You have a refrigerator that just went on the fritz or it’s a dryer that isn’t drying or a stove that just gave up. Whatever the appliance, you are confronted with that age old question: shall I fix it or buy a new one?
Beyond the energy efficiency considerations, the repair-or-replace decision can get tricky. Making a proper decision can depend on weighing a host of factors including the age of the broken appliance, repair costs, replacement costs, hidden costs and new technology.
It's a no-brainer if the appliance is still under warranty. Chances are under-warranty appliances that break down are new enough to be energy efficient and the repair cost will be zero or negligible at best. In the case of an appliance still under warranty, the manufacturer will cover the expense of the repair or repair it themselves. Later in an appliance's life, however, repair costs become out-of-pocket expenses that demand scrutiny.
The average useful life of a major appliance is about 14 or 15 years, but it varies depending upon the item: 14 to 19 years for refrigerators and freezers; 14 to 18 years for ovens and ranges; 11 to 13 years for dishwashers; 11 to 14 years for clothes washers; 13 years for clothes dryers.
Typically, a few years or more before the end of an appliance's useful life, repair costs will begin to reach the point where the traditional repair-or-replace rule-of-thumb should be considered -- with perhaps one exception. Labor accounts for 75 percent of the cost of repair and a handy person may be able to repair the item at a substantial savings. Or you may be able to find an honest repairman who will make these repairs at a cost saving advantage to you. If the repairman can get the appliance back on its feet at a substantial savings it is something to consider.
There are also some handy individuals who might even be able to make the repair on their own. This is often an overlooked option for home owners with appliances that are out of warranty, but perhaps not quite old enough to generate repair bills large enough to warrant buying a replacement.
You can save up to 75 percent of the cost of a repair by doing it yourself. Usually, the parts you need are inexpensive. A good rule-of-thumb is not to spend more than two-thirds of the replacement cost on the repair if your machine is five years old.
In any event, when weighing repair and replacement costs, don't overlook special expenses including delivery and installation costs and fees to remove and dispose old appliances. You may also have to consider the expense of replacing built-in or smaller-sized appliances with larger appliances that may not fit through doors or past railings in older homes.
On the other side of the cost calculation, along with energy savings, don't forget to include savings from recycling and energy efficient product rebates available from retailers, local utility companies and local governments.
Finally, you may not be able to put a dollar amount on new features, but conveniences such as quick-chill compartments and water dispensers in refrigerators and automatic dishwasher cycles can add user value to appliances -- provided the features will be used. Don't overlook the value of appliances with the latest features, but don't pay more for a feature-laden appliance if you will not use those features.
The bottom line is that you should replace your broken appliance only if the repair is going to cost more than half the price of a new model.