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Repair or replace? Find out when you should fix it and when you should nix it

How to save money on appliances, electronics, and lawn and yard gear

Published: January 2014
Don’t spend more than 50 percent of the cost of a new product on repairing an old one.

Deciding whether to fix a broken product or spring for a new one often feels like an expensive guess. But there’s no need to throw away good money on a bad product. In fact, repairing broken items or keeping them going as long as possible isn’t always the best way to save money. We’ve done the homework for you, creating year-by-year advice for more than a dozen common home appliances, electronics, and lawn and snow equipment.

Our advice is based on the experiences of 29,281 subscribers we surveyed as part of our 2013 Online Annual Questionnaire. We also spell out how much repairs usually cost and what our readers thought of the job. And we offer tips that can help extend the life of your current product or new purchase. Here’s what you need to know.

Products aren’t breaking faster. The repair rates of most products in our latest survey are similar to what we found when we conducted the survey in 2010. Some products are breaking less often. Laptops had a repair rate of 24 percent, down from 36 percent in 2010; the LCD TV repair rate is 7 percent, down from 15 percent. So why does it seem like things don’t last as long as they used to? Because when products do break, it’s memorable: They stop working altogether (53 percent) or work poorly (32 percent), according to our survey.

Avoiding a lemon. Check our “What Breaks and What Doesn’t” lists for the most temperamental product types and—from our repair-history surveys—the most and least reliable brands for each. Then use the “Repair or Replace” data chart to help decide whether a repair is worthwhile, questionable, or a bad idea. The chart also gives you an idea of how much a new product costs.

Save money on repairs. People who used independent repair shops were more satisfied with the repairs than those who used factory service, which is consistent with what we’ve found previously. And repairs cost less, too. That was especially true when it came to large appliances and lawn equipment.

Another way to save on repairs is to do them yourself, as did 31 percent of those surveyed whose products weren’t covered by warranty. The prevalence of how-to videos on YouTube and other sites—such as RepairClinic.com, which itself hosts more than 1,400 videos—makes repairing even complicated appliances a much less formidable challenge.

But if your product is under manufacturer’s warranty, you’ll need to use a factory-­authorized repair shop or risk voiding the warranty. Just make sure the technician who will be sent to your home has been properly trained on your product.

No matter who does the repair, our long-standing advice remains. Don’t spend more than 50 percent of the cost of a new product on repairing an old one. And if an item has already broken down once before, replacement may make more sense.

Warranties don’t improve satisfaction. Only 15 percent of products in our survey were covered by the manufacturer’s regular warranty when they broke, and about 10 percent were under a service contract or extended warranty. People who had a service contract or an extended warranty weren’t any happier with their repairs. They actually were more likely to have had repairs done incorrectly the first time around and waited at least two weeks for the repair than people who didn’t have those contracts.

Even the 77 percent of people with those contracts who were offered a free repair or replacement for their product didn’t save much money overall. The median cost for the contract or warranty was $136; the median cost for repairs was $152.

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