No wonder you smoked the motor! I think it says a lot about the toughness of the KA design that it took 5 years to do it!
The strain on the motor only partially depends on the speed setting; it will also depend on the quantity and the stiffness of the dough. Mixing a double batch of whole wheat sandwich bread on setting “2” will put a lot more strain on the motor than mixing a half-batch 100% hydration focaccia dough on setting “10”, so the KA recommendation of “2” isn’t a very helpful guide.
When making baguettes, I’m normally making a half batch of a fairly wet dough, so I don’t agree that the “4” setting was out of line. KAs are notorious for their gear failures, so there is clearly a design problem with their products, which is widely acknowledged on the internet. The Cuisinart I replaced it with has no such unrealistic speed limitation.
I’m glad you’re happy with your Cuisinart, it’s a fine machine too.
However KAs are NOT “notorious for their gear failures”, and what is “widely acknowledged on the internet” needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Seriously! A lot of those internet complaints claim that their KA mixers had a plastic WORM gear, and no KA mixer has EVER been made with anything but metal worm gears.
It’s true that hydration, amount and type of flour should all be taken into account; however the fact remains that the KA engineers have repeatedly specified that doughs are not to be kneaded at higher than setting 2, and people who comply with this do not smoke their motors or break the break-away gear, a gear that has been present in every single KA mixer since at least the 40’s, when they were still owned by Hobart. The break-away gear is a gear that is INTENDED to break to protect the motor from destruction when under an inordinately high load. There is a similar part in many motors, such as the shear pin in your lawn mower which is intended to break should your blades hit an immovable object to protect the motor from tearing itself up. It’s a high tech nylon made for high-heat, high-stress applications in aircraft. It’s up to the task of a breakaway gear in your mixer.
Much of the hoo-hah over the “gear issues” with KA mixers comes from people who were misusing their KA mixers. In the vast majority of cases reported on the internet, the “broken gears” and the “plastic gears” they were complaining about referred to a broken break-away gear which broke as it was designed to when the machine had been misused. Such as, by being consistently run at higher than speed 2 with too much dough in the bowl.
If you’re very knowledgeable about your doughs, and I concede that you probably are, then yeah, you can skirt the bounds of recommended usage and usually get away with ignoring KA’s instructions. However one should not then gripe because at some point they miscalculated and overtaxed the motor, causing to to actually belch forth black smoke.
You then continued to use the mixer for another 8 months, by your report, which again, IMO, attests to the toughness of these mixers. In that 8 months it is no wonder that other gears in the motor eventually showed excessive wear. Combined with your heavy usage of the machine to start with, that’s really no surprise.
I’m not sure which model you had (don’t remember if you said and it’s not really that important), but most of the home KA models are really not intended for heavy usage. The Commercial mixer, which costs $900, is an exception to the rest of their line. If you want something for heavy-duty use, then absolutely, get another type of mixer. But if you have a KA and choose to use it outside of its design parameters, don’t blame KA. They tell you up front clearly what sort of usage you can get from their mixers, and at NO POINT do they lay claim to being able to run their mixers at speed 4 with a bowl full of bread dough of any consistency. The fact that you could and DID do that, repeatedly and frequently exceeding the design parameters, for 5 years before you broke it so badly it needed $30 worth of repairs (and then it was only a $30 repair) tells me that the mixer held up well even under heavy use for which it was not intended.
There are a lot of pretty good mixers out there in the higher price ranges; Viking, whatever the Electrolux is being called now, some of the Cuisinarts though I’m not impressed with their longevity. Viking reportedly has been having more issues with reliability; I don’t know if that has been addressed or where they’re at right now. Some people like Bosch. Some people like RoboCoup.
But regardless of how the more expensive mixers compare, for an affordable under-$400 mixer, there’s nothing on the market that comes close to the Kitchenaid. Used properly - and that means not running them with bread dough in the bowl at over speed 2 - they’ll last for years and perform well. Sure, I wish they’d go back to the even higher quality of 30 years ago - for that matter I wish Cuisinarts of today were on par with the Cuisinart of 30 years ago - but there’s nothing else on the market in the same price range that compares.
Not saying KA is the ONLY good mixer out there; but given that you exceeded it’s design parameters for five years before it decided to make you repair it (for $30), I hardly think it’s fair to slam the mixer; rather the opposite, in fact.