Appliances - Repair or Replace?

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When the stove, refrigerator, washing machine or other household appliance stops working, how do you know whether it's time to call a repair service or to replace the appliance? The following tips can help you make a sound decision.

1. Troubleshoot the problem first. The appliance may be unplugged, have tripped a safety switch or circuit breaker, or have some other simple problem that's easily put right. Every appliance comes with an owner's manual, most of which have troubleshooting sections. Consult these first.

If you don't have the appliance's owner's manual, you may be able to find the manual or troubleshooting assistance for the specific appliance on the Internet. Check the manufacturer's web site first.

2. Make notes of your answers to the troubleshooting questions. Also note the age of the machine and whether or not it is still under warranty. These notes can help you decide whether repair or replacement makes more economic sense as you work through the questions in the next step.

3. Use the following two checklists to help weigh the reasons for repair or replacement. Answering some of the following questions requires that you do some homework on features and prices of potential replacements. Appliance manufacturers' and retailers' websites and sites that offer reviews, such as that of Consumer Reports, provide useful information quickly.

Because many appliances cost from nearly $1000 to many thousands, spending $75-$100 on a service call to get an accurate estimate of repair costs may make economic sense. Often, if you decide to repair the appliance, the service call fee is credited toward the total repair cost.

Reasons to repair

  • The appliance is still under warranty and the problem is covered.
  • Based on average life expectancy, the appliance still has enough service years in it to justify the repair. The following table, which is based on data from several consumer and manufacturer sources, notes typical longevity for average (not high end) models of various appliances:

    Refrigerator 9-13
    Freezer 10-20
    Range 13-17
    Dishwasher 9
    Washer 5-15
    Clothes Dryer 13
    Room Air Conditioner 5-7
  • Repair costs are reasonable. One rule of thumb identifies "reasonable" as "less than 50% of the cost of a new appliance."
  • How much will it cost to remove the existing appliance, install the new appliance, and dispose of the old appliance? These costs may add up and make the savings with a new appliance disappear.
  • Is it difficult to remove the appliance from the house? Having to tear out the appliance or breakdown the appliance or make changes to the house to get the old appliance through a doorway, for example, might influence your decision.
  • Has the current appliance given good service and do you particularly like the model? Simply not wanting to change can be a valid reason for repair.

Reasons to replace

  • The repairs will cost more than 50% of the cost of a new appliance.
  • The new model is more energy efficient. Compare the annual energy savings of the new model to the cost of running the old model. Energy efficiency savings may help the new appliance pay for itself over several years.
  • Does the new model have newer technology that you would like?
  • Will a new model provide additional features that are desirable or provide additional convenience and flexibility? Will you use these features?
  • Replacement parts may be hard to find. The older the appliance, the harder it is to find the parts. It is even hard to find parts for some newer models.
  • Replacement parts are expensive. Consider what the part is costing in comparison with the age of the machine. For example, if you replace a major part in a 7-year-old appliance, remember that all the other parts are still 7 years old.
  • Do you simply want a new appliance? If so, can you afford to purchase the appliance without wrecking the budget or going into too much debt (particularly high credit card or retail contract debt)?

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