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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

80 comments to A reliable microwave oven

  • Ed

    I also had a microwave oven which lasted a very long time (21 years). I replaced it in 2005 with a GE. It lasted only 2 years. I replaced it with another GE which only lasted only 1 1/2. It has not been replaced and won’t be until I learn of a truly reliable microwave. From what I understand there are only a handful of Chinese microwave manufactures which actually make all the microwave brands we see for sale. So GE and all of them actually outsource the design and manufacturing to these Chinese companies. The microwave ovens may all look different but inside they are all the same. And they are all junk. They are designed to last about 2 years to get past the warranty. I have seen the same basic microwave offered in four brands priced from $100 to $375 and they were all the exact same Chinese Junk. So don’t think paying more will be you a better product, it won’t. Paying more only gets you the exact same product with a different company badge on it.

    Because these microwave units are so inexpensive, they drove all the high reliability products (which lasted 10 – 20 years) out of the market. Microwave ovens are now considered throw away items. By the way, the same thing has occurred in the DVD player market and other consumer products. Cheap Chinese products are simply junk, but that’s all we are offered now-a-days.

  • Tom G

    Thanks Ed.

    I think one of the problems is that we are used to paying less each year for the same thing. The current Sharp equivalent to my long-lasting microwave oven costs about a third of what I paid for it originally. Factor in the price of money over all those years and it is clearly a tiny fraction of what I paid – maybe only 10% – 20%. It is a great shame that the market doesn’t accept more expensive but conspicuously more reliable goods as a valid segment.

    I wonder if the wholescale outsourcing of design from Japan to Chinese manufacturers (ODMs), as well as manufacturing, has had an effect? The new designers will not have had the longevity of experience of the original designers and maybe there’s a learning curve they have to go up in order to get the right price/reliability balance. The problem is, they won’t go up that learning curve unless the market drives them to do so and I see no evidence that it is doing this, even in a time of recession. If “Joe Public” changes his microwave oven every few years to match his latest kitchen colour-scheme there’s no need for it to last any longer.

    Still, all we can do is to continue to champion the benefits of higher product quality and reliability and vote with our feet by shunning the unreliable brands!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject.

  • Tom G

    By the way, I bought a Panasonic in the end. It cost me a lot more than the Sharp. Ask me again in three years and we should be able to tell whether its reliability has been any good (so far…)! However, in anticipation, I broke the habit of a lifetime and also bought an extended warranty. I hate those things on principle but you’re not the first person to comment on poor reliability accross the whole range of products so, with regret, for this application it seemed a prudent purchase.

  • Sheila

    I agree with Ed. Most microwaves these days are junk–aka planned obsolescence. I bought a Panasonic 1250 Watt Microwave with Sensor Cook, Mfg ID: NNH765WF (because of the former good Panasonic reputation) for approximately $190.00 with tax. It lasted approx a year and a half. It started smelling like burning plastic. I looked up this symptom on the Internet and the advice was to get a new microwave–of course, warranty ran out. My Sharp last seven or eight years. I also had older Panasonic that lasted about the same; but, Panasonic has fallen from grace.

  • Carolyn Meehan

    I abhor planned obsolescence! I know why they do it – to make money. What about someone making something that lasts? I’d sure pay for it.

  • Tracey Rogers

    I have the same concerns. I am going to replace my microwave which just died. It was a Tappan Turnabout 1991 model and I loved that microwave. It still looks great outside and inside it is as it was new- no peeling paint, no rust. I cannot decide which microwave to buy. I see they all have very short warranties. Any advice? I too would be willing to pay more for an appliance that will last longer than a couple years!

  • Tom G

    Tracey, I bought a Panasonic NN-CD767MBPQ here in the UK, I went a bit up-market (it has a grill/convection oven, etc, which we don’t use) for its nice rotary time/power setting controls. If I was being very picky I’d say one of these rotary controls was not as smooth as it should be – you can feel plastic scraping against plastic a little – but not to the degree that we’d reject it back to the supplier. It has worked reliably for a year now, so only another 23 to go before it matches the Sharp!

    You could buy an extended warranty from the vendor as I did; I hate those things as they are usually mis-sold by vendors and should not be necessary but I have done gone with them for a couple of things with a poor reliability record that I bought recently despite their record; it seemed a good idea in this case.

    Good luck finding something that suits, and thanks for posting the comment.

    Tom

  • James Bridges

    As I am going out to buy a replacement for our 16 year old Whirlpool microwave, i am saddened by the information in this site, but appreciate it also. looks like I will be buying an extended warrenty for the first time in 60 years.

  • Jeff Jones

    I too am looking for a reliable Microwave. as said above they seem to be geared to only last 2-3 years. My panasonic was nearly 3 and…..Here in the UK there is a company called Whitch that evaluates different products and gives their verdict. Unfortunately it is on performance but not life. Can we conclude that all microwaves are the same and regardless of where they are built the main conponant . The Microwave generator. is not built well enough. Are Catering microwaves better? Although price has to be concidered I dont mind paying for something that will last.

  • Tom G

    Jeff,

    I, too, am a subscriber to Which? and they are good as far as they go, but long-term reliability isn’t something they particularly focus on.

    I think we are facing two pressures, (1) the demand of consumers for lower prices in real-terms (think how much a microwave oven used to cost 20 years ago, think what they cost now, then factor in inflation…). Moore’s law only works for semiconductors so something has to give! Then (b) increasing complexity; top of the range ovens have to have more bells and whistles to be appealing to the customer, basic ovens are generally low price / low quality. With increased functionality comes reduced reliability (more things to go wrong).

    I dislike the limited choices we are given (why NOT give us high quality but basic functionality?) but, to a large extent, we the consumers are partly to blame for demanding too much without being willing to pay for it!

    Thanks for the comments.

    Tom

  • Danny H.

    My previous Microwave was still working after ten years, when I gave it to my single son. I only replaced it because I received a newer one as a gift. It was a Panasonic with the invertor technology. It lasted under three years. Now I’m reading that many are experiencing this same problem. So now I’m reluctant to purchase another microwave until I can be assured that they will be more reliable. Posting any info that would help would be appreciated.

  • Steve C

    Bought 1st Panasonic Microvave in 1989.. It lasted 20 years, expiring around 2009! I replaced with a really cheap Cookworks which started smoking within a week. Took it back & upgraded to a medium priced Samsung. This has now just died and is 2 years old.
    Why do we had to put up with such low quality? Its not consumer pressure, we can only buy what is on offer. If we were buying expensive microwaves & a cynical company offers a cheap alternative, then of course we’re all going to buy that, giving little thought that we’re buying cheap build (not price).
    Once the high quality products have stopped selling then we’re left with the current situation. That isn’t consumer pressure, thats just dumb. Miele are still in business with their washing machines!
    I hope someone posts a solution to this.

  • Brian

    Why are all the newer microwaves junk? The answer is simple. Nearly all people shop for these primarily by price. If you see a microwave with all the basic features for $99 and another brand for $149, which are you going to buy? Competition in this industry, like may others, has forced manufacturers to cheapen their products so the price can be reduced. As they pack more features into these things while trying to keep the price low as possible, something has to give. And that something is quality. I have a Sharp Carousel 2 cubic foot micro that I paid @129 for in 2001. Now, 10 years later, it’s starting to act up. Most likely the control panel is on its way out. But the newer Sharp models don’t have the features this one has for anywhere near that price, but it has some of the glittery new features that seem to bedazzle everyone these days. And, the warranty on the new ones has been shortened up by a year. Very few people are willing to pay for quality these days. We tend to be attracted to the lower price. And yet, in the end it’s better to pay $200 for a good quality product that lasts 20 years than to buy an $88 dollar product and replace it every 3 or 4 years. But the $88 product will outsell the $200 one any day.

  • Mark

    My Sanyo Carousel just went belly up after less than 18 months of use by one person. Very frustrating. In the past, microwaves would last 5 or more years. Has anyone checked out Consumer Reports reliability ratings?

  • Tom G

    Thanks Mark, I haven’t – I use ‘Which?’ but they usually only check brands’ reliability overall, not individual product lines.

    As suggested by Danny, Steve and Brian (thanks for your contributions) product reliability HAS been falling due to a reduction in price and an increase in complexity. White goods generally benefit little from Moore’s Law, but consumers expect real price drops nonetheless.

    Shorter product life (i.e. more rapid replacement of a product by a newer version) leads to less time for development and testing which leads to reduced design quality, and the need to reduce cost often leads to less material being used – metals and plastics are thinner and more flimsy which may be good for the environment but often causes premature product failure… which isn’t good for the environment.

    As you all have said, Joe Public will generally choose the cheaper option which forces us down this route. Those of us prepared to spend more on a better product are in the minority. Perhaps I need to start a company that does electrical goods properly?! But would I get enough business…?!

  • janice m

    hi – just found this website – my panasonic inverter microwave began misbehaving a couple weeks ago – it would
    start spinning after it was done cooking and the door was opened! it still worked ok once the door was closed. but then
    in the last couple days its lights went out on the front panel. then the “welcome to panasonic” would start, and i reset
    the clock. it worked again. now it has stopped completely. purchased on 2-1-2008 at costco for $129.99 + tax. that’s
    3 years and 9 months. i guess we get to shopping for another oven this afternoon – hope i can find a good one. can’t
    rely on a double boiler or small pan to reheat coffee! sad that it happened at this time of year.

  • Tom G

    Thanks for this, Janice, and sorry to hear that you had a bad experience with what should be – and often is – a reliable brand. I wish you better luck with the next one!
    Tom

  • Chey

    I have a Samsung “Classic Collection” microwave. It’s not the nicest looking thing, but my mom bought it 20 years ago, used. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been trying to pressure her into getting a newer one. I decided to buy her one this Christmas, but now looking at the reviews and seeing that even the most “reliable” new microwaves last around 10 years, I’m starting to reconsider. New microwaves, no matter what the brand, aren’t made to last as long as they used to.

  • Carrie D

    Janice,
    If it makes you feel better, your $130 microwave last twice as long as my $700 microwave from GE. I’m guessing this is the case with appliances across the board. So, until they can improve long-term reliability, I am going the way of cheap options and treating them as disposable, as the manufacturer clearly intends.

  • Mike B

    After decades with an Amana, it finally gave out. While searching through the reviews of all the models on the internet, I have concluded that there are two ways to determine what to buy. First is to find the brands and models that have the lowest percentage of 1,2,and 3 star ratings. Purchasing one of these at least provides the best chance of purchasing a longer lasting unit. Second, Amana has the fewest reviews on the internet, but none that I have found are less than 4 stars. I think I will go with Amana again.

  • Doug

    Be careful of the reviews, too. I subscribe to consumer reports online and have looked at all their “top rated” microwaves. Well, there’s a section on each description that are user-generated reveiws, and none of the top-rated ovens get above 2 stars, according to the actual end-user. They don’t test the ovens for longevity, just things like “heating evenness.” I hate feeling so wasteful and inefficient by tossing these every couple years. I think I’m headed to the flea-market to buy a reliable tank of a microwave oven [that will undoubtedly not match my other appliances… but won’t end up in a landfill in 2 yrs]. Cheers! OH, I’m in the U.S.

  • Mike B

    Dear Mr Gaskell,

    Regarding your comments about the present market situation for microwave ovens, I agree with you. But look a little further, and you might find the following possibilities.

    Since the microwave oven industry is now utilizing a few Chinese manufacturers to supply the whole U.S. market, there is no way for one of the competing manufacturers to start making high-quality products.

    The staff of each company has been trained, over the last few years, to seek out less expensive parts and processes. They no longer think about high quality, so they will be unsuccessful in any attempt to produce a truly high quality product in their first few attempts. Those first few attempts will therefore cause the buying public to spend more for products that will still fail prematurely. Even if they do last somewhat longer, a little longer than a year or two is still not worth a 30 to 50 percent higher price. So, they are destined to fail in the attempt to carve out a nitch market in higher quality microwaves.

    I believe that it will take a good, old manufacturer like Amana to produce the quality products they used to make. If some of the original engineers are still on their payroll, it may be possible. If they were to manufacture a quality microwave line in the U.S.A., it would be more expensive. But when they advertise their line as the only one manufactured in the U.S.A. and guaranteed to last at least five years, they will command the microwave oven market.

    With your excellent background, I feel you would be the proper person to spearhead an effort to influence Amana, or any of the microwave oven manufacturers that used to produce long-lasting products, to reenter the marketplace with a line of high-quality products. But these products must be free of defects when they first enter the marketplace, and they must have at least a ten-year longevity. The manufacturer should not make a product that is only somewhat higher in quality and has one or two defects that will cause the initial reputation of the line to be tainted. It must be a truly high-quality product line with substantial longevity.

    If this is accomplished, then I believe there could be a very major impact on consumer product manufacturing in the U.S. The first impact will be a huge increase in sales for the first company that produces a high quality product in a consumer market that has reduced its quality due to excessive price competition. That company stands to make large profits, improve its reputation, and be considered the pioneer in replacing Chinese junk with U.S. built quality products.

    The next impact will be on the consumer side. Consumers will start accepting any product that this company produces in the U.S. with higher quality as a better product. This means the company must reengineer all its consumer products and begin manufacturing them in the U.S. with longer warrantees. Upon doing so, they may become the next super-company in their industry like Microsoft or Apple. The impact would probably become international, and there is no telling to what level this company might grow.

    All this could become a worldwide marketing trend and change at least the consumer products marketplace in the U.S. and possibly our reliance on China for so much of our consumer products production. It would certainly improve the production of consumer products in the U.S.

    But the extent of this trend depends on whoever decides to take on the task. It might just be an individual who has the proper credentials, such as you. It might be an organization, or it might be a grassroots demand from the consuming public. Most people are already fed up with the present situation in the microwave oven market. I have also heard complaints from people regarding the shortened lifespan of refrigerators.

    I, for one would like you to think about taking on such a long-term project. You might also want to gather other like-minded people from your profession to join you in starting an organization to lead the way in actually doing something about making Made in U.S.A. mean real quality and longevity. The group would not be asking the public to buy American, but causing businesses to produce the products that Americans want to spend their money on.

    On behalf of those who comment on your web site about our inability to find a quality microwave oven on the market today, I ask you to seriously think about this. I would certainly buy a microwave oven that someone of your background endorsed as quality.

    P.S. Further research on Amana showed me that their microwave ovens are not much better than the others, so I am still looking like everybody else. That is why we need your efforts in this regard.

  • Tom G

    Hi Mike,

    Thank you for your thoughts and for some very flattering comments, you are most generous.

    A Microwave oven is a good test case because, to a large extent, unlike mobile phones and computers etc., it doesn’t have to cope with Moore’s Law. (‘Number of transistors doubles every two years’ so there’s more and more to go wrong.) Unfortunately, because most high-tech DOES follow Moore’s Law the general public expects falling prices or, at least, static prices in an inflationary economic environment. We could argue that microwave ovens are too cheap, and with that cheapness comes a loss of quality / reliability.

    There is another factor that distorts the market – the power of the big electrical retailers who largely dictate the price points of commodity goods (microwave ovens, toasters, etc.). A supplier who produces a very high quality product that substantially exceeds the ‘standard’ price point needs a very different business model in order to succeed, as the large retailers tend to exclude them. It can be done – see http://www.vorwerk.com/html/vorwerk_thermomix.html (I helped to design and develop its predecessor, the TM21) – but it’s the exception rather than the rule.

    Don’t rule out China, by the way. I spend a lot of time there and the quality CAN be very high if the right approach is taken… but if the OEM is not careful then the quality can be poor (as it can be anywhere). Manufacturing locally (USA, Europe, etc.) does have the benefit of greater visibility and easier control, although this comes with no certainty of improved quality, I have seen some very poor results in the West as well as in the Far East!

    There are a variety of techniques for improving reliability including designing with much greater safety margins (i.e. you operate all the devices well within their operating limits, not close to them), over-engineering, and robustness testing – especially HALT (for the design) and HASS (for production; HASS is not applicable to consumer goods although it’s sampling equivalent, HASA, could be used); I mention some of these elsewhere in my blog.

    The biggest problem is persuading the consumer to think long-term and to see a microwave oven at 2x or 3x the ‘standard’ price as being worth paying for. You and I may want that option, but most people take the approach of “I’m not paying that” to anything that is priced much higher than the norm.

    By the way, I am based in the UK so I am probably not the best person to champion a ‘Made in USA’ approach anyway! Having said that I have very much enjoyed working in the USA at times, especially Chicago which is just round the bottom of Lake Michigan from Amana in Benton Harbor, so I would be delighted to look into more opportunities there!

    I will think more about your comments. Maybe it needs a new consumer brand establishing that is focused on robust, top-quality, high-reliability with a long warranty period. With the profusion of cheap brands, and the high levels of dissatisfaction, such a niche player may now be viable in a way that it would not have been 10 years ago.

    Thanks again for your thought-provoking comments.

    Tom

  • Mike B

    Hello All,

    Tom, thank you for considering my proposal. I am honored (honoured) that you would mention it.

    As you can see just from your own blog, people are willing to pay for a quality product that will last because it winds up being cheaper in the long run and does not cause them the frustration of a failing microwave oven every couple of years.

    To all of us who have come to the conclusion that the current market does not contain any quality microwave ovens with reasonable longevity, the only reasonable solution has been to purchase an extended warranty. But, I found a better way. Costco sells only a few microwave ovens at any one time. But their return policy is “customer satisfaction”. In other words, you can return a microwave oven at any time, even 10 years or more after purchasing it if you are not satisfied. So, I purchased a Panasonic model that is supposedly made just for Costco, and I was told I could return it even 10 to 20 years from now if it fails for any reason. That is how I am battling the poor quality in the marketplace.

    Good luck to all.

  • wayne

    When people loose their pride what do you all expect

    Reading all the comments here and feeling pretty helpless as well, our families microwave a panasonic NNCD997S Dimension 4 genius just died, purchased it on the 03/05/2009 i guess some would say thats a fair run, well i say that is utter crap, 770 dollars for this piece of junk badged made in Japan on the outside, full of chinese parts on the inside.

    H97 error reading is all i get from it now, some say its the magnetron some say the pcb board whatever it is its a dam shame families like mine who aint made of money, have to throw our money away on such garbage, i hope more find these posts and walk away from the majors in droves. THEY DESERVE IT

    our last microwave lasted 25 years, and gave great service, this boat anchor has not even been broken in and its dead, i feel little sorrow for business doing it tough when this is how consumers are treated.

  • Andrew

    A good word: My Samsung Class Collection II just died after 20 years. I think it cost a hundred or so dollars in 1992; about $200 today. I am very very impressed and, reading here, am seriously considering trying to repair it instead of replacing. Wish me luck!

    BTW I have had poor luck with GE products (which I believe are actually made by a variety of contractors). The GE in my rental house blew its magnetron after about 5 years. To GE’s credit, they will send a new one free because so many of those particular magnetrons have been defective – sort of a bittersweet thing.

  • Ann

    We’ve had bad luck with GE microwaves too. We bought one in 2007 and it lasted only 15 months. We bought it with a credit card that doubled the standard warranty, so they paid for us to buy the same model again. That one last 3 years and 4 months. I’m not sure that the other brands last much longer. It seems that Panasonic microwaves are particularly likely to break.

  • Tom G

    Thanks for the comment, Ann, but sorry to hear of your experiences. It does seem that microwave ovens are particularly prone to early failure; this is by far the most “popular” (I know that terms is not exactly appropriate but you get what I mean) topic for comments on this blog. So much for solid-state reliability.

  • Bob S

    After reading the disappointing user reviews from Consumer Reports On-line on the top rated microwaves I then started looking for other sites to help find a reliable brand. Happily I came across your site which really opened my eyes. I had a Sharp Carousel microwave from 1980 still in working condition but since I have just relocated to a smaller place I couldn’t take it with me. I am old enough to remember when it was common for appliances of all types to last 20 years or longer and lament the downgrading of quality over the years. I can see from reading the comments that an extended warranty is going to be needed with my new microwave purchase and I’m not going to spend a lot of money on a microwave. Thanks for all the good comments.

  • Laurie

    I have a Sears Kenmore Elite that started falling apart after two years and now the “motherboard” has gone out and it will only let me do a 30 second heat at full power. I am now faced with replacing my over the range type microwave and have not found any one brand that has shining reviews. I have been stressing over this replacement for the past few weeks and now I think I will just say “Eeny Meeny Miney Mo” and pick one that way!

  • Sam Siciliano

    Has anyone looked into the quality, etc, of commercial microwaves? I wondered if they might be better made. They do cost more, and obviously if you’re running a restaurant you want something reliable and durable. Some of the Panasonic commercials take a different plug and may run on non-standard 120 lines, but some are more normal. The Panasonic commercial start at a little over $200 in the USA, but tend to be very small, about .8 cubic feet. Anyway, does anyone know if they might be a more reliable option? By the way, I have a Panasonic that is well over 20 years old that I was considering replacing because it is so heavy! The clock and the LED display have been impossible to read for years, but the think keeps heating away and is still quite functional! I too read the ratings from users on Consumer Reports which show much of the high-rated microwaves to be junk. I think I’ll either consider a commercial model or stick with my old Panasonic!

  • Tom G

    Interesting thought, Sam. Received wisdom suggests that you may be right because the manufacturers are likely to ‘waste’ less of the product cost on bells and whistles and gimmicks that attract the average consumer but are never really required and so spend a higher % of the product budget on getting the basics right. I wonder if anyone reading this has experience of the reliability of restaurant/commercial microwave ovens?

    Thanks for the comment.

  • Tammy

    My Samsung microwave died after 1 1/2 years, piece of trash. I should have researched it and I would have found that the keyboard shorts out. This problem has been going on since 2004, mine was built in 2010. What happened to quality? We live in such a wasteful country, everything is so cheaply built. My first microwave I had for at least 15 years. Nothing is built to last anymore, so sad.

  • Mick Heywood

    I agree with all that has been said with regards to domestic microwaves. Light duty commercial ones such as this Daewoo come with a 3 year warranty, find me a domestic one with that sort of backup. Built to last for a good few years with no bells or whistles, just does it’s job for £289.00. http://www.catering-appliance.com/shop/product/1454/Daewoo-Commercial-Microwaves/KOM9P11/

  • Lynn

    I have a 25-year-old Kenmore microwave that I use almost daily and it works fine. It still looks good and none of the parts have broken. It has just recently started to sound a little distressed. I think it may be time to replace it and I will probably get another Kenmore.

  • Tom G

    Hi Lynn

    I hope that, if you do replace it, the new one is up to the standard of the old one. Experience – and the comments above – suggest this is not always the case!

    Regards

    Tom

  • Melanie

    I agree that we DO need QUALITY microwaves again!!! I have scoured Consumer Reports and the internet to find out which microwave has the longest life, but no such evaluation is included. I was very disappointed. We are very careful with our microwave…we don’t put no-no materials into it. It is cleaned lovingly every day, kept looking brand new. For the FIRST time, our microwave is peeling inside!!!! I am shocked. I never had this experience before. I do appreciate all the thoughts people posted here and for the first time EVER, I think a warranty probably IS the route to take for a microwave. Never thought I would see the day I would go for that, but when a microwave doesn’t last at least six years, I am shocked! We have a GE model JES1139WL01. I would be willing to pay $300-500 for one that would really last without problems! Is my price range unrealistic, Mr. Gaskell?

  • Tom G

    Hi Melanie

    Thanks for the comments. The only unrealistic element in your suggested price range is, in my opinion, that others won’t be prepared to pay that… so the manufacturers won’t produce at that price point.

    Joe Public – from whom the manufacturers make all their money – generally wants the cheapest possible (for the functions / market positioning) and there seems to be little appetite for something at 2 or 3 times the standard cost but ‘much more reliable’. We will continue to search out the better ones and, as some correspondents have suggested, maybe look to encourage a new ‘very high quality’ brand.

    Kind regards

    Tom

  • Joe

    Great discussion folks! Our Kenmore from 1993(a hand me down) has just died. I have been scouring the web looking for the right choice as a replacement and as many here have stated the disturbing facts that modern day micros seem to have a life span of 15-30 months…astonishing. It really is sad that I will essentially be throwing away 100-200 bucks and just be waiting for it to malfunction in a short period of time. The market also is spread way too thin, too many brands(some are the same re branded, I know!) one of the manufacturers needs to step in and start buying up the other manufacturers micro divisions, produce a higher quality product, and force consumers to spend more, plain and simple. I would also spend 300+ if I knew it would last on average 10 years or more. These companies have done the math, if they last any longer their profits suffer, why does everone want to make money by volume selling? This all makes sense somewhat now, my parents have gone through 4 micros in the past 10 years or so, we contributed it to my mother’s heavy use from her addition to hot tea(5-10 cups a day…yea). They have been different brands as well, I know for sure two were sharps and one was a Panasonic, unsure of the latest brand. Oh well…sigh.

  • Miles

    My first microwave, a Sharp, lasted twenty years. I believe I paid $349 for it. One day, it simply stopped heating things up and that was that. It had a twist dial timer. My next microwave, a Panasonic, started smoking after one year. The next, I can’t recall the brand, lasted about a year and a half. Now, my present microwave, an Emerson, is going down the tube: Its touch pad controller is wearing through to the circuit board, beneath, and its door does not shut tightly unless you thump on it after it’s closed. If you don’t shut it tightly, the light stays on and the carousel spins. It’s two years old. All consumer grade microwaves seem to have the same touch pad. Yesterday, I went to a restaurant supply store and found microwaves with the old-fashioned, and presumably better, twist dial timer. They run about $350. I am seriously considering buying one there and paying for an extended commercial warranty.

  • Walnutgrower

    If you want a great microwave oven you must buy a commercial medium or heavy duty model used in restaurants. Expect to pay upwards of $1100.00. They are used 50 to 150 times per day and are made to take the grueling schedule and abuse. You get what you pay for when you purchase a $100 to $400 microwave. The price of home microwaves has not gone up but down for the last 25 years while materials and labor cost more. Your old microwave that you paid $300.00 for back then would now cost $1100.00 to $1500.00 Quality Costs Money. A home microwave would only last a few weeks or days in a busy restaurant.
    No restaurant owner would put up with that.

  • Tom G

    Hi Walnutgrower,

    I think many people see the costs of electronic goods falling by a factor of 2 every 2 years (or increasing in power / capacity by the same amount – this is known as Moore’s Law) and assume everything else can do this too. It can’t, to get really big cost reductions in the long term on everything other than semiconductor electronics you usually need to sacrifice robustness, material thickness, design safety margins, etc.

    However, even with this argument, the public will say say “I’m not paying $1100 for a microwave oven”. If all microwave ovens cost around that amount, they may well pay it, but if they can buy one for $100 they won’t spend 10x the amount.

    Thanks for the very interesting comments; perhaps it needs a bold manufacturer to heavily promote commercial versions as being the ultimate home appliance? There are sufficient comments on this blog article to suggest that some people, at least, would pay the extra!

    Tom

  • Jessica B

    So it’s been 3 years, Tom, is your Panasonic still working? My whirlpool just died and I’ve only had it for 2.5 years (which I’m finding is a long time these days!) and I’m in the market for something new. Any advice would be appreciated!

  • Tom G

    Hi Jessica, gosh how time flies! Thanks for asking, yes it is and I use it most days just for re-heating or ‘baked’ potatoes.

    It has a conventional grill but I never use it – 20-odd years ago I worked for a company that was doing some work on microwave ovens (though I wasn’t involved in the work myself); I remember being told that conventional grills in a microwave oven can cause problems as they lead to tiny splashes of carbonised or caramelized food that can cause premature failure of the magnetron (the component that generates the microwave energy).

    Whether that is still true – or ever was – I have no idea, so I haven’t posted it as a ‘must do’ in this blog article and correspondence, but I play safe!

    Tom

  • Yesterday we purchased a GE microwave from H D (you know who, the guys that sell the orange buckets). The previous one that we used was a Magic Chef we also purchased through H D which lasted one year and one week (we declined an extended warranty that they offered)–it just died suddenly with a clunk. So that broken one hung on the wall for the past 5 years and we just got the old counter model out of the basement and have been using that. This time we purchased a 3 year extended warranty–they offered us a 3year and 5year. The cost was about 200 dollars and the warranty added about 50 dollars to the price. We are hedging our bets because if it lasts less than 3 years we are supposed to get a free replacement if they cant fix it, and if it lasts 3 years well… that would be okay, but it sounds like we should not hold our breath. Comments?

  • Tom G

    Kay, I wish you well with it. In my view 3 years life is not enough but, as we have heard in these comments, reliability is seen as poor for cheap (not that $200 is very cheap) domestic microwaves. The 1 year and 1 week is ‘sods law’ isn’t it, almost like it was designed to do that (it wasn’t, by the way!). Let me know how you get on with it!
    Tom

  • Mike B

    This is a follow-up to my previous posting. I purchased a Panasonic microwave oven at Costco. Their policy is that almost any product can be returned at any time if the customer is not satisfied. I confirmed, before buying, that I may return the unit even after 10 to 20 years of use.

    This is cheaper than an extended warranty, and it guarantees that I can make just a one-time investment in a microwave and receive decades of use. The only requirement is that I must return each unit after it fails. I believe this to be the best way to purchase a microwave while being shielded from the seemingly universal problem of poor quality microwaves.

    I would suggest this to all of you who, like me, found the market to be flooded with microwaves that have no longevity.

    Costco has in excess of 600 locations, most of which are in the U.S.A. and U.K.

    I will let you know how my microwave purchase works out in a year or two.

  • Tom G

    Thanks for letting us know, Mike – sounds a good deal from Costco.

    I wonder how many failures they would have to have before they thought again about their terms and conditions?! I hope the Panasonic keeps going – mine has passed the 3 year mark but, as per comments above, I have been careful with it.

    Yes, if you can post another comment in due course to say how you are getting on it would be greatly appreciated.

    Tom

  • Sandra

    I have had so many microwaves now it is almost unbelievable.The one I am still using at the moment is model-P 80D20AL .It is now going rusty inside, tho it does still heat food.I have read all of the reports above and now dont feel so bad about mine dying this way.I have had it said to me that items are not made to last, this also would seem to be right.

  • Lia

    Our GE over range Spacemaker xl 1800 suddenly died last month after five years of use. It was installed in our new home when we bought it. After talking to neighbors, we were lucky it lasted that long. Most had this problem after only a few years. The heating element failed. Expensive to replace. Expensive to repair. From what I’ve read, There really is no reliable model out there. What a waste of natural resources!

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