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Should I Repair or Replace a Broken Appliance? – Here’s How to Decide

Let’s say you make a smoothie for breakfast. You load the blender with fruit and yogurt, press the “blend” button, and…nothing happens. Broken appliances can be a real drag and are especially common in old homes.

What do you do next?

You could try to get it repaired, but you’re not even sure where to find a repair shop these days. Even if you found one, they’re often costly. A new blender could cost around $100, so maybe the repair is still a better deal. But how can you be sure the blender won’t just break again?

Don’t let yourself end up in this situation. If you’ve got a broken blender – or a broken anything – sitting around, there are a few simple rules that can help you figure out whether to repair it or replace it.

Advantages of Repairing

There are several good reasons to repair things when they break instead of replacing them. Most important: it’s usually cheaper to repair an item. It doesn’t make sense to replace a leaky faucet for $100 if all it needs is a washer that costs less than $1.

Repairing is also less wasteful than replacing. This is especially important when trying to reduce your carbon footprint.

If you replace the whole faucet, not only are you out an extra $99, you’ve also got an old faucet to dispose. That’s a pretty hefty piece of metal to toss in your trash bin. If you have to pay for trash pickup, throwing out the old faucet will add to your costs – and even if you don’t, it’ll take up space in a landfill.

A new faucet also has environmental costs. There’s the damage done by mining the metal that went into it, and the energy used to manufacture it and ship it to the store. If you replace just the washer, you’re using far less material and energy.

Advantages of Replacing

Replacing a broken item has its advantages too. A brand-new item is likely to be in better shape than your old one. If your old faucet is dented or covered in grime you’ve never been able to scrub off, a new one will look better.

It may work better too. Replacing the old washer could stop your faucet from dripping for a while, but if the faucet is damaged internally, the new washer may wear out in a few months. So, a new faucet could be your best chance of keeping the drips away for good. Plus, if you choose a low-flow faucet, the new one could help cut your water bill.

Buying a new faucet also opens up other choices. Your local home center probably has dozens of different styles and finishes to choose from – traditional and modern, chrome and brass, single-handle and double-handle. So if you’ve never really liked the look of the old faucet, replacing it gives you a chance to pick a new one that fits your taste.

Last but not least, replacing an item is often less work than repairing it. Replacing a faucet washer only takes a few minutes – but if that doesn’t fix the drip, you could spend hours trying alternative approaches. By your third trip to the hardware store, buying a new faucet and being done with it starts to look like a pretty attractive option.

Replacing Broken Item Advantages

Questions to Ask

Repairing and replacing both have their perks. The problem is figuring out which is the best option. This is a complicated question because there are a lot of factors involved. No simple rule, such as “Replace it if it’s over eight years old,” is going to cover all of them.

Instead, examine all the factors involved in your particular case. The cost of the new item is obviously a big one, but also consider the age of the old item, the difficulty of the repair, and so on.

You can work your way through these details by asking yourself some basic questions:

1. How Hard Is It to Repair?

Some fixes you can do yourself. For example, if a button pops off your shirt, all you need to put it back on is a needle and thread and a few minutes. Simple DIY repairs like this are almost always worth doing. Even if they don’t save you much money, it’s very satisfying to see your hands turn something broken into something that works.

Even things you can’t fix yourself are often easy jobs for a trained professional. For instance, frugal-living expert Jeff Yeager writes at AARP that most broken electrical items have fixable problems, such as a faulty electrical cord or a worn-out belt. An electronics repair shop can fix these problems easily.

Other items can be trickier to fix. Modern electronic devices often depend on special parts that are expensive to replace. This makes replacing complex gadgets simpler (and often less expensive) than repairing them.

There’s also the question of whether you can even find a repair shop. Decades ago, it was possible to find a TV repair person or a shoemaker to re-sole your shoes. Nowadays, skilled repair artists are fewer and farther between. So if you have an item you can’t fix, and you can’t find someone else who can, repairing isn’t an option at all.

2. How Do the Costs Compare?

Sometimes even a complex repair is still worth doing. Car repairs are a good example. A new car is such a big expense that junking your old car every time it needs a repair – even a complicated, expensive repair – isn’t an option.

By contrast, other items are much cheaper to buy – and much more costly to fix. If you’ve got a broken smartphone and you don’t know how to fix it yourself, replacing it could cost less than taking it to a repair center. Similarly, it isn’t worth paying a tailor to take in an old shirt when you could buy a new one for $15 at a big-box store.

When balancing the costs of repairing or replacing an item, consumer experts often use a rule called “The 50% Rule.” If repairing your old item costs at least half as much as buying a new one, you should just go ahead and replace it. After all, something that’s already broken once could end up breaking again. If you have to fix it twice, spending half the replacement cost each time, you could have just bought a new one for the money you’ve sunk into patching up the old one.

If your gadget has already been repaired once, the experts at Consumer Reports say even 49% may be too much to spend on fixing it again. When the same item has broken twice, that’s a sign that it isn’t reliable. So unless the repair cost is cheap, replacing it could be a better bet. But, if your broken item is still under warranty, the repeated repairs aren’t costing you anything, so just fix it again and hope for the best.

3. How Worn Out Is It?

How long will repairing your item will actually extend its life. There’s no point in spending money to fix something that needs to be replaced in a few months anyway.

For instance, if your 20-year-old water heater breaks, there’s not much point in trying to fix it. According to handymen McGarry and Madsen, the average lifespan of a water heater is only 12 to 14 years, so you’re lucky your old heater has lasted this long. The only time it’s worth fixing something that’s already on its last legs is when you can do a quick DIY patch job to buy yourself a little time while shopping for a new one.

However, even old appliances can be worth repairing if they’re well made. Older appliances are often more than modern ones. If you own one of these old workhorses, a simple repair could keep it chugging along for several more years.

The same goes for any other product that’s built to last. For instance, say you’ve been wearing the same high-quality pair of leather boots for 10 years, and now the soles are worn out. As long as the uppers are in good shape, it’s probably worth spending $50 to have them re-soled.

By contrast, anything that was cheap to start with probably isn’t worth fixing. If your old boots only cost $15 and they wore out in one year, it isn’t worth slapping a pair of $50 soles on them. Chances are, the uppers will just wear out in another year, making it a waste of $50.

Worn Out Items Worth Fixing

4. Is It Costing You Money?

Old appliances often cost more to run than new ones. Thanks to new efficiency standards, modern fridges, washers, and other appliances use much less energy than old relics from the ’70s and ’80s.

For example, according to ENERGY STAR, a refrigerator dating from before 1980 uses more than $300 worth of electricity each year. A new Energy Star fridge would cost only $46 a year to run. That means the new fridge would save more than $1,170 in energy costs over its first five years – possibly more than the purchase price.

Old appliances aren’t the only thing around your house that can cost you money. Old single-pane windows jack up your energy bill by letting heated or cooled air out of your house. Crumbling plumbing fixtures often use more water than newer ones, adding to your water bill.

To compare the true cost of repairing and replacing an item, take these ongoing costs into account. Simply calculate the five-year cost of both the new item and the repair. Here’s how:

  1. Determine how much the old item is costing you per year. Include all the costs of running it, such as water and electricity costs for a washing machine. Then multiply that number by five. The result is its five-year operating cost.
  2. Find out how much it will cost to repair the old item. Add that cost to the number you got in the first step. This is the total five-year cost of keeping the old item in working condition.
  3. Now calculate how much a replacement would cost to run over that same five-year period. Add that cost to its purchase price. This is the total five-year cost of the new version.
  4. Compare the two numbers. If the first one is lower, that means it’s cheaper to repair the item than replace it. If it’s higher, replacement is the more affordable option.

5. Will Its Value Increase?

Most things decline in value as they age. For example, a one-year-old car is worth nearly 20% less than a brand-new one, according to Edmunds. Clothes, appliances, and furniture also lose value as they grow older and more worn out.

However, there are some items – such as antiques and collectibles – that increase in value over time. If your defective item is an antique – or something that might one day become an antique – the money you put into repairing it is an investment. Some day, that old chair could be worth many times what you spend today to fix it.

It’s not always obvious when something you own is likely to gain in value. For instance, frugal-living expert Jeff Yeager tells the story of a “clunky” old set of JBL speakers he owned as a teenager. He thought they looked dated and wanted to replace them with a newer, cheaper set. But his father vetoed that plan – and today, those old “classics” are worth nearly as much as his 401k account.

6. What’s the Disposal Cost?

Sometimes, the cost of replacing an item doesn’t end when you buy a new one at the store – you may have to pay to dispose of the old one. For example, in some towns, you have to pay extra to put out bulky items (such as appliances) for trash pickup.

Before you decide to replace an item, find out how you can get rid of the old one. If this will cost you extra, add those disposal costs when you’re calculating the five-year cost of replacement. That extra cost could be enough to tip the balance and make repairing the cheaper option.

Remember that replacing an old item doesn’t have to mean throwing it out. If the old, broken item only needs a minor repair – or if it could be used for spare parts – someone else might be willing to take it off your hands. Try listing it on your local Freecycle group, or just put it out by the curb with a sign that says “free.” If anybody wants it, you can avoid the cost of disposal and help your community.

Replacing Disposal Cost

7. Do You Love It?

In many cases, deciding whether to repair or replace is a simple matter of dollars and cents. But sometimes, it’s more complicated. If the item that’s broken is something you truly love, then a new one can never replace it.

For example, suppose you have an old bicycle that you bought as a teen with the money from your first job. It’s not as fancy as a newer bike, but it was the first big purchase you ever made, and you’ve ridden it for so many years that it feels like a part of you. To you, that old bike’s value is more than the price it would fetch on Craigslist. So even if repairing it would cost more than buying a new bicycle, it’s worth it on a personal level.

Just as it’s worth paying more to keep something you love, it’s not worth paying to keep something you hate. If your bathroom has an old, mustard-yellow toilet that you just can’t stand the sight of, having it break down gives you a chance to upgrade. Even if you could repair it with just a $5 wax ring, it could be worth spending an extra $95 for a new toilet that you enjoy.

Getting the Best Deal

Whether you repair or replace, you want to get the best value. There’s no point in spending money on a repair that won’t hold up or a replacement that won’t last. Here are several tips on how to get the best possible deal.

The Best Deal on Repairs

It’s always cheapest to repair an item yourself – if you know how. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could make the problem worse. For instance, suppose you take apart a broken clock and then can’t figure out how to adjust it. At that point, having it put back together may cost more than buying a new clock.

That doesn’t mean you always need to seek out a professional for jobs that are new to you. Before you shell out money for repairs, try doing an Internet search on the repair, such as “fix leaky toilet.” Often, a quick search will give you step-by-step instructions.

Sometimes you can even find videos that walk you through the process. There are many how-to videos on YouTube posted by both professionals and homeowners. Another useful site is RepairClinic, which features more than 1,400 videos showing how to fix all sorts of appliances, lawn care tools, and HVAC equipment.

If you can’t fix it yourself, go to a local repair shop. In a 2013 survey, Consumer Reports found that people who used independent shops were happier with the results than those who used factory service. Local shops are usually cheaper too – especially for large appliances and lawn equipment.

There is one catch, however: If your product is still under warranty, you have to use a factory-authorized repair shop. If you don’t, you could void the warranty. In this case, all you can do is make sure the repair person is trained to handle your product.

The Best Deal on Replacement

If you decide to replace your product, do some research before you buy. Check reviews at ConsumerSearch or The Wirecutter to find a new one that will work well and hold up over time. You can also consult Consumer Reports online if you have a subscription, or check the printed issues at your local library.

When shopping for a replacement, plan ahead. Nearly everything breaks sooner or later, so it’s best to buy a product that’s easy to repair. For instance, when you buy an appliance, make sure that it’s easy to find parts for it. If you’re buying a car, find out which repair shops in your area know how to work on that model.

Even for a smaller purchase, such as a pair of shoes, planning ahead can save money in the long run. If you buy sturdy shoes with soles that can be replaced when they wear out, you should be able to re-sole them three to ten times before the uppers wear out. All in all, you could get 20 years of life out of one pair of shoes. That’s a lot cheaper in the long run than buying a new pair of cheap shoes every year.

One thing that’s not worth paying extra for is a warranty. Consumer Reports found most products don’t break until after the warranty is up. Even when they do, the savings aren’t that great. On average, people who bought a warranty or service contract paid $136 for it, while those who paid for repairs out-of-pocket spent only $16 more.

Worse still, the people who got their repairs done under warranty weren’t as happy with the results. They were more likely than other people to wait two weeks or longer for a repair. They were also more likely to have the repair done incorrectly.

Once you’ve bought your new item, take care of it. Read the manual, and follow its advice about maintenance. For clothing and shoes, follow the care instructions on the label. An item that’s handled properly won’t wear out as fast, so you’re more likely to get your money’s worth out of it.

Replacement Best Deal

Final Word

Getting things fixed certainly isn’t as easy as it used to be. As items like clothing and electronics have become cheaper, many repair shops have gone out of business.

Still, fixing items yourself can be easier these days. The Internet makes it simple to find out how to fix all kinds of things at home. Online guides can show you how to repair clothing, books, appliances, and even computers.

So when something breaks, at least look into the possibility of repairing it. If it’s fixable, you can save a lot of money and prevent waste. If not, at least you can feel confident that replacing it was the right choice.

Do you usually prefer to repair things that break, or replace them?

Amy Livingston
Amy Livingston is a freelance writer who can actually answer yes to the question, "And from that you make a living?" She has written about personal finance and shopping strategies for a variety of publications, including ConsumerSearch.com, ShopSmart.com, and the Dollar Stretcher newsletter. She also maintains a personal blog, Ecofrugal Living, on ways to save money and live green at the same time.

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