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October 2014
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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

Update 3 October 2014: Interesting and relevant BBC article about washing machines:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-27253103

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80 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

  • The preceding era MCP and GPU products which are impacted were incorporated inside a quantity of notebook products which were delivered and sold in vital quantities. Specified notebook configurations of these MCP and GPU products and services are failing inside the industry at bigger than common rates. Although we’ve not been equipped to ascertain a root result in for these failures, screening indicates a weak materials set of die/package combination, process thermal management layouts, and client use patterns are contributing aspects. We have made and also have constructed obtainable for down load a software package driver to result in the process supporter to begin operation with the powering up belonging to the process and reduce the thermal pressure on these chips. We have also preferred to our potential customers they consider altering the thermal management belonging to the MCP and GPU products and services within their notebook process layouts. We intend to totally guidance our potential customers within their repair service and replacement of these impacted MCP and GPU products which fail.
    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

  • Rick

    The more I read these comments, the more I’m convinced to never even think about replacing my Sharp Carousel II (circa 1993). It’s the BIG one with the stainless steel interior lining, combination microwave convection oven and it’s approaching its 22nd anniversary.

    My local repair shop (Mar-Beck) says parts are still available, so if it ever “dies”, I’ll definitely try to get it repaired. I was told the most common failure of the pre-Chinese microwaves, regardless of brand, is the power supply.

    So, for what it’s worth, if your microwave has lasted at least 10 years, then it’s likely to be a quality built model, and, unless you don’t mind being caught up in the wasteful and expensive Chinese Replacement Merry-Go-Round, it might be well worth it to have it repaired, or at least checked out.

    By the way, the same goes (double) for refrigerators. Old ones with separate controls for temperature, defrost, ice & chilled water, etc. are the most reliable and repairable.

    If you MUST buy a new fridge, buy a spare main control board (motherboard) at the same time because that part will most likely go out of production soon after that model is discontinued, and those Chinese main boards fail early and often (just ask a repair tech).

    A local news story last month pegged the service life of all new (electronically controlled) refrigerators at between 5 and 10 years. After that, they become unrepairable because the failed Chinese electronic parts won’t be available anymore.

  • Tom G

    Rick, I agree with much of what you say but don’t be too harsh on the Chinese board manufacturers – they will just produce what the OEMs have asked them to, at a price point they are limited to.

    If the OEM says they will only pay a near-impossibly low price, and don’t want to have large safety margins, thorough design proving, stress testing, or other preventive techniques, then they will end up with hardware of limited quality and reliability. You get what you pay for!

    If there is a message coming out from this set of blog comments is that the consumers would like a choice – they would like to be able to buy a more expensive item that has demonstrably better quality. The suppliers – actually, the retail outlets – deny us that choice.

    Thanks for the comments.

    Tom

  • Tom Abney

    Hello Tom G,
    I worked for Zenith Electronics for over 25 years until they went (south) south of the border. At one time we made close to ten different TV brands at the same factory here in the states. I would like to know the names of the few companies that make all the brands of microwaves and are they made from U.S. designs or Far East? I would like to think one of these factories would have a superior design and part specs. I’m hoping they are not all made by the same company.
    Our Panasonic NN-T664SFX model just died after three years and three months. We used it only once or twice a day.
    Thanks for all the good information you have allowed to be accessed here.
    Tom A

  • Tom G

    Hi Tom

    You make a good point and the answer is nobody knows or, at least, few people do. Many products are made by ODMs (Original Design Manufacturers, i.e. they both design and manufacture the product for someone else) and branded as a name that you know and love. So some branded products really are designed and made in a factory belonging to that brand name, but others are simply re-badged generic items, or they look like ‘Band A’ but, under the hood, really have a generic ODM engine.

    I guess the rhetorical question is, ‘how much extra would you be really willing to pay for a high quality product’?

    Thanks for the comment

    Tom G.

  • Anne

    So from reading all the comments, it looks like that if I choose to purchase another microwave, I can expect it to only last 1 1/2 – 2yrs, tops. Very disappointing, after having had my Kenmore microwave for about 26yrs, that now I must set-aside funds for a new one possibly every 2yr replacements. I doubt there’s a place that would have the part(s) to even repair the Kenmore. Thanks for all the shared experiences,reviews and info.

  • Tom G

    Anne, I hope it won’t be as bad as that. Maybe the people with good experiences don’t read this blog article or don’t add comments!

    As for my Panasonic, it’s 4.5 years old now and all is fine so far! But I don’t use the conventional grille in it, just the microwave. I know from experience in the 1990s (when some colleagues in a big consultancy were designing a microwave oven) that using the conventional grilles in them can cause problems for microwave ovens. I don’t know if that is still the case, I just don’t use mine because I don’t need to, I have a perfectly good built-in grille in my kitchen.

    Thanks for the comment

    Tom

  • Dan

    I’m dreading the day I have to replace my current microwave. I started out with a Panasonic ‘Genius’ from 1983. It was a damaged item from a closeout business, that I paid $15 for. I was able to get the needed parts from the local Panasonic service location (yes, there was one!!). I even got the Factory Service Manual for it. It worked perfectly until about three years ago, when the moisture sensor that detects when the food is steaming failed. I was able to diagnose the problem, but finding the part was another matter- only a parts distributor in Australia claimed to have one, and shipping and rate of exchange made it not worth it. My solution? I watched Ebay until an identical microwave came up for sale and bought it! Shipping was most of the cost- it weights 70 pounds!- but it’s still humming away. It only needed a new door interlock switch when I received it, as my old one eventually had. Its weight is a good indicator of the quality of construction; the power transformer is probably close to half the weight of it. If your wife can pick it up and carry it around, you’ve got a cheap one that won’t hold up, regardless of the brand. Look for an older one in good working condition, as some of the earlier commenters have suggested. They have the fundamentals right.

  • Mary Ann

    I stumbled upon this chat while searching for a “reliable microwave.” Alas, my Kenmore from the summer of ’82 has just died. It was my first large purchase after graduating college. It is quite large of course, the size of a Volkswagon, with simulated woodgrain sides! I think I paid around $400 then, so I would pay the adjusted dollar amount for a quality product today, if it existed. I think I will start looking for a commercial alternative. Thanks for letting me mourn the loss of a bygone era!

    P.S. my Toro lawnmower of 27 years died this past summer. The “equivalent” replacement is horrible! Shall I start that blog….

  • Tom G

    Thanks for the comment Mary Ann. Coincidentally, the company I then worked for (a technical consultancy) developed a new lawnmower for Toro in the mid-to-late 1980s; I remember the testing very well as it took place just outside the window by my desk…
    Tom

  • I purchased a GE Profile Invertechnology Microwave over, for about $270. In 2012, Lasted me less than three years. This is not good, so I will never buy anything made by GE. Does not turn on any longer.

  • I would like to add that for as long as I can remember I own a Goldstar,Intelovwave. countertop microwave, this thing works and works and works. If I remember correctly this thing is about 17 years old. When my Wolf, microwave broke after 2 years I bought a GE Profile Inverter Technology, this one lasted for about two and half years. I started to look for another Goldstar microwave, I think they went out of business. I sure wish I could get a hold of another GoldStar. Ge probably bought them out so they stop making long lasting microwave ovens.

  • Robert

    I bought a Magic Chief 8 years ago and, being an electrical engineer, I’ve kept it chugging along by repairing it about 4 or 5 times. Each time I’ve had to replace one of the four 20-amp microswitches (the plastic casings were melting from heat). Also, I replaced a couple 20 amp fuses that blew. Granted, microswitches that handle 20 amps must be designed carefully with good quality controls, but it can be done! Fortunately, the circuit boards have kept working these 8 years. Now I had to open it again today and the power transformer was very hot and the fuse blown after only 3 or 4 minutes operation. Maybe my luck has run out.

  • Adam

    Hello I was wondering if Avanti Microwave Ovens are good quality? I purchased mine last year and the power supply and Magnetron Tube are in good working order. I don’t recall seeing an older model Avanti Microwave from the 1960’s-1990’s. I like having a Microwave with a Turntable my food always heats even.

  • Alan

    I have a Frigidaire that just failed after two years. The only idea I can suggest that I haven’t seen here is to buy a commercial NSF microwave. One I see at Costco is a Daewoo. Not sure if that is any better but it’s an idea.

  • Marie

    Tom, is your Panasonic still running now? 2-26-16

  • Tom G

    Certainly is, and we use it most days. So far, so good!

  • elizabeth

    I inherited my Sharp Carousel ll model R 4A460 microwave, 600 watts output, mfg March 1989, from my parents. Can’t find the manual ANYWHERE even not on internet. Nothing wrong with it. They got a newer model as a present from my brother. Can anyone help me with a manual. Would like to use the defrost. I got it alittle figured out.

  • elizabeth

    Sorry that was model R 4A60 on the sharp carousel ll microwave.

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