Appliances always seem to break down at the most inopportune moments.
It’s only when taking a shower on the coldest day of winter that the water heater breaks down. It’s the hottest day of summer, and your A/C decides to call it quits. You’ve invited 50 people over for a Super Bowl party, and the TV kicks out right at the kickoff.
Or worse, you come home to find the fridge you just bought two months ago has gone on the fritz, and now the arms full of perishable groceries you just walked in with will go to waste.
Then there’s always that washing machine or blender that’s been working for 20 years straight with zero problems.
You may pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for appliances and expect them to last forever. But there’s really no way to predict when or where your appliances around the house or apartment might decide to stop (or keep) working. The type of appliance, age, build quality, amount of use they get, even where you live all play a role.
So how can you budget for when an expensive appliance might break? Do you pay to get a broken appliance fixed, or is it cheaper to just replace it? Here’s what you need to know.
How much does it cost to repair that appliance?
The average cost to repair an appliance is $170, according to Home Advisor, with most homeowners spending between $106 and $270 on repair costs. That’s not including hourly labor rates and fees, which can average between $100 to $200 per hour. Then there may be other considerations, like the cost of hard-to-find parts, or extra charges for repair difficulty -- is the appliance in a hard-to-reach area making it more difficult for the repairman to fix?
There is evidence that more than one in five appliances need fixing within the first three to four years of ownership. Cheaper build quality, offshore manufacturing and consumers settling for the cheapest products available to save cash are some of the main theories why your hardware may not be built to last.
On average, most appliances and gadgetry have a longer lifespan than that. Here’s how long you can expect your appliances to last before needing repairs, and what to look for before you book a professional to come by and rehab the problem:
Avg. lifespan: 13 years
Avg. cost to repair: $272
Fridges get a lot of use since they’re always on, 24/7, putting in extra work each time you open the fridge or freezer doors. But problems arise and repairs are common, like issues with the drip pan, icemaker or freezer. (You could live without a freezer or icemaker, but it’ll be a matter of no time before you start to miss them.) If you hear rattling sounds or the fridge’s fan working overtime, it may be time to fix the unit’s compressor, the main component that keeps your fridge cool. One of the most expensive fridge repairs (ranging between $500 to $700 to fix a bad compressor), you’ll need to decide if it’s worth fixing the compressor or replacing your fridge outright.
HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning)
Avg. lifespan: 15 to 25 years
Avg. cost to repair: $350 to $900
HVACs are the engine that keep your home heated and cooled, and can be some of the most expensive appliances to repair. In a seasonal climate, your A/C and heat alternate duty throughout the year. In warmer climates, the central A/C does overtime. Your HVAC unit may also include a furnace, hot water heater (gas or electric) and thermostat, which can get up to an impressive 35 years of life before being replaced. HVAC problems you may encounter are clogged drain lines, blown fuses, thermostat and electrical problems, and air filters and condenser coils that need cleaning. How do you tell if your A/C is on the outs? Everything from strange sounds, strange odors, a change in indoor temperature or humidity, or poor air flow coming from vents or your central A/C unit itself are telltale signs that a repair or replacement is imminent.
Avg. lifespan: 10 years
Avg. cost to repair: $150
Take care of it properly, and a dishwasher can extend its life an extra five years, note experts, but that still won’t prevent eventual leaks and tears to the unit’s hoses and pipes from forming. One easy way to determine if your dishwasher is running smoothly is to check if your plates, glassware and silverware are coming out as clean as they used to. If not, it may be time to replace or repair.
Avg. lifespan: 10 years
Avg. cost to repair: $230 (washer); $155 (dryer)
Failure to drain, abrupt stopping mid cycle, wobbly performance, leaks, or standing water or noisy drum sounds during the spin cycle could all be signs that your washer needs to see a technician. Common replacement parts are the unit’s agitator or drive belt. As for your dryer, it all depends on if yours is gas or electric powered; repairs to the former may cost an extra $50 to $150. When your dryer stops drying or emitting the right amount of heat on the proper setting, it could be time to change its thermostat, drum, coil or belt.
Avg. lifespan: 15 years (gas); 13 years (electric)
Avg. cost to repair: $185
Go without the use of just one burner and it’s easy to see how big of a role your stove and oven play when it comes to food prep. There are lots of potential repairs your stovetop or range might experience depending on your choice between gas and electric, like a faulty igniter or burner, or uneven temperature sensors; timers and indicator lights may break, and oven doors may stick even if the oven works.
A case to replace?
Knowing when to fix something versus replace it with a new one is one of those dilemmas we all face whether it’s a car, a cell phone, or an appliance at home. If you’re like me, you’ll try to get as much life out of your products as humanly possible, but as they say, your mileage may vary. When the cost to replace an item becomes cheaper than fixing it, it may be time to start shopping new.
General rules of thumb state that if repair costs are more than 50 percent of the cost to purchase a new appliance, you should go ahead and replace. Of course, that all depends on the age of the appliance, the nature of the repair, and the ultimate cost of a new item. Some appliances are just too old to find parts for, making the cost, time and effort to fix worth less and less.
A new fridge, for example, can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars, so making the decision to replace it shouldn’t be taken lightly if the repairs are simple. However, if you reach the decade-plus mark and find that it’s getting fixed more than used, a new unit with new design features may be a worthy investment.
Appliance money-saving tips
Don’t forget the warranty. Pass on after-sale, overpriced extended warranties. Your appliance should come with a standard one-to-two-year warranty in the purchase price that should cover repairs if it breaks earlier than expected. Also consider a home warranty, which may cover the cost to repair appliances. (Premiums are known to range between $30 to $60 per month.) It’s also helpful to register your new appliances with the manufacturer so ordering parts and facilitating the repair process is easier.
Go energy efficient. New energy-saving appliances, like washers, dryers and dishwashers, help you save on your utility bills and the cost of repairing/replacing in the long run.
Choose independent repair shops. A Consumer Reports study found that people who got their appliances fixed at an independent repair shop were more satisfied with the cost savings and better service than going to a dealer or manufacturer. Of course, like getting a mechanic for your car, do your research first when you’re searching via Angie’s List, Yelp or CraigsList before hiring anyone.
Do some DIY. At the risk of having your lawnmower or microwave taken apart in a million pieces, and now you can’t reassemble it again, some repair know-how might save you some bucks by attempting to fix it yourself. There are a host of YouTube videos and tutorials you can find to learn how to fix a gadget yourself, provided the repair is minor and cost-effective. Skeptics may want to fork over a diagnostic fee to a repair shop first just to see the extent of the repair before tackling it by your lonesome.
Stock up your emergency fund. It’s wise to have at least three to six months’ worth of money saved up in an emergency fund to handle whatever life may throw at you. Consider using it (within reason) to pay for last-minute appliance repairs that can’t wait.