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Should You Repair or Replace Your Old Appliance?

Chandy is the developer of hometuneup.app, a free online resource for DIY home maintenance.

This guide will help you determine whether to repair or replace your old appliance.

This guide will help you determine whether to repair or replace your old appliance.

No home appliance is designed to last forever. Normal wear and tear, when aggregated over a number of years, will eventually cause something to break. And you have to decide. Repair or replace?

The question is easier to answer if the appliance is close to or has exceeded its projected end-of-life. You replace it, of course. The same is true if the appliance is still under warranty. You repair it.

The choice becomes harder in the “in between” period.

This guide provides some useful tips that help you make that choice. Before you go down the repair or replace path, however, there are a few things to take note of.

Know Your Appliance

Do you remember exactly when you bought the appliance and how much you paid for it? This is critical information for you to have before you can make an informed decision whether to replace or repair that appliance.

If you are like any average homeowner, these questions trigger a paper chase. You hunt desperately in file cabinets, shoe boxes, desk drawers, and email inboxes—looking for credit card receipts, checkbook folios, bank statements. Anything that will help you remember.

After each such hunt, you always tell yourself you need to get better organized.

Well, these days, it is easier to get organized. Use your phone to take a picture of the receipt when you buy something new and file it away on your computer, or better still, in the cloud. Or use one of the many home inventory apps available, if you want to be really organized.

Age, Purchase Price, and Average Lifespan

The age and purchase price of the appliance are needed to assess its current value.

You also need one more piece of data: the average lifespan of the appliance. You can find many online sources that provide this information. But remember, the numbers you see are estimates, based on statistical analysis. Your appliance’s mileage may vary.

Its lifespan may be longer if you have been following the recommended maintenance regimen and taking good care of it. Or shorter, if you know you have been overusing it or neglecting its upkeep. So, pick the number that most closely reflects how you use the appliance.

Average Lifespans of Appliances

Average lifespan of major home appliances

ApplianceAverage Lifespan

Refrigerator

13 years

Washing Machine

10 years

Dryer

13 years

Dishwasher

10 years

Garbage Disposal

10 years

Water Heater

15 years

Furnace

15 years

What’s Your Appliance Worth?

There are many ways to compute the current value of the appliance.

There is the accountant’s way, which is based on depreciation and replacement cost. There is the scientific way, which is based on the value of a unit of work performed by the appliance and the progressive degradation of efficiency in the appliance’s operation. In other words, the appliance does less and costs more to operate as it grows older.

The simplest method to use is called the straight-line depreciation, where the value of the appliance decreases by an equal amount each year over its useful life. Here are the steps:

  1. Divide the cost of the appliance by its average lifespan. That gives you the amount by which the appliance’s value decreases each year.
  2. Multiply the number you get in Step 1 by the number of years you have owned the appliance.
  3. Subtract the number you get in Step 2 from the original price to determine its current value.

For example, if you paid $1,000 for your washing machine which has an average lifespan of 10 years, and you have owned it for seven years, the current value of that appliance is $300.

Once you have calculated the current value of the appliance, you are ready with the data you need for one part of the repair or replace question.

Now, for the other part.

Minor vs. Major Repairs

Before you even contemplate the repair or replace question, it is useful to take a closer look at the problem you are facing with your appliance.

Remember, if you decide to call a technician to come take a look, they are going to charge you a visit fee, even if there’s nothing to do. So, make your own reconnaissance before you make that call. You will have some idea of the size of the problem, at the very least.

Looking for Signs of Life

Does the appliance show any sign of life? If not, is it plugged in properly? Is the electrical socket in which it is plugged functioning properly? Did the circuit breaker trip?

You may think these are silly things to check. But wouldn’t it be sillier if all that the technician has to do is reset the circuit breaker or make sure the appliance is plugged in properly?

Look for other relatively simple signs of life:

  • Does the interior light in your refrigerator turn on when you open the door?
  • If your washing machine and dryer are equipped with an interior light, does it turn on when the door is opened?
  • Does the garbage disposal make a humming noise when you switch it on, even if it is not turning?
  • Can you see that the pilot light is lit in your gas water heater?

You can find a number of these simple checks on the Internet.

Identifying the Nature of the Problem

If you see signs of life, then can you describe the nature of the problem?

For example, does the tumble dryer turn, but the clothes remain damp after a completed cycle? Is there frost accumulating in your freezer? Does the refrigerator not keep its contents cold? Does the garbage disposal hum, but not turn?

It is useful to go through this exercise for two reasons:

  1. The repair technician will want you to describe the problem to them before they schedule a visit.
  2. You may be able to find a DIY solution to the problem and fix it on your own. It may be as simple of cleaning the venting duct in your dryer. Or pushing the reset button on your garbage disposal. Or making sure the freezer door closes tightly and does not allow any air to enter.

If, after taking these simple troubleshooting steps, you are no closer to solving the problem, you have arrived at the fork in the road. Do you call the repair technician or look for a new appliance?

What Is It Going to Cost to Repair?

This question is always tricky for two reasons:

  1. If the repair technician cannot determine whether the repair is minor or major before making the visit (which is almost always the case), they cannot give you an estimate for the cost to repair.
  2. Invariably, depending on the age of the appliance, the chances that the repair technician finds more problems than they anticipated is fairly high. So, it may end up costing you more than any estimate the repair technician may have given.

It is good to have some idea though, even if it is only an approximation, of the typical range of repair costs for each major appliance. You can find these on the internet. If you want to really plan for the worst case, you may want to use the high-end of the range or even pad the high end by another 20–30%.

Typical Repair Costs of Appliances

Source: HomeAdvisor

ApplianceTypical Repair Cost

Refrigerator

$100–$450

Washing Machine

$100–$350

Dryer

$100–$430

Dishwasher

$160–$300

Garbage Disposal

$70–$400

Water Heater

$221–$958

Furnace

$130–$477

Decision Time

The rule of thumb used to decide whether to repair or replace the appliance takes into account the current value of the appliance you calculated and the repair cost you estimated.

The rule of thumb is:

If the estimated repair cost is more than 50% of the current value of the appliance, then you may be better served by replacing it.

Whether you should repair or replace essentially comes down to whether the estimated repair cost is more than 50% of the current value of the appliance—if so, then you may be better served by replacing it.

Whether you should repair or replace essentially comes down to whether the estimated repair cost is more than 50% of the current value of the appliance—if so, then you may be better served by replacing it.

Consider Other Reasons and Incidental Costs

Before you act on your decision, you may want to be sure of a few things related to that decision.

If the rule of thumb suggests repair, make sure that there are no other reasons that may point you towards replacing the appliance. For example, are there features you wish your appliance had? What about its energy efficiency? Or water usage? Eliminate these reasons before finalizing.

If the rule of thumb suggests replacement, make sure you are taking into account any incidental costs you may incur when selecting a new appliance. Incidental costs could arise due to electrical, ducting, plumbing, cabling, or cabinetry work that may be required before the replacement appliance can be installed.

Take the time to review your options thoroughly, from all angles. Then you won’t regret the decision you make.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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