What to Do If Your Appliance Breaks During the Coronavirus Pandemic
These tips will help as you determine whether to repair or replace it
When Karen Burket’s 7-year-old dishwasher stopped working late last month, she had one thought: “We’re thankful it’s not the refrigerator,” says Burket, a research nurse who lives in Maumee, Ohio, with her cardiologist husband and three daughters. “We don’t want to put the repair person at risk of getting the coronavirus—or us—so we’ll wait.”
Even though Burket and her family haven’t shown any symptoms of COVID-19, her cautious approach makes good sense amid the pandemic. But what if it had been her refrigerator? If the problem appliance is one you can’t do without, how do you decide if you should get it repaired or replaced?
In normal times, you’d want to base your decision on how old the appliance is, how many repairs it’s had, and the cost of parts and labor versus the price of a new machine. Now, however, with social distancing necessary, you have to factor in whether it’s worth potentially risking the health of your family and the health of the technician to get something repaired. Meantime, some retailers may not be delivering and installing new appliances like they normally do.
Is It a DIY Job?
Before you contact a repair person, see if the issue is something you can handle yourself. Start by taking a look at the most common problems and repairs for kitchen and laundry appliances, based on CR member surveys and interviews with appliance repair pros. Contact the appliance manufacturer’s customer service, or check Repair Clinic, an online clearinghouse for appliance parts and a producer of do-it-yourself videos; the experts at Repair Clinic offer a lot of guidance.
And you can always try calling your local repair shop to see if it can offer any free advice, and help you with minor issues, like if you accidentally put your refrigerator in showroom mode, which stops the cooling.
Chris Zeisler, technical service supervisor at Repair Clinic, has seen an influx of people ordering appliance replacement parts over the past two weeks.
“Consumers are looking to do repairs themselves rather than call for an outside repair person,” he says. “Shipping times, for the most part, have been on schedule. There are some pockets around the country experiencing delays but they have not been significant that we know of.”
Zeisler says that so far there’s no shortage of supplies, and most items are available for next-day shipping (except on Sundays).
If it is indeed your refrigerator that has conked out, you need to act quickly. First, keep the fridge and freezer doors closed as much as possible to contain the cold. Move perishables that freeze well—meat, poultry, and leftovers—to a stand-alone freezer, if you have one. Cook any other perishables you can within 4 hours, which is about how long the temperature inside a refrigerator can maintain a safe temperature of below 40° F. (The best freezers we’ve tested stay around 7° F after being unplugged for 9 hours.)
You can use a cooler packed with ice to keep food cold, but check with a food thermometer that the temperature of the food is 40° F or below to prevent bacterial growth.
Getting Your Appliance Repaired
If the issue is serious and requires a pro, keep in mind that a technician may have to come more than once. And most service providers can’t stock all of the parts for all of the brands, so it could be weeks or more before your appliance is working again.
Also consider this: Some technicians may apply their own hierarchy to repairs. Loren H. wrote on CR’s Facebook page that her technician informed her that he was prioritizing repairs for refrigerators and ranges over her broken washer, which he considers to be a nonessential appliance. Having waited for three weeks for the repair, she decided to purchase a new washer instead.
We spoke to several major repair companies to see how they're operating. Sears Home Services, which does over 7 million repairs a year, according to its website, continues to do appliance repairs across brands and in all states. It’s operating in most areas as an essential business, says Larry Costello, a company spokesman. The company is adding safety measures in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as contacting customers prior to service to ensure that they’re healthy, and rescheduling when necessary.
Home Depot, Lowe’s, LG, and GE Appliances are also servicing appliances while following CDC guidelines and taking precautionary measures, including screening consumers and technicians about exposure. These companies, as well as Sears Home Services, are also requiring technicians to practice proper hand hygiene, avoid shaking hands, and keep a distance of 6 feet. In addition, Sears Home Services is no longer requiring signatures on the technicians’ devices.
Enrique Espinoza Jr., service manager of Nebraska Home Appliance in Omaha, Neb., says his company is also being cautious. “Our technicians have been empowered to request that an appointment be rescheduled if, when they arrive at a home, the homeowner is displaying any concerning symptoms,” he says.
What Precautions You Should Take
When you call for an appointment, see what steps will be taken to keep both your family and the technician safe. Ask:
• What precautions will the repairperson take prior to entering my home? For example, does the technician clean tools and other supplies with a disinfectant before each repair visit? Does the technician use hand sanitizer before and after appointments?
• What measures are taken as the technician enters the home, and once inside? Can I talk to the technician before the appointment to go over precautions? Will the technician be wearing a mask and disposable gloves, and maintaining a 6-foot distance? (You should do what you can to try to keep 6 feet between you and the technician at all times.)
If you do have your appliance fixed, disinfect it by scrubbing the surface with soap and water. The friction of the scrubbing can break the coronavirus’s protective envelope. Toss the towel or allow it to soak in soapy water to destroy any virus particles that might have survived. And, of course, wash your hands.
Buying a New Appliance
Although home centers remain open during this pandemic, there are special considerations if you’re shopping for an appliance now. Keep in mind that you should avoid going into stores and shop online instead, because it may be difficult to maintain social distancing in a store. We asked a member of CR’s secret shopper team who buys appliances we test for shopping advice during the coronavirus pandemic. We can’t reveal his identity, but here’s his current insight:
“For the fastest delivery, check with local independent dealers to see what they have available in stores and in warehouses,” he says. "Keep in mind that in-home delivery and installation may not be an option."
If you want to buy from a big name store, Home Depot and Lowe’s have on-site inventory and offer curbside store pick-up or delivery. You can shop online at a number of retailers, but be sure to check for availability and delivery time before you place an order.
Measure your space. This is always important, but it’s especially so now, since you don’t want to have to return an appliance. Allow for ventilation (refrigerator) or hoses (washer). Measure the doors to your home, and any others the appliance will need to fit through to get to its location. You can find the dimensions for models in our ratings for washers, dryers, ranges, and refrigerators.
Scan our ratings. Before you shop, research different models’ performance and features by consulting CR’s ratings. Narrow your list to at least a handful of models, given that some may not be available right away. Top-freezer refrigerators, for example, are usually easier to get than other types, and are relatively inexpensive. A top-freezer fridge may not be your top pick, but for now, it may have to do and you can always move it to your basement or sell it later on. And take a good look at models designated as CR Best Buys. They offer impressive performance at an appealing price, if you’re looking for a replacement without spending a lot.
Check retailer’s hours. They may close earlier than usual during the pandemic so that they can clean and restock daily. Home Depot stores, for example, close at 6 p.m., and Lowe’s shut its doors at 7 p.m. Sears and Best Buys stores are closed temporarily, but you can shop on their websites.
Ask about delivery, installation, and haul-away. As our secret shopper noted, retailers may have changed their policies, and continue to do so, especially if anybody in your household has tested positive for the coronavirus. Here’s what we’ve been able to find out from the four biggest appliance retailers in the U.S.:
• Home Depot: Appliance deliveries could take anywhere from four to eight days, whether you shop online or in-store, says Christina Cornell, a spokesperson.
• Lowe’s: “There is no difference in the timeliness of delivery whether customers choose to shop in-store or online,” says Amy Allison, a spokesperson. “However, our store associates may be able to help direct customers to items with a quicker delivery or available for immediate take-with if a customer decides to shop in-store.”
• Sears: Online shoppers can have their appliance delivered to their home, where allowed by local government, says Costello.
• Best Buy: Online orders can be picked up curbside outside the stores, or you can get doorstep drop-off for all home deliveries.
Consider a warehouse club. Costco's website, for example, sells major appliances, though delivery and installation can vary by area (appliances are not sold in stores). A bonus is the company extends the normal one-year manufacturer’s warranty to two years.
Check manufacturers’ sites. If you’re having a hard time finding an appliance, keep in mind that some manufacturers sell appliances on their sites. Samsung’s “Buy Now” alerts you to your options, and eligible models on LG’s website have an “Add to Cart” button. “As of now, we are business as usual—we are selling online, delivering and installing in accordance with all local regulations,” says Taryn Brucia, director of public relations for LG.
You can also buy appliances on the Maytag, KitchenAid, and Whirlpool websites. These sites indicate whether home delivery and installation are still available in your zip code, says a spokesperson for Whirlpool, which makes all three brands. If you place an order, you'll be asked three screening questions to ensure the health and safety of the delivery team.
One last tip: Once your new appliance is in your home, disinfect it by scrubbing it with soap and water, and wash your hands.
Editor's Note: This article, originally published on April 1, 2020, has been updated to reflect temporary changes in Lowe's hours of operation, and Sears closing its stores temporarily.