Mechanical VS Electronic Appliances

Updated on November 7, 2011

Mechanical Timer


What Exactly Do I Mean?

Over the last ten plus years, the appliance industry has moved towards a more cost effective digital way of manufacturing the controlling systems of household appliances. A decade ago, 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 were and still are fairly void of high failure rates. It was surely not the most high tech, or quiet and easy way to start a home appliance, but it served the industry well to utilize the mechanical timer since the earliest years of the household appliance itself.

Now fast forward to today where a change has been culminating for the last decade. Electronic timing has almost completely pushed the mechanical age out of the picture all together. 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 80's anymore, my stuff is the newest, latest and greatest." I would not argue that the newest 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.

Electronic Control


What's the Difference?

With an electronic timing device you normally have two components. A main control board and some sort of touch pad 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 touch pad; 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 that 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 touch pad 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 touch pad on a dishwasher at least one a day and sometimes three a day. These appliances weren't even a year old yet so the manufacturer was footing the bill. I can count on one hand, however, how many mechanical timers I have replaced in the last ten years.

Where is This Going?

What does all this mean to you and I you ask? Well, it means things are being made to last a much shorter life; often requiring a repair and/or a replacement. Is this intentional? I don't think its 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 size-able 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.


In conclusion, 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 a longer life and lower annual costs of having any appliance buy mechanical. It may not look as pretty as the neighbor's blinking blue light, smart washer, but when your neighbor's 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 neighbors next best friend . More on this subject later...

Questions & Answers


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      • profile image

        DONNA 5 weeks ago

        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!

      • profile image

        Unhappy person 6 months ago

        Yeah that is true Sally

      • profile image

        GGK 15 months ago

        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.

      • profile image

        ela pandya 20 months ago

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

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        Jeff T 3 years ago

        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!!!!

      • profile image

        Unhappy Maytag Customer 3 years ago

        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 profile image

        john zimmerman 4 years ago from usa

        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.

      • profile image

        polychrome 5 years ago

        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.)

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        polychrome 5 years ago

        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.

      • profile image

        polychrome 5 years ago

        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 profile image

        ARA MasterTech 6 years ago from Portland, Oregon

        @ 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 profile image

        Nicolas Simons 6 years ago from San Francisco

        That's very informative. Thanks for sharing.

      • ARA MasterTech profile image

        ARA MasterTech 6 years ago from Portland, Oregon

        @ 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. : (

      • profile image

        TT 6 years ago

        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.

      • profile image

        Jane 6 years ago

        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.

      • profile image

        Bill 6 years ago

        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 profile image

        Cheryl Dunkin 6 years ago

        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.