Sharp Carousel microwave that I bought in 1980 and was still making payments on.

    Not only was my college debt paid in full, but this gem of a microwave lasted her 33 years… It just conked out last fall (2013)!!

  • Tom G

    Linda, thanks for that, Sharps of that era certainly seem to have hit a reliability sweet-spot!

    Tom

  • Russ

    Thanks for keeping these comments going. I just had my LG microwave start shorting out 3 years and one month after I purchased it. Reading all the comments here confirmed what I expected. Thinking that these new microwaves will last 20 plus years like my old ones is not realistic. I have decided to reframe how I am thinking about this. I paid about $180 USD for the LG – works out to about $60 a year or $5 a month. Let’s say I buy a commercial one for $1100 and it lasts for 10-11 years. It works out the about same $5-8 a month. I guess all we can hope for is for one of these companies to design a microwave that is easily repairable – pop in a new computer chip or a new turn table motor. For the sake of the planet, we have to stop this throw-away mentality. Maybe some new green start-up company will go there. For now – I think it’s off to Costco.

  • Tom G

    Thanks Russ, I think we are a way away from manufacturers going down the easy to maintain route, they just don’t see the benefit in it. It feels wrong to be so throw-away, but that’s a result of the commercial pressures that consumers have applied.

    Tom

  • william Knipp

    My ken more lasted 32 yrs still working gave it to a needy family. We purchased a Panasonic and it died today after 2 yrs…..wow

  • Our original microwave lasted 15 years. I replaced it with a GE. microwave that lasted less then a year and was replaced by the manufacturer. The replacement just died after four months. Reading your blog has left me totally frustrated. I appreciate the comment about Costco and will follow up on it. Thanks for letting me vent.

  • Tom G

    William, Francoise, thanks for the comments. Your stories are becoming all-too-familiar. Electronic products follow Moore’s law, doubling in performance or halving in cost every 2 years. We, the consumers, have got used to this for our TVs, HiFi, computers etc., and expect it to apply to things like microwave ovens.

    Unfortunately, although they use electronics-based technology, microwave ovens contain very little electronics (in the standard meaning of the term) and don’t follow Moore’s law. Keeping costs low comes… at a cost! That, combined with the market demand for new products that follow trends and fashions and means products are rushed out without sufficient design and testing time, leads to the current scenario – badly designed products that are unreliable… but cheap.

    Best regards

    Tom

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