Should you repair or replace a failing appliance?

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What to do if a household appliance like a dishwasher breaks down? Repair or replace with a new one?

Prices can be high for both options these days.

Carolyn Nerenberg was incredibly frustrated when we caught up with her in April with a refrigerator that kept making a watery mess.

“We wanted to use the ice and water mechanism,” she said, “and it doesn’t work. It’s leaking all over the fridge.”

The experts advise

So what should you do if your device fails?

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

“If it’s half the cost of a new one or more,” he said, “we generally point them to a new one.”

Fortunately, the device shortages of 2020 and 2021 have largely eased, so in most cases you won’t have to wait six months if you need a new device.

His rule of thumb for throwing away and replacing:

  • The repair costs are almost the same as the replacement costs.
  • You can no longer find parts.

“Some manufacturers haven’t been making control boards for as long as we think they should,” he said.

One problem: Today’s refrigerator or washing machine may be much more efficient than Mom’s old model, but they also contain a lot of high-tech electronics that can break down much more quickly.

Michael Cornell agrees. He is a repair expert at Asurion, which offers advanced protection plans.

“Small microprocessors, switches and relays,” he said. “Things break very quickly.”

He says to get an expert’s opinion first because some appliances can be repaired on site, such as a refrigerator that we found a crew with simply had a clogged pipe.

“It’s just a drain that we cleaned out,” technician Trevor Murrell told us.

Also consider the lifespan of your device.

  • Cornell says it makes sense to repair if it’s only two to three years old.
  • However, if it’s six or seven years, he says, think twice before paying several hundred dollars for a repair.

“Although we’re going to be swapping out components right now to get it working again,” Cornell said, “that doesn’t mean you won’t have other failures along the way.”

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

But what is the best way to avoid many breakdowns in the first place? Maintenance.

Michael Cornell recommends reading the Care and Use Guide that accompanies each unit.

“These three sites right here can literally save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars,” he said.

A little reading and a little maintenance can mean you’re not wasting your money.
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