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Failure Rates in Mechanical vs. Electronic Appliances

I am a master technician of appliance repair. I have worked in the industry for 20+ years and enjoy it thoroughly.

This dishwasher features electronic controls

This dishwasher features electronic controls

Mechanical vs. Electronic Timers

Over the last 10-plus years, the appliance industry has moved toward a more cost-effective, digital way of manufacturing the controlling systems of household appliances.

In the past, you would rotate a dial on your dishwasher to a desired setting such as "normal wash" or "heavy wash." Then you might have moved a fairly large latch from left to right, locking the door shut, and the unit would start the washing process. That rotating dial that you would move to "normal wash" is considered a mechanical timer. Mechanical timers have a low failure rate. They are surely not the most high-tech, quiet, or easy way to start a home appliance, but they've served the industry well since the earliest years of the household appliance itself.

Now fast forward to the present: electronic timing has almost completely pushed the mechanical timer out of the picture. I'll bet if you went to your dishwasher right now (or your refrigerator, washer, or even your dryer for that matter) you would find green or blue lights and buttons you push to choose that same "normal wash" or "heavy wash" cycle.

You're probably thinking "of course I have buttons, we don't live in the 1980s anymore, my stuff is the newest, latest, and greatest." I would agree that the newest style is far more appealing to the eye, and who doesn't want flashing blue or green lights? I do. The issue lies in the phrase I used earlier in this article: The failure rate.

What's the Difference?

With an electronic timing device, you normally have two components. A main control board and some sort of touchpad that speaks to the main control board via cables, or a ribbon (a ribbon is a super-fine set of wires about as thin as a credit card meant to minimize space usage).

Today's most common failure is unequivocally the touchpad, which is where you actually would find that "normal wash" button. Eventually you push the "start" button too many times and the contacts inside stop working. All of a sudden you have a dishwasher that does not respond, but for what reason? You probably would not know and so you call for service.

The second most common failure is in the main control board we talked about, and it too can give the same symptoms. Again, the dishwasher just doesn't seem to respond. Now there are a host of reasons an appliance might not respond such as a tripped circuit breaker (house breaker).

The main point is the rate of failure for the electronic control and or touchpad is leagues higher than that old mechanical timer mechanism we all used to have. I can remember doing work for a particular manufacturer (who shall remain nameless) where I would replace a touchpad on a dishwasher at least once a day and sometimes three a day. These appliances weren't even a year old yet the manufacturer was footing the bill. I can count on one hand, however, how many mechanical timers I have replaced in the last 10 years.

Modern Appliances Have Shorter Life Spans

What does all this mean to you and I, you ask? Well, it means things are being made to last a much shorter time, often requiring a repair and/or a replacement.

Is this intentional? I don't think it's 100% intentional. No business model could survive a downright decision to make junk or a product that has a fraction of the life your past products would get. Additionally, why would the entire industry move in the exact same direction at the exact same time?

There are a number of reasons for this change. For one, it's more profitable to make the electronic parts because the machinery to make the control board is far easier to maintain and replace.

Two things stand out here as the key to the entire story: 1) The electronics can be returned and refurbished for pennies and then resold back to the public for a sizable profit. 2) The entire civilized world is advancing towards a technology-based way of life. Has anyone seen the refrigerator with an embedded micro-television in its doors? What's that about? This is the direction the appliance industry is going and why the days of the clunky mechanical timers are nearly history.

Buy Mechanical for a Longer Life Span

The main point I wanted to make on the subject was the need to hang onto those appliances with mechanical timing devices or mechanical controls. You can still buy a dryer, washer, and even a dishwasher with a mechanical timer. The only reason those are still available is that people still buy them.

If you are looking for longer life and lower annual costs, buy mechanical. It may not look as pretty as the neighbor's blinking, blue light smart washer, but when your neighbor's appliance breaks they will be waiting ten plus days for the part to come from Korea. Since your machine is still running with no issues to speak of, you might very well be that neighbor's next best friend.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Solomon Grael on April 18, 2019:

100% Agreed ... Mechanical Timers are better than Electronic controls. Few months ago the washing machine went dead. The control panel went bad. A new control card was needed to correct the issue. Cost of the car more than $80. dollars without labor. My solution to get rid of altogether of the stupid system and to buy a new machine with the mechanic dials.

john eastman on September 03, 2018:

electronics don't get along with water. Steam on a dishwasher, steam from a dryer or hot water in a washer ends up in the pc board. 100% planned by the industry. They make it out of warranty and then the PC board in average dryer cost is half of replacement. Just like steel belted tires, you will replace it.

I am using 20 year old FSP washer and dryer (whirlpool) they look like crap but theres no way I replacing them as long as the tub holds water.

Found plenty of parts in neighborhood on bulk trash day.

The industry can kiss my a**.

DONNA on March 13, 2018:

Please stick with mechanical. I learned my lesson. 2 years, other family members with digital made 3....all had fees almost half the price of a new appliance. No more digital for me ---EVER .... especially Samsung!

Unhappy person on October 19, 2017:

Yeah that is true Sally

GGK on January 20, 2017:

This article just talks about control part of the appliances.

We can not deduce the merits and demerits of electronics vs mechanics in 'general'.

It has to be studied on case to case basis.

ela pandya on August 02, 2016:

so which dishwasher (with mechanical controls) do you recommend?

Jeff T on March 14, 2015:

You need to be short and to the point. ALL THE NEW APPLIANCES WITH ELECTRONIC BOARDS ARE JUNK!!!!! Avoid them if you can. You can still buy rotory electromechanical washers, buy them. Dryers are not too bad. Don't buy the front loading type, they are junk. Today most appliances have electronic boards and will NOT last! JUNK JUNK JUNK!!!!

Unhappy Maytag Customer on September 05, 2014:

My "hi-tech" (electronic) Maytag dishwasher started blowing its thermal fuse just after 3 years of light use. My previous (mechanical) Maytag DW lasted 15+ years before the tub rusted through. Knowing what I know now, I would have paid the equivalent of a new dishwasher to replace the tub on the old dishwasher!! Check out the "issues" posted on . Everybody's electronic DW experiences an electronic failure between 6 months and 4 years. And, the cost to professionally fix them is close to the repurchase price. If nothing else the appliance companies are major contributors to the electronic waste being generated. What frosts me too is they will sell you stainless steel tub that is "rust proof". How disingenuous, knowing the appliance will be replaced long before rust would be a problem. PLEASE, if a 2nd or 3rd tier appliance company were to return to mechanical appliances, I would run back in an instant.

john zimmerman from usa on March 28, 2014:

Why every manufacturer is switching is simple - the demand. Newer looks of electronics is to most more attractive.

Other disadvantages of electronics - much higher cost. And are not kept in inventory as long.

polychrome on February 28, 2013:

The only area in which electromecanical and electronic timers have achieved parity is the stove (range) clock. Unfortunately that's largely because neither one has proved itself desirably useful and durable. The EM clocks aren't sealed well enough to excluse cooking fumes and grease and the geartrain eventually becomes fouled and gummy eventually stalling the low torque synchronous clock motor. The same seal complaint can be applied to the appearance of the clock face or number wheels over time.

The electronic clocks fail for a variety of reasons;

1) orange neon display segments erode their electrodes and fail, if the high voltage supply doesn't quit first.

2) blue green vacuum flourescent phosphors degrade, if the high voltage supply doesn't quit first.

3) red LEDs displays tend to be limited by the lifespan of the drive electronics, which seem to be inevitably undersized because they're current hogs.

4) LCDs are backlit with limited life, teperature sensitive, etc.

...All of these clocks types can be made durable on a stove, but doing so would add $50 to $100 to the retail price of the stove. The added cost makes no sense to an OEM considering warranty repair costs for $10 clocks. They don't even resonate with a consumer with a 10 year old stove that needs a $200 repair part clock they will decide they can live without. (Microwave ovens depend on their clocks, and they're made better.)

polychrome on February 28, 2013:

Electronic timers last no more than 3-5 years because they are designed using simplified power supplies and hardware drivers that are gradually degraded by the voltage spikes inherent to the design and then expose the more sensitive logic circuits which then fail prematurely. They use electrolytic caps that dry out in 5-7 years. The assemblies aren't fully conformally coated to seal out moisture, and moisture penetration into the plastic IC packages along the lead frames also dooms them to a short life.

The typical appliance electronic timer control has a build cost similar to an electronic alarm clock, computer keyboard ,or mouse ($5-$10) - somewhere around half the comparable electromechanical timer. The copyright for the tiny bit of software on the microprocessor and the DMCA guarantee the appliance maker a complete monopoly on the repair parts for 125 years. As repair parts, electronic timers are generally 2 to 5 times the price of a corresponding electromechanical timer. The OEMs love them, consumers shouldn't.

polychrome on February 28, 2013:

Electromechanical timers tended to last about 8-12 years without maintenance in home use depending on dust dirt and frequency of use. With solvent spray cleaner and fresh teflon grease on the cam every 5 years the home use service life is at least 30 years; i.e. it will outlast the frame, tub, etc. There were timers that were designed with small area switch contacts on high current circuits that failed quickly, but the contacts were replaceable with the correct size if the repairman was any good. The mechanical timers are almost generic by cycle time, number of contacts, stall, and fast advance excpt that the cam wheel that opens and closes contacts is application specific. Even so, there has always been a vigorous 3rd party supply of repair parts.

ARA MasterTech (author) from Portland, Oregon on November 09, 2011:

@ Nicolas, Thank you. I intend to write a new story each week on this industry. There is much to discuss. Thanks again for stopping by.

Nicolas Simons from San Francisco on November 09, 2011:

That's very informative. Thanks for sharing.

ARA MasterTech (author) from Portland, Oregon on November 09, 2011:

@ Cheryl, thanks for the support, you will go much further with your current dryer.

@ Bill, old school has its benefits. The facts do not lie.

@ Jane, staying with digital is ok too, but look into a protection plan of some sort. You will use it.

@ TT, eventually, we will all have to go electronic. The manufacturers will have stopped making mechanical. : (

TT on November 08, 2011:

That was a good article...I like how you gave information of both digital and mechanical timers...I will stay with the mechanical timer because this new age digital crap does not have a long life span.

Jane on November 07, 2011:

Wow...thanks for the article. Even if I stay with a digital appliance at least now I'll have all of the information necessary to make an informed decision.

Bill on November 06, 2011:

This site was very helpful in deciding what to buy for new appliances, I think old school is better than the new stuff............

Cheryl Dunkin on November 05, 2011:

What a great article I am bookmarking this for future usage. I guess I will keep my old and manual dryer for as long as I can.