November 2008
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Repair or replace it?
CR's guide to having products fixed–or not

Computer monitor in a garbage can.
The temptation to toss  Frustrated by cost and inconvenience, and lured by new products, fewer readers are repairing.
You're hosting Thanksgiving but it's your range that's taking a holiday. Do you call for repair or scramble for a replacement? To help you make the right decision, as part of the Annual Product Reliability Survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, we asked 13,477 subscribers to share their experiences with 20,613 broken products.

Our repair-or-replace timelines, which draw on the experiences of all those thousands of subscribers, can help you decide. The recommendations in the timelines are based on costs for replacement and repairs and on advantages of new models. Typical repair costs and problems are from our survey; replacement costs are from market data for mainstream models.

A few highlights: If your appliance is eight or more years old, usually it makes sense to buy a new one. If you have a favorite high-end, older appliance, you may want to repair it. Consider replacing a newer model if it has been repair-prone. But skip any repair that costs more than half the price of a new product.

Although most readers' appliances weren't under warranty when they broke, if your equipment still is, you'll probably need to call a factory-authorized repair shop. Ninety-three percent of those respondents said their warranty or service contract was at least partially honored; 9 in 10 were offered a free repair.

If your large appliance is out of warranty, call an independent contractor. Most respondents found that they provided better service.

CR's  Take

Close to 3,102 readers told us about experiences with 4,585 broken products. Our engineers provide timelines showing when to repair or replace a wide range of products, including TVs, refrigerators, and lawn mowers. Our survey experts also name names, showing which brands have been especially reliable or repair-prone.

• Our advice: Unless you've bought a pricey, high-end model, it might not pay to professionally repair many out-of-warranty products that are more than three years old.

• A third of survey respondents didn't seek repairs or quit along the way.

• Repair problems were common. Appliance fixes usually worked out best.

• It pays to complain if product is under warranty. A significant number of respondents got something for nothing when they contacted the manufacturer during the warranty period.

If you've been frustrated in your attempts to have a product professionally repaired, you're not alone. Our "fix it or nix it" surveys have shown that the process is full of roadblocks, and a large number of readers simply give up.

In our timelines, you'll find year-by-year advice on when to fix or toss a host of different appliances and lawn mower and tractors. Our data cover the midpriced items most people buy and include common repair problems, repair and replacement costs, and the extent to which new technologies, features, and efficiencies make replacement a no-brainer. Buying new: What you'll find reveals the latest developments for a wide range of products to make your keep-or-toss decision easier and better informed.

Want to keep your new mower or refrigerator working for as long as you plan to keep it? You'll also find preventive-maintenance tips from our on-staff experts and from the Professional Service Association, a service-industry trade group. Our basic advice for products that need professional repair: Replace any for which you paid less than $150 and nix any repair that costs more than half the price of a comparable new product. For example, it doesn't pay to repair off-warranty toasters or countertop microwave ovens. Many such products aren't even serviceable. Indeed, unless you've bought a pricey, high-end model, it might not pay to professionally repair many out-of-warranty products that are more than three years old.

  • Readers with a broken product sometimes started the repair process but threw in the towel because they felt the cost was excessive. Some said they felt that the process would be inconvenient—something that proved to be true for a some readers who went through with repairs.

  • While costs for diagnosing and making repairs have risen significantly in the last few years, prices have dropped for comparable new products for some categories we analyzed, which helps to explain why more products are being replaced with newer models.

  • Appliance repairs usually involved the fewest problems, while repairing lawn equipment proved to be more problematic. Replacement parts were hard to find for wall ovens.

  • Although junking nearly new products can make economic sense, it makes no environmental sense. There are alternatives to tossing unwanted appliances, electronic devices, and batteries. See Where to recycle.

Posted: October 2008 — Consumer Reports Magazine issue: November 2008