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.