Home Appliances

If it is broke, don’t fix it?

By Julia Moore

Five years ago, you bought a dishwasher. Now it isn’t draining quite right, but does that mean you should make a repair or just replace the whole thing? It’s a tough question, but local experts gave us some tips and tricks to help you through the process.

How long will my appliance last?

According to a study by the National Association of Home Builders, you can expect roughly the following lifespan for these appliances:

Dishwasher: 9 years
Refrigerator: 13 years, 9 for compact
Washing machine: 10 years
Dryer: 13 years
Range: 13 years for electric, 15 for gas
Microwave: 9 years
Water heater: 10 to 20 years

These numbers are averages and can vary greatly depending on the cost of the appliance and the frequency of use, according to Bill Campbell with Spenard Builders Supply. Bill says most appliances will last about eight to 10 years, with the better ones surpassing that number (Sub-Zero and Wolf products can last 20+ years), and low-end models sometimes falling beneath the average ($200 dishwashers may only last 2-3 years).

“The good rule of thumb is the value: The more expensive the appliance is, the longer it’s going to last,” says Bill. If you’re strapped for cash – or just concerned about wasting a “good” appliance – repairing your appliance is a tempting option, but the cost may not be worth it.

The sum of the parts is often greater than the whole.

“A minimum repair that includes parts is $150, and it could be as high as $400,” says Scott Shelden with Dan’s TV and Appliances in Kenai. “It’s the cost of parts." Parts for appliances have gone up in price since we’re no longer swapping out $5 parts, but replacing major components – not to mention, labor costs have increased. There are a handful of manufacturers, like GE, Whirlpool, Frigidaire and Wolf, and each of those has its own brands at different price points and levels of quality, which factor into the question of repairing or replacing, says Bill. Brands like Sub-Zero and Wolf are the Mercedes Benz of appliances, he explains.

Scott makes his own car comparison when discussing cost of parts of appliances: “Maybe you bought the truck for $35,000, but if you bought every part individually, it’s probably a $200,000 car.” When parts are so expensive, it’s key to consider if the appliance is worth repairing, if you can do the repair yourself and, of course, if it’s even a problem with the appliance.

Is it broken? Try troubleshooting.

“A lot of times, people think there’s a problem – they think it’s broken – and it could be user error,” says Scott. A classic example of this, he says, is a washing machine improperly draining. Most consumers jump to the conclusion that the machine is broken, but it could be as simple as cleaning out its drain trap. Or it could be sediment buildup on your fill hose’s screen, particularly for folks on freshwater well systems. The solution for that is as simple as shutting off the water, disconnecting the hoses, popping out the screens and cleaning them. “Five minutes later you’re up and going. Zero charge repair, if we can convince customers to do it themselves,” says Scott.

There are a number of other appliance repairs that DIYers can try out:
• Unplug the problem appliance, wait a few minutes, and plug it back in.
• If it’s a fridge/freezer, try giving it a full defrost.
• For a dishwasher, clear out your air gap and check all drainage under the sink for blockages.
• If your dishwasher is leaking, try reinstalling it with a slight backwards tilt to create a proper door seal.

If you have questions, you can visit your local appliance shop and ask an expert. “We’re just trying to get the thing up and going and make the customer happy one way or another. If we can give them some things to try, I love that,” says Scott.

Are there “hidden” expenses when replacing my appliance?

While Bill and Scott agree that if you’re spending $200-300 on a repair, it’s better to replace, you should also consider the additional expenses of replacements, like installation. Bill offers some suggestions to save on new installations:

For your fridge, make sure your water line that will lead to the icemaker is in tact.
For stoves and ovens, check your gas hookup lines to ensure they aren’t kinked – you don’t want a gas leak.
Purchase an installation kit with your new dishwasher – old hoses and waterlines could crack and cause leaks in the long run.

If you’re purchasing multiple appliances, you may save money by finding a package deal from a manufacturer. Additionally, when you find an appliance you’re interested in, see how heavy it is. “The heavier the product is, it’s usually more expensive, and it’s going to last longer,” Bill explains.

In the end, repairing and replacing appliances have their own respective costs, but the general consensus is that repairs are only worth it when the appliance is high-end and has 5-10 years left on it.