In My Opinion

Dita De Boni is a Herald business columnist

Dita De Boni: The shock of the not so new

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Illustration / Anna Critchton, with apologies to Colin McCahon
Illustration / Anna Critchton, with apologies to Colin McCahon

Modern appliances - barely broken in and they're already broken down

A tradesman shocked me this week.

This wasn't the poor deluded sod from Target - the one providing hours of free voyeuristic pleasure for those so inclined. The tradesman I'm talking about kept his pants on, our laundry remained untouched, and the only thing erupting was my temper when he told me the bad news about our heat pumps.

Ah, heat pumps. How wonderful they are when first installed. They are so quiet, so effective, you keep them on far too long, day and night, forgetting they are even there half the time.

In winter they keep you toasty; you don't even have to stand guard over them, keeping little fingers away from burning hot fins.

In summer they cool magnificently. Between times they fan. They take moisture away and one day will probably make you a cup of tea as well.

They are horrifically expensive to install, especially when you hire charlatans who flog a brand no one's ever heard of and who charge you double rates for their so-called graft - some for "labour" and on top of that, some for "electrical labour" - and then get up in your grille when you dare to ask them to itemise their charges.

Nevertheless, nearly $8000 and five or so years later, we've had pretty pleasing heating and cooling service so far, but the wheels have come off. One heat pump sounds like the Concorde starting up; the other doesn't do hot any more and leaks water down the walls when the air conditioning is turned on.

The tradesman is called. He says he can fix the problem, but the cost is unknown at this time (though the expression on his face makes me suddenly feel as though I shall be soon negotiating a revolving credit facility).

His next statement shocks me to the core. "Modern appliances," he declares, "are only made to last about five years."

He loves my look of incomprehension and horror. What?? As a child, our appliances lasted decades, or so it seemed, helped along by my handyman of a father who could seemingly keep an entire suite of whiteware running on paper clips and rubber bands. Naturally my generation has lost the knack of conserving anything; fixing and repairing anything. And we're not encouraged to either.

Last month I took a pair of kids' shoes to be repaired and was told it wasn't worth the time bothering: "buy a new pair - it's cheaper" a sorrowful, quite possibly under-utilised shoe repairman said.

Our fridge has cracked shelves that cannot be replaced by the local supplier, the national supplier, in the entire world, the company tells me; there is not one shelf that fits this particular, not-being-made fridge. Despite the fact that a fridge shelf is deemed non-essential to the running of the fridge for warranty purposes, most people will tell you the appliance is not really viable without them. So what do I do with my young, still functioning, still plenty-good-enough fridge? I ask the person in Mumbai, to whom I have been asked to pour forth my tale of woe.

"Buy a new fridge," he says, a slight exasperation in his voice.

His exasperation was nothing compared to mine, but I have realised I must be something of a Pollyanna to expect my appliances to last any longer than my son's preschool career. And like tradesmen that have a never-ending slew of surprises on offer - mostly unpleasant, one way or the other - that's something that's never likely to change.

- NZ Herald

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