Should You Repair or Replace Your Broken Over-the-Range Microwave?

CR's interactive tool leverages product costs, depreciation rates, and survey data to help you make the right choice. Plus, expert advice on what to do once you’ve decided.

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Wrench icon on left, price tag icon on right on top of OTC microwave Photo Illustration: Consumer Reports

When it comes to outfitting a kitchen, most folks choose a beefy range or snazzy refrigerator as the focal point. The microwave—even if it’s a built-in model taking pride of place over the cooktop—is likely an afterthought. But choosing an over-the-range microwave that will give you years of solid service is definitely worth the attention.

As kitchen appliances go, the price of an over-the-range microwave can range from downright cheap to on a par with a feature-packed refrigerator. The dozens of over-the-range microwaves in Consumer Reports’ tests range in price from $200 to $2,000, and you may also need to pay to have it installed. Buying a reliable brand is one way to make sure you aren’t tearing your built-in OTR off the wall every few years. But even reliable brands can quit, and if that happens, you’ll need to decide whether to replace your microwave or try to get it repaired.

Often, the decision comes down to how much you paid for your microwave in the first place, and whether its age warrants a replacement. That’s what our members told us when we surveyed 64,000 of them who purchased a new OTR microwave between 2011 and 2021.

To help you make the repair vs. replace decision for your own over-the-range microwave, we’ve created this interactive tool, below. Use the sliders to enter the age of your microwave, what you paid for it, and any estimate you have for a repair. The color bar on the right will indicate whether you should definitely repair your microwave, consider a repair, or just replace it.

More on Microwaves

So what if you paid a little more, maybe from $300 to $499? Our survey results suggest you might consider repairing a broken microwave in that price range if it’s still on warranty, and consider a repair if it’s two years old or less, but you’ll definitely want to replace it if it’s three years old or older. Once you spend $500 or more on an OTR microwave, there are more decision points. Our survey team recommends repairing any higher-end OTR microwave that’s four years old or less, but suggests considering replacing one that’s five to eight years old, and recommends definitely replacing any OTR microwave that’s nine years or older. You can see those generalizations in the chart below.

Should You Fix Your Microwave Yourself, or Call a Pro?

The thing about microwaves is that while they may look like simple boxes, they have some complicated electronics and aren’t a candidate for most DIY fixes. That’s because a microwave can hold an electrical charge of thousands of volts in its capacitors for hours or even days after it has been unplugged. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that people have been electrocuted trying to repair their microwaves. So don’t try it.

While some microwave issues render them inoperable, not every problem requires an immediate repair. The chief complaint our members reported about their microwaves was that they are too noisy. That’s not something you can fix, and microwaves run in such short bursts that it’s likely you can tolerate the brief interruption. If the turntable stops turning, you can live with that for a while and rotate the food yourself so it heats evenly. But if the door won’t shut or the control panel breaks (two of the top three most common problems), you’ll need a repair.

Finding the right person to repair your microwave isn’t easy, perhaps because there are so many options. You can call the retailer where you bought it, call the manufacturer, or find an independent repair service in your area. Before reaching out, check to see if your microwave is under warranty—most manufacturers offer a one-year warranty. If it’s covered, the repair may cost less or even be free. In our survey, more than two-thirds of the OTR microwaves that were professionally repaired were covered by a warranty.

In our member survey, we found that owners of OTR microwaves were roughly divided between having the repairs performed by manufacturers, independent repair shops, and DIYers, with a smaller number (16 percent) reaching out to retailers for help. When a repair was attempted, 95 percent were successful.

The best way to avoid a costly repair is to maintain your microwave to begin with. Keep it clean (including the filters underneath, which can get gunky with cooking grease), don’t mistakenly run it on empty, don’t put anything other than food and microwave-safe dishware inside, and don’t slam the door. (The door latches have to align for the microwave to work correctly.)

If You Toss, Consider the Environment

If your knee-jerk reaction is to just kick your OTR to the curb the next time it acts up or stops performing as it should, think again. 

According to NYC Zero Waste, microwaves are considered appliances and not electronic waste. The agency recommends putting discarded microwaves out with your recycling, but the rules may vary from municipality to municipality, so check with your local department of public works. 

"Findings from our survey suggest members do dispose of their OTRs in a sustainable way," says Tian Wang, CR’s survey research associate. According to that survey, 36 percent of CR members had their discarded OTR microwave hauled away, 25 percent recycled it, and 19 percent got rid of it in a sustainable way by donating it, giving it away, trading it in or selling it. Another 15 percent just trashed the unit, and 5 percent kept it but stopped using it. 

Need a New Microwave?

If despite your best efforts your microwave has reached the end of the road, here are some good alternatives from our full microwave ratings and recommendations.

Mary H.J. Farrell

Knowing that I wanted to be a journalist from a young age, I decided to spiff up my byline by adding the middle initials "H.J." A veteran of online and print journalism, I've worked at People, MSNBC, Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, and an online Consumer Reports wannabe. But the real thing is so much better. Follow me on Twitter.