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Durability Test on Medium-sized Hardshell Suitcases Revealed Varying Degrees of Wear and Tear Phthalates Levels of 1 Handle Exceeded Limit by 45 Times Posing Possible Risks to Reproductive Health

  • 2023.11.15

With the Christmas and New Year travel season just around the corner, a good-quality, sturdy and functional suitcase would be a particularly handy travel companion, as not only is it more effortless to carry, but it could also provide adequate protection for personal belongings and souvenirs. The Consumer Council tested 15 models of medium-sized hardshell suitcases with zipper closure for their durability and chemical safety. After conducting 10 test items, all models showed varying degrees of wear or damage, with some being more severe. After running for a long distance, 7 models were found with various conditions respectively, such as detached wheels, cracked shell, snapped or loosened retractable handles, etc. After the samples were subjected to vertical dynamic impact for over 1,000 times, the retractable handles and the handle fixtures of 6 models snapped or came loose, or their shell cracked; whereas the majority of the models failed to be waterproof. In the chemical tests, some materials of 1 model’s carry handle was detected with phthalates with the content exceeding the upper limit set out in the European Union (EU) REACH Regulation by 45 times, while the retractable handle of another model was detected with higher concentrations of certain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are possibly carcinogenic to humans, and failed to comply with the limit required by the German voluntary labelling scheme (GS Mark). Considering that suitcases often cost over a thousand dollars and sometimes even as much as $7,000 or $8,000, consumers should carefully compare the durability and after-sales services before purchase, and note that more expensive products do not necessarily have a longer lifespan.

The 15 tested models were all medium-sized hardshell suitcases ranging from around 24 inches to 28 inches in height which classified as checked baggage type, and all were equipped with TSA locks which could allow customs to unlock the suitcase for inspection using a special key. All models had an outer shell made from plastic materials and weighed 2.5kg to 6.2kg, with prices ranging from $730 to $8,200, a difference of over 10 times. The test mainly simulated the daily use of suitcases, with a comprehensive comparison of the models’ performance in durability and water resistance through 10 test items, including the drop test, compression test, lifting and jerking of the carry handles and retractable handle, retractable handle cycling, road test, stair dragging test, repeated opening and closing of the lock and zipper, and rain test. The accessible parts of the handles were also tested for phthalates and PAHs contents. Among the 4 models receiving the highest overall rating (4.5 points), 2 were priced below $2,500. On the other hand, the highest priced model ($8,200) only had an overall rating of 3.5 points, and showed a particularly unsatisfactory performance in the road test and strength of the retractable handle. 6 models received an overall rating of 3 points, among which 5 were only rated 1 point to 2.5 points in overall durability performance, which was far from satisfactory.

Damage Found After Long-distance Running or Vertical Dynamic Impact of Handles for Over 1,000 Times  

Road test performance is an important indicator for evaluating the durability of suitcases. One of the test items involved running the suitcase samples bearing a designated load (14kg or 16kg) at an angle on a simulated road surface, continuously travelling for 90km at a speed of 5km/hr. According to the results, all models showed varying degrees of damage or wear, among which 7 models were found with more severe damage, such as the wheels falling off, cracking of the shell, snapped or loosened retractable handle, etc. For 2 models, such conditions appeared after less than 40km of covered distance, while the retractable handle of the most expensive model had snapped after covering less than 60km in distance.

During the trip, travellers might directly drag the suitcase up and down staircases, which could lead to extra wear and tear of the wheels, retractable handles and body of the suitcase. In the stair test where samples were dragged down 400 steps of stairs, 3 models were found with various conditions respectively, including cracked connection between the suitcase body and wheels, bent and deformed retractable handle that obstructed normal retraction, etc., among which 1 model showed such conditions only after dragging for 45 steps.

Even when not used for pulling the suitcase, the handles should have sufficient strength to withstand the impact or shock during use or transport of the suitcases. In the test, the samples were loaded with designated weight capacities and lifted by the carry handles and retractable handles, then subjected to vertical dynamic impact continuously for 3,000 times at a rate of 30 times per minute. The handles of all models were found with wear or deformation of various degrees, with 6 models found with snapped or loosened retractable handles, handle fixtures, or cracked outer shells.

Furthermore, checked baggage may inevitably be compressed during transport or storage in the plane’s cargo hold. After placing a 150kg weight on a flat-lying suitcase for 1 hour, 2 models were found with snapped zipper protection components and slightly deformed zipper edge cover strip respectively, though the zippers were still functional. The base and corners of the suitcase body of another model was warped and dented, but could be restored after applying force. If the aforementioned situations arise during a trip in real life, it could cause immense aggravation and the consumer might even need to buy a new suitcase to continue the journey.

14 Models Mediocre in Water Resistance Performance

Many consumers opt for suitcases with a plastic shell anticipating that they could be entirely waterproof. However, in the rain test which simulated rainfall by spraying water for 5 minutes on suitcase samples lying on the ground, only 1 model was fully rainproof, while the interior of the remaining 14 models were found with varying degrees of water seepage, 10 of which even had puddles of water, speculated to be due to the fact that the materials of the zipper tapes were not waterproof. Consumers are advised to place their belongings in waterproof bags beforehand or cover the suitcase with a waterproof guard to prevent them from getting wet.

Phthalates Levels in 1 Model’s Carry Handle Exceeded EU Limit by 45 Times

The accessible parts of the carry handles and retractable handles were also tested for 4 types of phthalates (DEHP, DBP, BBP and DIBP). Some materials of 1 model’s carry handle was detected with DEHP at concentrations of 4.6%, which exceeded the EU REACH Regulation’s upper limit (0.1%) by 45 times. DEHP is one of the most commonly used types of phthalates. EU and US research studies have shown that DEHP could hinder the normal growth of children and might impair the male reproductive system, while contact with DEHP during pregnancy might affect foetal development.

In addition, the carry handle’s fixture and retractable handle grip of 1 model was detected with several PAHs, of which the detected levels of 2 PAHs (benzo[a]anthracene and chrysene) exceeded the upper limit required by the GS Mark, though still in compliance with EU REACH Regulation requirements. Benzo[a]anthracene and chrysene are both classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as possibly carcinogenic to humans, while prolonged contact with PAHs might pose long-term health risks.

Although under normal circumstances, users might not absorb large amounts of these chemical substances through skin contact with handles containing phthalates or PAHs, if the user has eczema or open wounds on their hands, the associated risk may increase. Moreover, if consumers touch their mouth or food after being in contact with the aforementioned plastic parts, they might ingest phthalates or PAHs through the oral cavity. As such, users should remember to wash their hands with mild soap or hand wash promptly after touching the handles of suitcases.

Additionally, there is no upper limit for phthalates or PAHs contents in consumer goods (including suitcases) in Hong Kong currently. The Council recommends relevant authorities to review the need to strengthen the regulation for phthalates or PAHs contents in suitcases with reference to relevant EU regulations.

Warranty Period Ranged from 2 Years to Lifetime

Official Receipt May Be Required for Repair

When choosing a suitcase, apart from considering the durability and price, consumers should also pay heed to the warranty period and scope of warranty. The 15 tested models offered a warranty period ranging from 2 years to lifetime, of which 7 offered global warranty (one of them did not cover USA and Canada), while the remaining were limited to the place of purchase, Asia, Hong Kong, Macau and/or the Mainland. Apart from 1 brand, the rest all requested customers to present an official receipt at the time of registration or using maintenance services, with some even requiring a warranty card with the stamp of the dealer and other information such as the date of purchase. Consumers are advised to retain relevant documentation properly for future repairs. In terms of the warranty scope, manufacturers generally did not cover damage to suitcases caused by airline companies or other means of transport, with only 4 models providing maintenance services for suitcases requiring repair due to the aforementioned reasons within the designated warranty period. In addition, consumers usually need to bring their own suitcase to designated maintenance centres, distributors or stores, or arrange for their own delivery. If consumers wished to exchange an old suitcase for a new one, only a few brands provided trade-in services or offers, with some models offering 30% or 20% discounts for trade-ins.

Consumers could pay heed to the following tips when using and maintaining suitcases to enhance their durability:

  • Refrain from sitting on the suitcase to avoid damaging the suitcase body, retractable handle and wheels due to pressure. Use the carry handle to lift the suitcase instead of the retractable handle to prevent risks of damage;
  • Place heavier items at the bottom of the suitcase to prevent it from tipping over due to uneven distribution of weight;
  • Avoid cleaning the outer shell of the suitcase with strong detergents. It is recommended to gently wipe the outer shell using a slightly damp cloth, followed by drying with a dry cloth. Furthermore, a damp cloth with a small amount of liquid soap could be used to remove scuff marks or dirt;
  • Cover the suitcase with a dust cover and store in a dry place away from direct sunlight.


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