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Should you repair or replace a failing appliance?

When to have it fixed, when to purchase a new one
Durable Goods
Posted at 6:00 AM, Sep 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-12 07:56:06-04

What do you do when a household appliance, like a dishwasher, is on the fritz? Repair it, or replace it with a new one?

Prices can be high for either option these days.

Carolyn Nerenberg was frustrated beyond belief when we met her back in April with a refrigerator that kept making a watery mess.

"We went to use the ice and the water mechanism," she said, "and it doesn't work. It leaks all over the inside of the refrigerator."

The experts offer advice

So what should you do when your appliance is failing?

Todd Lahey, president of a repair shop called A1 Appliance Service Company, says there are two scenarios when he suggests tossing it:

"If it's half the cost of a new one or more," he said, "we'll generally point them to a new one."

Luckily, the appliance shortages of 2020 and 2021 have mostly eased, so if you need a new one, you should not have to wait six months in most cases.

His rule of thumb for when to toss and replace:

  • The repair cost is almost equal to the replacement cost.
  • You can no longer find parts.

"Some manufacturers, they don't make control boards as long as we think they should," he said.

One problem: while today's refrigerator or washing machine is a lot more efficient than mom's old model, they also contain a lot of high-tech electronics that can break down a lot more quickly.

Michael Cornell agrees. He is a repair expert with Asurion, which provides extended protection plans.

"Small microprocessors, switches, and relays," he said. "Those things go bad really quickly."

He says first to get an expert opinion because some appliances can be fixed on the spot, such as a refrigerator we found a crew working on that simply had a clogged tube.

"It's just a drain we got that cleared out," technician Trevor Murrell told us.

Also, consider the lifespan of your appliance.

  • Cornell says a repair makes sense if it is just two to three years old.
  • If it is six or seven years, though, he says think hard before paying several hundred dollars for a repair.

"Even though we're gonna be replacing components to get it back up to steam at that moment," Cornell said, "it doesn't mean you're not gonna have other failures along the way."

After multiple repairs, Carolyn Nerenberg says she finally got a brand new fridge and was lucky to have it replaced under warranty.

But the best way to prevent many breakdowns in the first place? Maintenance.

Michael Cornell says to check the "care and use" manual that comes with any appliance.

"Those three pages right there can save you literally hundreds if not thousands of dollars," he said.

A little bit of reading, plus a little bit of upkeep, can mean you don't waste your money.
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