Repair or Replace: A Guide to Household Appliances

Modern appliances make our lives much easier and more convenient around the house. Right up until one of those wonderful appliances breaks, that is. Then we remember just how much we rely on the dishwasher, refrigerator, and washing machine each day. Whether you’re faced with a complete breakdown or a slightly on-the-fritz appliance, you still have to make the call – should you repair it or replace it?

There’s no single right answer; you’ll have to weigh many factors to decide how you want to invest your money and time. Here are a few important questions to help you weigh the pros and cons of purchasing a new appliance, or giving your current appliance a little tender love and care.

How Old Is It?

If your fridge or dryer is older than you are, it’s probably not worth trying to fix. Nothing last forever and a repair on an old machine might not last for long. Replacing a very old appliance can actually save you money since today’s models are much more efficient — especially if you seek out an Energy Star model. The amount you could save on your electricity bill can help you pay for your new appliance in the long run.

So how old is too old? Here’s a list of typical lifespans you can expect to get out of the most common home appliances:

  • Clothes Dryers: 13-14 years
  • Dishwashers: 12 years
  • Freezers: 16 years
  • Microwaves: 8 years
  • Ovens and ranges: 16-19 years
  • Refrigerators: 14 years
  • Washing Machines: 12 years

Your mileage may vary based on these factors:

  1. How many times you’ve moved the appliance between houses.
  2. How often you use it.
  3. Whether you have hard or soft water.
  4. Whether you’ve had any past issues or have had the appliance recalled.

High-end appliances tend to last a bit longer, lending at least some credence to the old “you get what you pay for” adage.

The bottom line? If your appliance is acting up and its getting near the end of its natural life expectancy, you’re better off buying a new one.

Is It Under Warranty?

Dig out that old paperwork from when you first bought your appliance and read up on the warranty. Your warranty likely won’t apply to an older appliance. If you’re still covered, follow the instructions on the warranty to call for repairs — you’ll probably have to use a recommended service provider to take advantage. When a repair specialist gives you the diagnosis, make sure the repair is covered by your warranty before authorizing the work to avoid any nasty surprises.

What’s Wrong With It?

Before you rush out to call for repairs or to snag a new appliance, try a little DIY love — you don’t want to miss out on an easy fix. Try these basic fixes before involving outside sources.

Your first step is to unplug and re-plug in your appliance to make sure it’s getting power. You should also check the circuit breaker for the outlet it uses. Also, double-check any temperature controls and settings to make sure they’re set properly.

Next, check your owner’s manual for a troubleshooting section and try its advice. If you can’t find your paperwork, do a quick search online using your model name or number and the word “manual” to find a PDF version of your missing booklet. If that doesn’t help, try searching your appliance and a short description of the problem to see if there’s an easy fix on any message boards.

How Much Will It Cost?

Assuming you couldn’t find an easy solution to the problem on your own, this is where the rubber meets the road. Do some research to see how much a comparable new appliance would cost, then call a repairman and explain the problem. Don’t be shy about asking for a ballpark estimate over the phone based on his or her best guess — especially if you’ll get charged a minimum fee for the visit. Your job is to gather information at this point, not to figure out exactly what’s wrong with your appliance.

Once you have some estimates about repair and replacement costs, you’ll be in a good position to make a sound financial decision about the fate of your appliance. The Good Housekeeping rule of thumb? If a repair costs more than half of the replacement cost, it’s time for a new appliance.

How Do You Feel About It?

You might also want to consider some intangibles in addition to the numbers. If you’ve always hated your old appliance’s funny smell or outdated color, you may want to consider this an opportunity to change your look or upgrade its capabilities. The same is true if you’re closing in on a kitchen remodel — just be sure to pick out appliances that will match your new look and fit in their new spaces.

The Best Time to Buy

If you can limp along with your malfunctioning appliance for a bit, you’ll have some time to research the replacement you want and to get a good deal. Keep an eye out for sales or financing deals. September and October are generally the best times to invest in a new appliance; retailers want to clear their showrooms to make way for new models. You’ll likely find a good sale or bargain on a floor model (if you don’t mind a scratch or two). Other great times to find sales are holiday weekends and the final weekend of the month – salespeople will likely be open to negotiation at these times.

Armed with the right information about your appliance, you should be able to make an educated decision about whether to repair it on replace it. Either way, the sooner you get back to enjoying the conveniences of modern life, the happier you’ll be!