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Repair or Replace: How to Assess Appliance Costs

Kristen Campbell  |  April 18, 2022

Dealing with a malfunctioning appliance is never fun, but deciding what to do about it shouldn’t feel like guesswork. Experts weigh in on when to mend and when to let them go.

We’ve all been there, staring at a soggy load of half-washed socks or the waterfall of indecipherable food remnants we never hoped to see again. 

Once we’ve cleaned up the mess, we’re left with the age-old question: Repair or replace?

As inevitable as the situation is, such events often seem a surprise — and never the fun kind. 

So let’s take a moment now, when hopefully you’re not in the midst of muck, to examine the options. 

Tom Kraeutler, nationally syndicated host of The Money Pit, analyzes the question and provides a chart breaking down the issue. For example, he writes in the accompanying article on The Money Pit’s website, it’s worth spending $500 on a compressor repair for a $1,500 refrigerator, given that such an appliance, at age seven, has “low risk of a repetitive failure.” With an appliance that age, the chart illuminates and Kraeutler writes, it’s fine to spend up to 40 percent of the replacement cost on repair.

An additional factor to bear in mind is whether you’re dealing with a built-in appliance, and replacement would involve meeting specific dimensions and installation requirements, notes Carolyn Forte, Executive Director, Home Appliances & Cleaning Products Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute.

Some appliances, such as countertop microwaves, however, are disposable, Kraeutler observes.

“I think a trap you can fall into is just trying to keep the old one going” and not recognizing that as the appliance gets older, the need for consecutive repairs increases, he says. 

As Forte notes, “in general, appliances don’t last as long now as they did years ago.”

Hopefully, however, they are more efficient.

To that end, when it comes to appliances, Kraeutler advises purchasing an Energy Star-rated model.

As Forte points out, new refrigerators have features to keep food fresher longer, and washers and dryers have cycles to take better care of fabrics, so “you’re likely not wasting food or replacing clothing as often.” 

It’s important, she observes, to look at the big picture and evaluate what a new appliance offers versus what your old one provides. (You can check out some of the institute’s appliance reviews here.)

Supply chain issues may add an additional factor to the equation these days. 

Recalling a recent dryer repair he completed, Kraeutler notes that the cost of a new such appliance has increased. Fortunately, he was able to acquire a replacement part and fixed the appliance himself. 

If you’re careful, a do-it-yourselfer and know enough to stay safe, he says, “there’s a lot more you can do today than ever before because information’s more readily available.” 

Obviously, this can save you a lot. As Forte notes, it’s often not the parts, but the labor that drives up the cost of a repair.

All that said, is there any chance all those warranties floating around out there could save you time, trouble and money? 

Not so fast. 

In an online Money Pit article taking a deeper look at the issue, Kraeutler advises checking to see what’s covered as well as if such coverage is likely to be needed. Everything is not as simple as you might think, according to Kraeutler, who says he’s generally not a fan of extended warranties. 

As Forte notes, most appliances come with full one-year warranties, and limited warranties on major parts for subsequent years. She adds that some companies will step in to help if a major failure occurs outside the warranty to maintain good customer relations, “though that may take a bit of effort on the consumer’s part to get, and you can’t count on that.”

She also adds that appliances covered by the Good Housekeeping Seal are protected with their Limited Warranty for two years from the date of purchase.

Generally, Forte, of the Good Housekeeping Institute, writes, “we don’t recommend extended warranties.” The exceptions, she notes, “might be for new technologies that haven’t yet been proven in the marketplace or, provided the cost of the extended warranty isn’t too high, for seniors and others who want the peace of mind the extra coverage provides and don’t want the hassles of figuring out who to call and how to get service. You should always know exactly what the extended warranty covers in terms of parts and labor for the repair, for how long, how to schedule a service call and who will be coming to do the repair.”

So, as always, read the fine print, and don’t wait to make good use of your appliance. “A consumer should always make sure to try and use all the features of a new appliance within the first year,“ Forte writes, “to make sure everything is functioning before the full manufacturer’s warranty expires.”


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