Repair or Replace? Which Makes the Best Sense?

We have all been there, haven’t we? We have a new appliance or device at home and then suddenly out of nowhere, it just stops functioning. You recently spent $700 on that thing and now it doesn’t work. What should you do? It’s under a warranty, right? It should be fixed! Should you return it and get another one? Can you return it? What happens if it gets repaired? Deciding whether to repair or replace it is an expensive guessing game.

Repair or Replace? Which Makes the Best Sense?

One thing that’s important to know is that you don’t have to throw good money after bad. Repairing items isn’t always the best way to get an appliance or item to work properly again. Let’s take a look at some facts from a Consumer Reports study published in January 2014. They surveyed nearly 30,000 subscribers who own dozens of specific items of varying age to see what they did when an item needed a repair or replacement and they discovered several interesting things.

Items such as TV’s and computer laptops are breaking down and needing repair less often that they did just 5 years ago. If that is true, why does it feel to us as if it happens so frequently? The answer to that is that all of the electronic things we buy and use like TV’s and computers have become more technologically complex than their generational predecessors and they have slowed down their faulty performance rates. But when they do have a problem, they have a dramatic memorable failure, which comes weeks or months after purchase and it’s a shocking surprise! About 53% of the items that have any problem in the first year of ownership have a complete failure and most of all items do not have any at all. Of course when you buy any electronic or expensive item you need to do a little research to find out the information about its performance history.

When checking Consumer Reports, you can research the models, accessories, and the performances of almost every model sold by brand and rate of repair and failure. You’ll also find all warranty information and even find extended warranty information. In addition you can research manufacturer websites and private feedback boards designed for people to discuss issues and make better decisions about what they can do if a problem occurs.

If you have a warranty in effect, it is a requirement to use the warranty and repair the item unless the retail store or the manufacturer waives that procedure. Going outside of the warranty will usually nullify it for future incidences. But do warranty repairs actually increase customer satisfaction?

The answer depends on the repairmen and all the usual particulars like age, experience, training level, and familiarity with the problem. If it’s a well-documented issue they can make it go away and save you money over an outside repair bill.

On the other hand…when my wife and I moved into my current home, we replaced all the kitchen appliances (which were way overdue for replacement). Everything went along smoothly for a few months until we began having various issues with the dishwasher. It was under warranty so we had it repaired not once, but twice, and despite lots of communication with the manufacturer, it never was returned to its original glory.  The problems had gotten so bad that I was handwashing all the dishes for at least a year before we bit the bullet and purchased a new one from a different manufacturer.

Rule of Thumb to Remember

Never spend more than 50% of the cost of an item for a repair, and if it’s a second repair and out of warranty, it pays to just replace that item.

Further results of the Consumer Reports survey said that 77% of all repairs to electronic or motorized items were covered under the free warranty during the first 30-365 days of its coverage. Contracts for repair under an extended warranty amounted to less than 15% of all repairs and have proven not to be a good investment to buy. The average cost of all of these extended warranties is about 15% more than the cost of the repairs themselves!

Often the best way to handle product problems may be DIY, or Do It Yourself! Information for DIY repairs can be found in places like YouTube videos, manufacturer comment boards, and manuals that come with the products, as well as numerous other websites handling specific DIY home repair information. Look there first before anyplace else to save money and time. Just remember, that if you go the DIY route, you’re likely voiding the manufacturer’s warranty.

In summary, the best advice is to consider these 3 big concerns before a decision is made to repair or replace anything that breaks down.

They are:

  1. How much does the item cost to replace?
  2. Is it covered under a free warranty repair and will it be returned to its ultimate best performance? Or what is the cost of an out-of-warranty repair?
  3. Does the age of the item mean that new technology would replace the item and provide even better results than fixing the broken one with limited cost?

Home appliances, motorized equipment, and computer items and accessories are becoming an ever-increasing requirement in our daily lives. The good news is that they are pretty reliable. The bad news is that when they not, they will dramatically fail. That’s exactly why you have to look at these questions before you take any action!

Have you had some issues with big purchase appliances or devices? Did you have a warranty or an extended warranty to cover repair and or replacement? What would you do if this happens to you?

Image courtesy of Mister GC at freedigitalphotos.net (with changes)

33 Comments

  1. You’re reading my mind, Gary. We have a problem with our washing machine. Sometimes it forgets what cycle it’s on and stops, or goes back to the beginning. It’s 8 years old and no longer under warranty. I’m convinced it’s something simple, like the magnet under the lid isn’t working properly, or the control board needs replacing. The control board would cost around $125. But then there’s the labor. I’ve seen YouTube videos but I don’t want to mess around with electrics. Finding someone reputable to figure it out isn’t easy. But I’d rather spend $250 to $300 to fix it than buy a new one. Especially since we don’t expect to live here much more than another year.

  2. Emily @ JohnJaneDoe

    We are way more likely to repair than most, but that’s because as the managing director of Camp Dad, handy hubby has lots of time and the skills to do most work himself. If he were lest adept to working on machinery, we would probably not have that option. That said, it means we have a lot of older appliances that are a lot less “smart.” The newer stuff is much more difficult to repair.

    1. Thanks, Emily. I didn’t address the fact that I myself am terrible at repairing anything. I have learned over the years that you can’t install a ceiling fan with a butter knife. A screwdriver is a much better tool. You’re fortunate to have a handyman around the house although it is a tradeoff with the “smart” appliances.

  3. I like your rule of thumb. That seems like a good number to try to remember for cars too. Mine is still doing ok (knock on wood), but it’s getting up there in mileage and I’ve definitely started to put a little thought into how much I’m willing to put into it to keep it running before getting a new one… I’d rather be prepared with that number in mind when things start to go rather than trying to sort it out when bad things are happening and I’m emotionally invested in the car.

    1. Mel, if you are diligent about the maintenance of your car, I’m sure it will last longer and you’ll have the time to prepare and save for a new one. When it comes to the appliances around your house, unfortunately you never really get a warning or think about routine maintenance. That’s where you really can get caught off guard. But the emotional investment in a car is a little different.

  4. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank

    Because I have DIY skills, I prefer repair. I believe that I don’t replace an item if it has been repaired for so many times or it is not repairable any more. This has been a practice at home and I am sure that everyone would agree with me. If there’s warranty and for newly bought items, I prefer replacement over repair.

  5. I’ve been pretty lucky with appliances and electronics. But when something does break I’m always tempted to try to repair it first rather than replace it. I always assume I’m saving money that way. But I love your rule of thumb – sometimes repairing items is just not worth it. Great article!

    1. Thanks, Michelle. Making an attempt to repair is a good start, no doubt. My experience has been to try that but depending on age and cost, sometimes it’s just more practical to replace. I was just commenting the other day about a TV repair shop that I passed thinking I haven’t seen one of those in ages. It seems today in that category, replacement is first and repair doesn’t really apply.

  6. I love your rule about never spending more than 50% of the cost of an item for repair.
    We had our t.v.(flat screen) repaired a couple of years back. I actually think now that we could replace our t.v. better than paying the money on repairing it. The T.V. repairman said he at that time he probably will have to go out of business. He is no longer there.

    1. TV’s continue to surprise me in how low the retail prices have dropped. As large screen TVs now in 1080p are available for $200-300. The newest technology (and that’s what they’re hoping you’ll really buy) 4K and 8K continue to cost thousands. So if you can be happy with second-tier technology, replacing your TV makes a lot of sense. The TV repairman that you speak of has gone the way of the payphone booth…hard to find.

  7. Mrs. CTC

    A great! I was considering replacing our coffee machine, your rules just gave me three very good reasons to do so.

    I didn’t want to do it just for convenience, so thanks 😉

  8. Our Cuisinart started smoking something fierce a few months ago and we thought we were out of luck because didn’t turn up any repair suggestions but I dialed up the company anyway (after hunting for their number for an hour!) and they shipped out a replacement, free of charge, within two weeks.

    It cost us $4 to recycle the dead unit since they kept promising to schedule a pick up and never did. That’s still plenty cheap for me!

  9. The repair vs. replace debate is multi-faceted. 1. Can you afford to replace? Maybe it is 70% of the replacement cost to repair but if you don’t have the replacement cost..2. Do you want to replace? If you hate what you have, or know that the new model is much better, then why bother pricing repair if you can afford to replace. On the other hand, if you have an old dishwasher that, until it broke, washed dishes until they were clean and then dried them dry and hot; fix it–you can’t replace it, at least not for a reasonable price. New dishwashers are more about saving energy and water than about washing dishes. We hate ours. My appliance guy told me to keep fixing my washer–they don’t make them like that anymore; the new ones are much more efficient. I wonder if they wash clothes like my dishwasher washes dishes? I’ll pay to fix the washer. With a car, for an old car with little value, I’ll pay the value of the car or maybe even more to fix an isolated problem that will put the car back on the road; I won’t pay it to fix major body damage or to repair a problem that is really one more symptom that the car is shot. In other words if a rock breaks the windshield on an old car that is running well, I don’t care how the price of fixing the windshield compares to the cost of the car (though I’d probably look at getting a cheaper “good enough” job done). If this is the third repair to the electrical system in as many months, I’m going to ditch the car.

  10. I almost always try to repair than replace the product if the problem is not too technical. If it’s technical, then, I always consider whether to replace or further repair. If it’s more costly to repair, then, I would just replace the product.

    If it’s less costly to repair, then, I would still think if it’s better to replace the product or just repair because I am also looking at the life and other maintenance costs of the product. Having said that, I almost always end up repairing the product.

    1. Allan, it’s great if you can make your decision based on the savings that is involved. I guess my raising the question or whether to repair or replace goes beyond just the cost because there are so many new products that can outperform older products. Sometimes spending a little more to replace can actually save you money in its usage. So it’s a tough decision.

  11. My rule of thumb is to chuck small appliances that are over 2 years old and no longer under warranty. My reason for this is because these tend to be a waste of time to have repaired. In my experience, they break down again after only a couple of months after getting repaired.

    For large appliances like washing machines, anything that’s over 5 years old and no longer under warranty needs to be replaced. I figure I’ve already had my money’s worth for the 5 years or so of service it has given me. 🙂

    1. Jason, I appreciate your comments. For me, I would still think that a repair might be warranted because most appliances are intended to last longer than what your rule of thumb calls for. I think it really depends on what it would cost to repair versus replace for me. As long as you have a system that works for you, that’s great.

  12. Zequek Estrada

    I’d imagine that deciding whether to repair or replace appliances is a hassle. I know if I ever have to ask that question my husband and I would probably be at opposing ends. We’re complete opposites. I’d assume that getting a professional opinion would be a good solution.

  13. That’s a good point to check your warranty first. It can be a cost saving idea to have the manufacturer repair the item first. I have a really old tv that stopped working though, so I’ll have to use something other than the warranty.

  14. Oliver Neely

    I think the problem is that many new appliances are seen as “replaceable” because they aren’t built to last like they used to be. So you may spend say $200-$300 on an appliance, by the time you have paid the callout fee etc.. you may as well have a new appliance. If you spent more than $500 on your appliance and it’s not too old, then a repair is probably more advised to save money.

    1. It’s a good point, Oliver, about newer appliances not being built to last. In fact, some items simply cannot be repaired because of the labor involved versus replacement, i.e. televisions. I still like the rule of thumb though that says if it costs less than half a new one, it might be worth repairing if you can find a local person to do that.

  15. Excellent post! I have always maintained, if regular maintenance procedures are observed then there is no reason that an electrical appliance would not last its complete life span. But if it is damaged so much so that repairing it is expensive then it is always better to buy a new one, as new products come up with better features, are sturdier and give us a better value for our money.

  16. Nice and informative article. Thanks for sharing the information with us. When it comes to the appliance, people sometimes find it difficult to choose between repair and replace.But the information you shared definitely will help people make the right decision.

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