How to Decide Whether to Repair or Replace

You wake up one morning to find that your refrigerator isn’t working. Or your car won’t start. Or your computer is displaying the blue screen of death. Your mind automatically starts calculating the cost of an expensive repair. Perhaps you should throw in the towel and replace your item. But maybe it’s more cost effective to repair it. How do you know?

Sometimes the decision is easy. If a car repair will cost three times the worth of your car, you should probably buy a new one. If your water heater rusted through the bottom and flooded your basement, again, a new one is in order.

old stove

But what about cases that aren’t so clear? How do you decide?

4 Steps to Help You Decide

Is It Still Under Warranty?

The first thing to check is to figure out if the broken down item is still covered under a warranty. If the item is still covered, it will be an easy decision to follow the warranty instruction and have the item repaired or replaced.

Also, if you purchased a third-party warranty, such as a home warranty, be sure to check and see if the item is covered. It is normally cheaper to pay $50-75 for the trade call than to have the item repaired on your own.

Research the Life Expectancy of Your Item

It always helps to know a little bit about the item you need to fix or replace. If you have a malfunctioning refrigerator, whether you repair or replace may depend on whether your fridge is 5 or 15 years old. In general, refrigerators last about 13 years.

Thus, if you have a 5 year old refrigerator, theoretically it should still have a lot of life left, and you’ll probably be better off repairing it. If it’s 15 years old, it’s probably given you all it’s got, and you’d be money ahead to buy a new one.

As a starting point, you might want to check out Consumer Reports’ list of life expectancies for appliances. For more accuracy, do a google search for your make and model.

Get an Estimate for the Repair

You can’t make decisions without facts, so start gathering your facts. A repair that seems like it might cost a lot may actually cost little. This was the case last week when my air conditioner wasn’t working well. The problem seemed to be a bad motor. It was a bad motor, but it wasn’t much to replace, because it broke down right before the end of the warranty.

Your car not starting might be a simple problem like a loose battery cable, or it might be a more expensive problem like a bad starter. You don’t know until you investigate.

Attempt a DIY Repair

Before making the final leap to repair or replace the item, you might as well give it a shot and try to repair the item on your own. As long as it is not hazardous, or could cause further damage to the item or other systems, attempting a repair on your own could save you some money. There are plenty of “how to repair” instructions and videos on the web that you can peruse.

Other Things to Consider

There are many other factors that may play into your decision to repair or replace.

  • The 50% Rule: If the repair costs more than 50% of the value of the item, replace it.
  • Energy Cost: If your appliance is an energy hog, it might be more cost effective to buy an energy efficient product.
  • Quality: Older, well made items might be worth the repair cost.
  • Obsolescence: Computers and other electronics quickly change and become obsolete. Replacing a computer or gadget might be a wise choice if the repair isn’t a quick fix.
  • Your Feelings: If you want a new look in your kitchen and you can buy new appliances without going into debt, by all means buy new, if that’s your preference. Similarly, if you have sentimental attachment to an item, you might want to repair something, even though it might be more cost effective to buy a new one.

Choosing whether to repair something or replace it isn’t always a clear cut decision. But by taking all of these things into consideration, you can make an informed decision that you won’t have to second guess later.

Have you made a repair or replace decision lately? How did you decide?

Photo by southie3.


By , on Aug 25, 2012
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. Diana:

    I have a 20-year-old convertible (portable) Maytag dishwasher that still does the job. But I’m moving and the plumber refused to install it in the new place because of its age. Now I have to find someone who can use it–besides pay for a new one he will install. I paid about the same for the Maytag as I paid for this new one. Let’s see if the new one is still around in 20 years (of course, I might not be around by then to care, either!)

  2. Lynnae McCoy:

    I LOVE using youtube to learn how to fix things. My husband laughs at me, but hey, if there’s a possibility I’ll have to replace it, why not try to learn to fix it first? I’ve got nothing to lose.

  3. Kris:

    My kids call me “mr fixit” because I’m always trying to fix things. Partly to save money. Partly for the challenge. And partly for the feeling of satisfaction. Call me nuts, but you really can learn how to fix lots of things from DIY forums and youtube.

  4. I know. It’s so hard to figure out what to do. We’re just going to keep repairing things until they are too expensive to repair. Our vacuum is 22 years old, and while parts of the hose are held together with duct tape, it still works better than a lot of the regular vacuums in the stores.

    A friend gave us a vacuum she was no longer using, because she wanted a Dyson vacuum, and even though the one she gave us was only about a year old and cost almost $100, it doesn’t work hardly at all. We’re going to donate it somewhere; my 22-year-old vacuum works SO much better. Sigh. I guess I’ll learn to live with duct tape! Ha! :)

  5. Lynnae McCoy:

    You both make some good points. I’m all for finding ways to dispose of an item without actually sending it off to the dump.

    And Julieanne, I’m frustrated with the junk that’s made these days too. You definitely need to watch what you buy. So far I haven’t had any trouble with our appliances, but they’re all less than 4 years old, too. We had to get them when we bought the house. Our washer and dryer are very simple and older, and I’ve been very happy with them. :) Best $25 I’ve ever spent!

  6. Our family has taken the approach to repair whenever possible, because the latest models of most appliances will only last 2-4 years. We finally decided it doesn’t matter how efficient it is, if it’s going to break in 2-4 years, it isn’t worth our time or expense of the initial purchase.

    So, we had our 32-year-old washing machine repaired this last spring for minimal cost, because parts are still readily available for it. While it may not wash clothes as well or as efficiently as the new machines, this washing machine is a workhorse, and it still keeps on running well.

    We also repaired our stove this last spring, for the same reason. It definitely went against the 50% Rule that you mentioned above, but even if it has additional repairs in the future, it still will be a lot cheaper to repair than to purchase a new appliance that is going to self-destruct in a couple of years.

    I think if we get to the point that we do need to replace an appliance, we’re going to go to a 2nd hand appliance store owned by friends of ours, and purposefully purchase an older appliance that we know will last longer than the new appliances.

    My sister is so disgusted with newer appliances. She has gone through 5 washing machines in the last 15 years, while we continue to use our 1980 washer. She has had to replace 3 major appliances in the last 6 months, and they were all under 6 years old, even though she did a ton of research on which one to purchase that was the most reliable.

    And the true rip-off is that when she purchases the extended warranties on the appliances (the only thing she’ll purchase extended warranties on), they’ll eventually replace the appliance after a ton of haggling, but they make her buy an additional extended warranty if she wants the replacement covered, even if the old extended warranty still had a couple of years left on it.

    She is fed up with the manufacturers who are making cheap junk overseas with no concern for the American consumer.

    I think I’ll stick to our 1980 washing machine, 1990 fridge, 1994 dryer, 1994 freezer…and just pray that they keep running as long as possible, efficient or not!

    It used to be that any hot water heater would last 20-30+ years. Now, the industry only warranties them for 4-6 years, and the plumbers will tell you that you will need to replace the hot water heater about every 6-8 years. If a person cannot do this work himself (thankfully, my husband can!), it will cost around $1000 every six years! Shocking – and it makes me mad that the companies feel okay with themselves for offering these kinds of “disposable” appliances on the market these days.

  7. Some valid points, but the key one that’s missing is “How recyclable is the broken item?” Disposability is a convenience most Americans abuse. It would be irresponsible to replace your broken item if you’re just going to trash the old one. From a frugality standpoint, perhaps you can get some money selling the broken item. You may also have to pay to properly dispose of the old one. If you’re ignoring the environmental factor of disposal, please at least include the economic aspects of disposal.

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