One of the fundamental laws of nature is that entropy always increases; simply put, this means that given enough time, every system decays or declines. To the chagrin of many a homeowner, household appliances are no exception. At what seem to be the most inopportune moments possible, eventually every appliance in your home will either go on strike or give up the ghost entirely. Faced with this inevitable headache, it’s important to know when it makes sense to repair an appliance or replace it entirely.

Saved by the Warranty

hand holding a warranty stampWhen an appliance starts behaving badly, the first thing you should check is if it’s under warranty. Major appliances typically come with a manufacturer’s warranty, which will cover parts and labor for a specified period of time after purchase. Depending on the product, this time frame can be 90 days, a year, or more. If you’re lucky enough to still be within your warranty period, you can get your appliance repaired at the manufacturer’s expense by manufacturer-approved repair technicians. Supplemental limited or extended warranties can often be purchased from manufacturers or third parties, but given how infrequently consumers use them, they don’t seem to be a great investment.

The Post-Warranty Blues

If your appliance isn’t covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, you have to decide if it makes more sense to get it repaired or to replace the unit entirely. Due to the cost, replacing appliances is not always practical; most people simply don’t have the resources to get brand-new appliances whenever they want. However, there are situations where a replacement is advisable. If the cost of a repair exceeds 50 percent of the cost of replacing the appliance, it’s time to start checking out those shiny new Whirlpools. The older an appliance is, the less money you’ll want to invest in repairs, and knowing the average lifespan of your appliances will help you gauge how much more use you can expect out of them. Appliances with known defects may be subject to recalls; recalls are often related to issues of safety, so it may pay to shell out for a new unit. It’s always worth checking with the manufacturer about your appliances to see whether the problems you are experiencing are known issues or systemic defects. More about common appliance problems.

Do the Cost-Benefit Tango

group of new silver appliancesAnother constant in modern day life is that obsolescence seems about as inevitable as entropy. Advancements in technology mean that many of today’s appliances are far more efficient than their counterparts of even a decade or two ago. Newer units typically deliver higher performance while consuming less energy, so it follows that getting newer appliances could significantly cut your energy bill over time. The federal government and many states also offer generous tax credits as incentives to purchase high-efficiency appliances—a welcome relief from sticker shock. It’s important to do your research to determine whether the investment actually justifies the expense. If the savings only become significant at the end of the product’s life, it may not be the best investment; while great, a 25 percent increase in efficiency may only mean $25 a year in savings.

Ultimately, if still under warranty or well within their expected lifespan, then repairing appliances is the way to go. If repair costs are excessive or your appliances are a bit long in the tooth—approaching or exceeding their average life expectancy—it’s probably time to consider a replacement. All appliances give up the ghost eventually, and the best way to prepare for the inevitable is by keeping up with their maintenance while setting aside money for repairs or replacements in your monthly budget. Whether you end up needing a replacement or not, your wallet will be much happier when the unexpected happens.

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