I've got yet another letter from Hotpoint, pointing out that 'it's nearly 4 years since you bought your Hotpoint washing machine' and informing me that 'as it gets older, your washing machine becomes more likely to break down'. They add the worrying information that 'repairs can be expensive' but strike a bright note: 'we've got an offer that could save you the cost of repairing or replacing it for the next 12 months. Relax with the Hotpoint Repair Plan.'
Yes, for £63 spread over twelve months - which saves £5, because paid by direct debit - or a single payment of £68, I will be covered.
But hang on, I've only ever had one washing machine die on me, and that was the machine I inherited from Dad in May 2009. It was a Zanussi machine, perhaps not the very best make. I don't quite know when my parents bought it, but kitchen photographs show that it was in use by November 2007. So it survived a full three years (at least) until it suddenly died in October 2010. And Mum was a great one for washing stuff. There were after all two persons in the house then. She undoubtedly gave her Zanussi more work than I did.
Ordinarily I do two washes per week, or perhaps 100 in a year. In four years, only 400 washes. And I look after my appliances. So I hardly think that I've worn my Hotpoint machine out yet! It still looks new, sounds new, and functions perfectly.
I really don't think the Zanussi died of mechanical failure. I think that an electrical component gave out, and that was that. It was possibly repairable, if the right circuit board or whatever was still available. But if not, kaput. I didn't waste my time finding out. I bought the same machine as my neighbour J---. She'd already had a few months' good use from her Hotpoint, and reckoned it was a great buy. Mine has so far served me just as well.
I understand that nowadays most goods like washing machines, which have little computers at their heart, will do so many washes then stop dead. It's how they're programmed. They are given a strictly limited lifespan. Even if, mechanically, they could soldier on almost forever, a counter inside them will come to (say) the 2,000th wash, and then switch the device off, permanently, forcing you to junk them and buy another machine.
Which makes the whole idea of repair insurance rather a con. What will fail? Provided you buy at least a middle-range machine, and avoid unnecessary gimmicks, and have it installed correctly, and use it correctly, it should work faultlessly until the internal counter tells it to die. If you use it most days, as a family with young children might, then death will come sooner than it will in the hands of a single old biddy like me. That's really all you need to bear in mind.
I expect my Hotpoint to survive a modest 1,000 washes, or ten years usage at my personal rate. I won't mind though if it gives up after only seven years, or 700 washes. I paid £474 for it. That'll work out at £67 a year. Perfectly reasonable. And when the time comes, I simply raid my savings account and fix myself up for another seven years. And the money for a new machine will be there, because I haven't wasted it on unnecessary repair insurance.
Ever since I've bought my Hotpoint, I have been urged annually to take out insurance against repairs. And the average annual cost of such insurance, had I paid it, would have worked out, coincidentally, at £67 a year. In other words, I would have doubled the cost of ownership by paying those repair premiums for the past four years.
And of course the cover hasn't ever been needed. Nor will it be needed, on a rational assessment of the risk.
It's exactly the same story with the Belling gas/electric cooker I bought in February 2013 for £529. The same offers of repair insurance. And yet it is the simplest of devices. The only moving parts are the knobs on the front, the thermostat that controls the cooling fan, and the fan itself. There are no fancy electronics whatever, not even a clock. And yet I am being urged to take out repair insurance at £41 a year. I expect my cooker to function perfectly for many years to come. No doubt one or more knobs will fall off and need replacement, but really I can't see what else could go wrong. So no to insurance.
It all comes down to risk, and whether one can afford to buy a replacement item at any time for something uninsured. So I do take care to insure my house and car and caravan. They are obviously vulnerable to accidental damage, and I can't afford to purchase replacements out of my purse. So insurance is needed. But my other things?
Retailers everywhere want to sell you extras, and increase their profit from a deal. Furniture and carpet retailers point out the risks of spilling red wine. (Have you actually ever done that?) Buy a new car, and you'll have to fend off earnest suggestions that you have the paintwork specially treated to preserve its gloss. I refused that one. I haven't yet noticed any loss of lustre when I wash Fiona down with lukewarm water from a bucket.
The insurance con is the commonest though. It's supposed to give you 'peace of mind', and if you are the sort that must have that at any cost, then insurance policies do look like great ideas.
My parents had 'breakdown' insurance on their Cannon gas cooker for years. This was another item I inherited in 2009. Dad cancelled the cover from March 2007, but I see from the renewal certificate for 2006/07 that up to then he had paid an annual £85 for the cover. This was for a cooker bought for £640 in March 2000. So in fact it lasted ten years! I'd hate to think that Dad paid £85 a year from 2000 to 2006, just in case it needed repair. That could have been £85 x 7 years = £595. For nothing except 'peace of mind'. Surely he didn't, not when he had so much tucked away in the bank, and could have bought a brand new cooker at any time at all. But I'm afraid he did.
He had insurance for other things too, such as loss of keys. And yet he wasn't a careless man, nor was Mum a careless woman. Anything but. What were they thinking of?
At least they were not seduced into having payment protection insurance. Some would say, oh what a pity - you'd have a tidy little sum in compensation coming to you now, as executrix and beneficiary of their estates. True. I did examine my parents' papers diligently, to see whether they had been fooled into taking out such a policy. But they had been too canny. I was pleased about that.