A minor glitch can be enough to sideline a major appliance, so it's often worth considering a repair even on models that are five or more years old. For example, a fried circuit board might be to blame for an inoperable range or oven, a blown thermal fuse is the common cause of dead dryers, and a damaged water inlet valve shuts down many dishwashers. Those parts are all fairly easy to replace. Survey respondents were more satisfied with independent service shops than factory or authorized ones. Not only were the repairs done more quickly, but they also cost less. If you prefer factory service, make sure the technician who does the work on your machine—and not just his or her boss back at the office—has been properly trained.
If an appliance falls in the yellow "Consider repair" zone (available to subscribers), more expensive models are usually worth keeping longer. If an item has already broken down once before or isn't performing well, lean toward replacing it. Also pay attention to energy efficiency. Today's refrigerators, washers, and dishwashers use less energy and/or water than older models, another incentive for an upgrade. But our tests have found that some are more efficient than others, so check our Ratings.
Many retailers offer free haul-away when you buy a new appliance from them. But only ApplianceSmart, Best Buy, and Sears participate in the Environmental Protection Agency's Responsible Appliance Disposal Program, which ensures that any harmful chemicals will be reclaimed or destroyed and that all metal, plastic, and glass will be recycled. Your utility company might even pay you to get rid of an old energy-wasting appliance. Or contact the Steel Recycling Institute at www.recycle-steel.org to find an appliance-recycling program in your area.