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Appliances: Repair or Replace?

If your refrigerator starts making a racket or your washer stops spinning, you know you’re going to be pulling out the plastic soon. But how do you decide whether to repair your appliance or replace it altogether? Here are a few tips to help you make the right decision.

What went wrong?

When one of your appliances breaks down, try and diagnose the problem. You can hire a service person to do this, or you can try to figure out the problem yourself with the help of free resources like Repairclinic.com, Acmehowto.com and Doityourself.com. These websites are just a few that offer troubleshooting steps for appliances.

Can you fix it yourself?

Once you know what the problem is you can decide if you want to fix it yourself, which is almost always a huge money saver, or if you want to hire a professional. Chris Hall, president of Repairclinic.com, says that most repairs are easier to carry out than people think. If you have wrench and aren’t afraid to use it (and you won’t void a warranty), fixing the appliance yourself may be the best, and cheapest option. Websites such as Howstuffworks.com can familiarize you with the inner workings of just about any appliance you can dream of, and DIY and repair sites such as Repairclinic.com and Diynetwork.com offer step-by-step guides to show you how to repair those appliances.

Should you hire a pro?

Even if you are handy with tools, fixing an appliance yourself isn’t always the best choice. Jill Notini, vice president, communications and marketing for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, says that DIYers should keep in mind that if they do attempt to fix their appliance, it could void the warranty—make sure you check first. Also, if an appliance needs a repair that’s beyond your skill or comfort level, then of course you should hire a professional, especially if you need an electrical problem repaired. Electrical repairs should be handled by a licensed professional—playing with electricity is often as dangerous as playing with fire.

Or should you just replace it?

Repairclinic.com’s Hall offers a good general rule of thumb for making this decision; if the cost to repair an appliance is about half the cost of replacing the appliance, you should consider replacing it.

Here are a few additional tips to help you figure out the true cost replacing or repairing:

  • Is there a delivery/removal/installation fee? If you buy a new appliance, you may have to pay for removal of the old appliance and/or delivery of the new one, so add that to the equation. Some appliance retailers will remove your old appliance and deliver the new one for free as part of the sale. (If the seller doesn’t offer such a deal, try asking for it.) There can also be an extra installation change for appliances that use water, like refrigerators, or ones that require work to install, like over-the-range microwaves. Check the store’s policies before you buy.
  • If your appliance has a warranty, does it cover labor? What if your appliance is still under warranty when it breaks down? Hall says that if your appliance is covered by a partial or limited warranty, for example if it only covers the cost of the parts, you’ll still have to add up the labor costs to see if it’s still worth repairing the appliance rather than replacing it. If you have a warranty that covers both parts and labor, then a simple repair may make more sense. Some warrantees even cover a full replacement of the appliance.
  • Would replacing significantly reduce energy costs? In this era of green technology, you’ll definitely want to factor in how much a new energy-saving appliance will save you vs. repairing your current model. Notini says that new appliances tend to have much lower operating costs than older appliances. For example, she says that replacing an 8 year old clothes washer with an Energy Star model can save up to $135 per year. Factor those kinds of numbers into your repair/replace decision. On the other hand, Hall points out that some appliances, particularly smaller ones such as microwaves, don’t use enough energy to see significant savings if you opt for a green model.

    The 3 big appliances that you DO want green versions of are your refrigerator, washing machine, and dishwasher. If you’re thinking of replacing or repairing one of those appliances, take into consideration how much money you can save in the long run by purchasing a new energy-saving model. 
  • How old is your current appliance? If it’s pushing 10 or 15 years, you’re probably better off replacing it, preferably with a green model if one is available.

Everyone wants to make the “right” decision when an appliance breaks down—the decision that makes the most economical sense. As it turns out, finding the right answer is not as agonizing as you might expect. If you can do a little troubleshooting and a little math, you’ll find the right answer to your appliance conundrum in a snap.

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