Appliance repair worth the cost?

They say they don’t make them like they used to—and they’re right

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(George Peters/Getty Images)

(George Peters/Getty Images)

When a small appliance breaks down, it’s usually a no-brainer to throw it out. Sure, some consumers may have the inclination—and the skill-set—to recalibrate the thermostat of a fritzing toaster, but most of us wouldn’t think twice about replacing it for a mere $20. The same, of course, can’t be said for a conked-out oven or leaky fridge—particularly, when the price tags for such items can easily soar above $1,000. Consider these tips the next time you’re considering a major repair.

Not built to last

Your parents’ appliances may have lasted for decades—in fact, they’re probably still going strong—but don’t expect the same from today’s machines. “The old saying, ‘They don’t make them like they used to’ is absolutely true,” says Aaron Cohoon, an appliance technician in Nova Scotia and frequent CBC Radio One guest. “I’ve seen 30-year-old Maytags work like the day they were rolled off the showroom floor, and I’ve seen brand new Maytags get chucked out after four or five years.”

Bypassing breakdown

Luckily you can make smart decisions before buying your next appliance to help put off that inevitable “repair it or chuck it” quandary, says Cohoon. For instance, he says front-load laundry machines are more likely to break down than traditional top-load washers, due to the weight placed on the configuration of the washing barrel. Keeping things simple can help too. Today’s fridges come with an abundance of optional features—automatic ice-makers, quick-cooling departments and filtered water dispensers to name a few. But those nifty gadgets not only increase upfront costs, they add to your future repair bills too.

Regular maintenance is another way to increase the lifespan of appliances. Emptying your dryer’s lint filter after each use is self-evident to most, but less obvious tips from Consumer Reports include cleaning your refrigerator’s condenser coils every few months and checking your oven’s door seals to ensure heat isn’t escaping.

The right repair

Thanks to a plethora of online instructionals, many people can now do simple fixes on their own if they just involve replacing parts, says Cohoon. But when it comes to big repairs, like faulty digital controls, a qualified appliance technician is usually required. Sites like Homestars.ca can point you toward reputable repair companies, as can asking friends for recommendations, says Cohoon. “Talk to your neighbours, or post a message on Facebook. Just stay away from the fly-by-night guys who put ads on Kijiji or Craigslist.”

Bottom line: today’s major appliances have lifespans that only make major repairs worth it if they’re done within two to four years of purchase. That was the finding of a recent Consumer Reports study—particularly when it came to items like laundry machines, dishwashers and ovens. Even then, you shouldn’t spend more than 50% of the cost of a new product on repairing an old one. After four years, you should carefully consider whether to replace the appliance. And, as depressing as it sounds, once eight years have passed, it’s almost always time to chuck it out and move on, the study concluded. The only exception? Refrigerators, which have higher replacement costs—particularly if they’re built-in.

9 comments on “Appliance repair worth the cost?

  1. After 15 years, our oven went on the fritz because something broke on the digital display and control board. We wanted to fix it ourselves but a used replacement part has been difficult to find and a new one from the manufacturer doesn’t make financial sense since it’s so expensive. We’re likely going to replace the oven/range, and when we do, we’re going to find the simplest one we can find. The problem with electronic boards is that I’m concerned about the quality of the components on them and I’d rather rely on mechanical controls where possible.

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    • I heartily agree with the previous comment. My Thermadore stovetop and oven were both amazing in their performance, however, try getting problems fixed, particularly as they age beyond 8 years or so. Our display module was very expensive to replace so we opted to live with it because a) the only problem was reading current oven temperature and b) our kids eyesight made it easy : ). As time went on though, the module began to malfunction and cause the timer to go off or the oven to stay on. Two stove top burners needed repairs and again, the cost to repair them was over $1,000 AND the display was no longer available. The cost to replace was over $7,000. In the end, I would go for quality but simplicity and a price tag that doesn’t sting so much if you have to dispose of the unit down the road.

      Reply

  2. I agree, maintaining any appliance is a good way to make it last longer. Repairing or replacing a kitchen appliance can get pretty pricy. It seems best to to what it takes to maintain appliances to increase their lifespan, and decrease the overall cost that it would take to fix any problems. Had I maintained my refrigerator better, I wouldn’t have had to repair it so often. Now I need to have it replaced with a new fridge. I should take your advice and avoid getting a fridge that comes with a bunch of optional features to save on upfront costs and repairs. Thanks for the tips!
    http://www.giddensservices.ca/en/major_appliances.html

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  3. These are some great tips. I just got a used fridge of craigslist. It’s not too old but it definitely has problems. There’s a light that just blinks eternally. Perhaps it’s just locked up for some reason. Not sure if I should contact someone for repairs. Maybe the manual is online but I haven’t found it yet. If the rubber seal is peeling off a bit along one edge would you try using some seal/glue? Thanks for this! http://www.everlastappliances.net.au/contact

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  4. I haven’t had my dryer serviced so I’m glad to have found this site to help me in maintenance. I think I will follow your advice and call a repair service to avoid a more costly repair. Also I will follow your tips for finding the right repair service as well.

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  5. That was just an anecdote, and confirmation bias. Consumer reports found that things aren’t breaking faster.

    Also, I’d like to add that you want to factor in operation cost and inconvenience when it comes to repair or replacement. For instance, new refrigerators use only 1/4 of power compared to the ones from 15 years ago. Average life span of a fridge is 15 years. It probably doesn’t make much sense to try to make it last longer even if the repair cost is under $100. Not having a refrigerator is very inconvenient for most families. If you want to bargain shop, at store such as the Brick, you might need to wait weeks for delivery. So the wiser thing to do might be replacing it before it completely breaks down.

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  6. Very interesting article.
    Keep posting !

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  7. Lots of people can fix their own appliances, but I don’t trust myself to fix it correctly so that the appliance works as it was meant to. But buying a new appliance altogether is so expensive these days! Checking online at the manufacturer’s website could probably point you to a reputable repair service or company to help fix appliances and make them last longer. I will have to check online to see which appliances are worth keeping around to fix!

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