Outrage over Epson stopping working printers from functioning with hardcoded end of life date

An example of a Epson printer.
An example of a Epson printer. Photo credit: Getty Images

It's fair to say that some of the most well known printer manufacturers don't have the best of reputations.

From deliberately stopping multi-function devices from scanning if there's no ink, to stopping you from using anything but branded ink that's more expensive than champagne, it seems like there's always a trick or two to keep you spending.

Now a university lecturer in the US has shared his wife's experience with her Epson printer, which was pre-programmed to stop functioning even though it still worked.

"My wife's very expensive Epson printer just gave a message saying it had reached the end of its service life and proceeded to brick itself," Mark Tavern tweeted.

"Apparently she can pay to service it or buy a new one even though it was working fine. Outrageous!"

The Fight To Repair substack newsletter delved into the issue in more depth, describing why it happens under the sub-headline 'Important Product Update - You're F**cked'.

According to Fight to Repair, Epson has hard-coded an 'end of life' into the software that runs its inkjet printers.

"It doesn't matter that your printer was working. Epson corporate has determined that your printer and its constituent parts are simply too old," it stated.

"They're at the end of their service life (even though the printer appears to be working fine) and the device needs to be replaced or (reluctantly) serviced... by an Epson authorised service professional, of course."

The issue is likely related to ink pads, the newsletter said. 

According to the Epson website they are the "porous pads in the printer that collect, distribute, and very importantly contain the ink that is not used on printed pages".

"Most users will not receive this message before the printer is replaced for other reasons. Some high-volume users or those who use the printer for many years may receive this message about ink pads before other components reach the end of their usable life."

The website also states that "like so many other products, all Epson consumer inkjet products have a finite life span due to component wear during normal use".

"At some point, the product will reach a condition where either satisfactory print quality cannot be maintained or components have reached the end of their usable life."

However, that wasn't the case for Tavern's wife's printer and others, which were functioning well until the error message was received.

There is a short-term fix where a reset of the pads can be done via official Epson software, but that only works for a limited period of time and only for Windows users, with no Mac software available.

It's for 'safety reasons', according to Epson.

"The printers are designed to stop operating at the point where further use without replacing the ink pads could create risks of property damage from ink spills or safety issues related to excess ink contacting an electrical component," the website states.

According to Consumer New Zealand, the best way to get value for money from printers is by avoiding the cheaper options with cartridges and instead buying those with ink tanks.

A report in April this year revealed the more expensive ink tank printers were about 16 times cheaper to print than similar ink cartridge models in the long run.

The watchdog said the four major home-printer companies in Aotearoa all sell ink tank models, but the cheap cost of the cartridge models made them a favourite for those who don't print very often.

"You'll need to buy 13 of the best-value, high-capacity ink cartridges to match the out-of-the-box printing from the ink tank printer," Consumer test manager Paul Smith said.

That meant a $49 printer would end up costing $170 more than the ink tank printer for the same number of printed pages.

"If you're looking to get a printer at home, you're better off getting something that doesn't drain money every time you need to replace the ink," Smith said.