Appliance Breakdowns: Repair or Replace?

When a major appliance in your home breaks down, your budget can really take a hit. Replacing a major appliance can be pricey, so you may want to put off the purchase for as long as possible. If the cost of repairing a major appliance is low, it makes sense to keep the machine running a little longer.

But repairing may not always be the best option, financially and otherwise. Some repairs are so expensive that it’s better to just buy a new appliance. Appliances only last so long, and even if you could get more life out of one, you might find that a new appliance offers greater functionality and increased energy efficiency that makes the high cost of replacement worth it for your family. Here’s what you need to know to make the right decision.

Compare the Cost of Repair with the Cost of Replacement

The most important thing to do when weighing whether to repair or replace an appliance is to apply the 50 percent rule. The 50 percent rule says that if the cost of repairing an appliance would be higher than 50 percent of the cost of buying a new one, you should go ahead and buy the new one.

Of course, if you’re looking at a potentially complicated new appliance installation, like if you were replacing a built-in appliance, for example, it might be worth paying more than 50 percent of the value of the appliance to put off facing installation costs a little longer, so that’s something to consider. However, if you experience a catastrophic failure of an appliance that will bring high labor and parts costs, it’s still worth scrapping the old appliance. For example, if you call in a service professional for a refrigerator repair and discover that the compressor has gone out, you’re looking at $500 just for the part. You’re better off just buying a new refrigerator.

Consider the Age of the Appliance

Once your appliance has exceeded its useful life span entirely, it’s on borrowed time, and a breakdown likely means you can face additional repairs in the near future. But how many years can you expect an appliance to last? It varies somewhat according to the brand of appliance, how well you’ve maintained it over the years, and how much you’ve used it (a washing machine owned by a childless couple, for example, will get much less use than one owned by a family with five kids at home). Generally, however, you should expect the following useful life spans from your major home appliances:

  • Refrigerator: 13 years
  • Garbage disposal: 12 years
  • Dishwasher: 9 years
  • Gas range: 15 years
  • Electric range: 13 years
  • Range hood: 14 years
  • Clothes washer: 10 years
  • Dryer: 13 years
  • Freezer: 11 years
  • Exhaust fan: 10 years
  • Microwave: 9 years

If an appliance has exceeded more than half of its useful life span, then buying a new one will be more cost-effective. 

An Upgrade Could Save You Money

Often, even if the cost of a suggested repair passes the 50 percent test, you may want to consider replacing the appliance anyway because advances in technology are bringing consumers much greater functionality and energy efficiency in new appliances. For example, today’s new clothes washers and dryers have much higher load capacities and a plethora of new settings and features, like built-in sinks for hand-washing. Many new appliances can also be controlled and monitored via smartphone app. You might not necessarily need to buy a new appliance, but you might enjoy the features and functionality on a new machine.

Plus, buying a new appliance could save your family money. Newer appliances are much more energy efficient than older ones. A new refrigerator could use as little as half the energy your old one used, cutting your energy costs significantly. Even if your old appliance isn’t that old, you can expect to spend about 20 percent less money to operate a new, energy-efficient model.

When you’re faced with a broken-down appliance, the last thing you want to do is shell out hundreds of dollars for a repair only to have the appliance break down again a couple months later. When you take care to replace appliances as needed, you won’t have to face that scenario — and when repairs get expensive, it’s better to buy a nice, new model anyway.

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