/ Home & Energy

The big repair or replace debate

Leaking washing machine

It’s a dilemma almost everyone’s faced – a much-used home appliance breaks down and you need to act fast. But how do you decide whether to repair or replace it?

There are so many factors to consider – cost is an obvious one, but also convenience, ease and environmental issues.

Add to this the fact you probably won’t have much time to make a decision (just try living without a fridge freezer in the summer…) and it’s not hard to understand how stressful a faulty appliance can be.

Most go for repairs

In a recent survey of 11,347 Which? members, around a quarter of you (27%) told us you had experienced a fault with one of four key home appliances. An overwhelming 90% of you got the problem repaired. Just 3% of you replaced the appliance, while the rest are undecided.

But while repairing is clearly the most popular option, ultimately the decision is likely to boil down in large part to the age of your appliance. You’d imagine most people would be more likely to repair a newer machine than one which seemed on its last legs.

When should you replace?

One way of looking at the problem would be to work out the current value of your appliance. You can do this by dividing its original cost by how long you expect it to last. This will tell you how much value it loses a year – and lets you work out how much it may be worth now.

You could argue that if a repair costs more than your appliance is currently worth, it may be better to replace it.

We used this theory to find the average point at which the amount you’re prepared to spend on a repair is more than you think the appliance is worth. With fridge freezers and ovens it’s nine years old, with washing machines it’s eight and with vacuums it’s seven. So if you’re considering a repair for appliances older than this, it may be worth thinking again.

Of course, this is just one way of looking at the issue and much will depend on the general condition of your appliance and what brand it is.

How do you decide whether to repair or replace? And have you ever regretted the decision you made?

Comments
Member

If an appliance breaks down outside the warranty period, it is worth considering a claim under the Sale of Goods Act, if the product is under six years old (five years in Scotland). It is the retailer that is responsible. Sometimes manufacturers will help out of goodwill, but have no responsibility for doing so unless, for example, they have recalled a product because of a manufacturing fault. Wear and tear (e.g. replacing a washing machine belt or the lamp in a fridge or microwave oven) is excluded from warranties, as is abuse.

My suggestion is to have a go at repairing faulty appliances yourself. It is best to do this at the first sign of malfunction or if there is a strange noise because continued use (e.g. of a motor with worn brushes) can cause damage that is expensive to repair.

Online videos can be very helpful. Even if they are not relevant, they may show how to dismantle an appliance or give useful warnings about safety. It is well worth taking photos to help ensure that parts are replaced correctly, and double checking that mains electrical items are unplugged before dismantling them. If you are planning to take a microwave oven apart to replace the lamp it is worth bearing in mind the possibility that a high voltage can remain present when switched off, but the precautions to take are explained in videos. Care is also needed to put everything back correctly, hence the value of photos.

One of the reasons for scrapping faulty appliances can be lack of availability of spare parts, but some parts do remain available and a bit of improvisation can achieve a lot.

In my parents’ generation it was normal for householders to carry out repairs and I learned a lot watching my father tackle repairs. Modern appliances are undoubtedly more complicated but that does not necessarily mean that they cannot be repaired. You might need to buy special tools just to take the case apart, but compared with the cost of professional repair or replacement, that could be money well spent.

My washing machine is still working well after 32 years. I replaced the motor after about ten years and the pump a couple of years later. I am keen to keep it because it is hot & cold fill and rinses well, features hard to find in modern machines.

I would like to see a small addition to the usual advice on how to have less impact on our environment: Reduce, reuse, REPAIR, recycle. 🙂

Member

One of the inhibiting issues in deciding whether to repair or not is knowing what the fault is – a drive belt, pump, motor brushes, a control board failure for example. For most people this means calling out a service engineer, costing £50-100. Is it worth it on an older appliance – before the repair cost is even known and added on?
There are insurances that cover all your household appliances up to 8 years old, costing from £120 a year with a £1000 annual limit and a £20 excess for each claim, but then they pay call-out and repair costs. If you are very risk-averse, this might be for you. But these days most appliances will last longer than 8 years and your £120 premium would be better-spent saving for the very odd occasion when you have a problem.
Repairing yourself can depend upon how helpful the manufacturer is. I have had three dealings with Miele. On a dishwasher (12 years old) they gave me very helpful instructions on how to use their repair kit on a pump (much cheaper than buying a new pump) and on how to remove the door inner panel to clear a blockage. On a vacuum cleaner (15 years old) I was pleasantly surprised to find they wouls replace a broken plastic latch for less than £5 including p&p, and sent a diagram showing how it was fitted.
I have elswhere been urging Which? to advise on how to use the “durability” requirement in the Sale of Goods Act. We should all expect goods to last a reasonable time, and for any faults in design or build (as opposed to mis-use, overuse or wear and tear) to be remedied by the retailer if they fail within that time. It simply requires action – to set down “reasonable trouble-free operation” for appliances and steps on how to pursue a claim. It is high time we were helped to claim our rights.

Member

Luckily, it seems that [with the exception of washing machines perhaps] kitchen appliances have a breakdown rate more-or-less in inverse ratio to their indispensability. Fridges last ever such a long time in normal use and a recent Conversation about having a freezer in the garage or outbuilding demonstrated that many are now collecting their pensions [the freezers, I mean]. With kit that has already led a full life, the repair or replace decision tends to make itself, and the renewal cost might actually be less in real terms than the original purchase price – plus the replacement will probably have superior features and run more economically too. Ovens, hobs and microwaves usually have long lives as well, but fiddly things like the controls sometimes pack up early – and they defy the amateur to repair them – but most households seem to have some form of back-up cooking facility. Washing machines and dishwashers on the other hand seem to be far less reliable because of their dependence on lots of mechanicals, and Mr Fixit has to first diagnose the problem. People can generally manage without a dishwasher for a few days but laundry is a major problem if the washing machine suffers a catastrophic failure, as many owners report, and this often happens with nearly-new machines so replacement is not usually an option and you have to look under the tray in the cutlery drawer to find the Warranty [or do a SOGA exercise]. Meanwhile, you are dependent on helpful neighbours and local launderettes if any still exist, Not good, so the No 1 objective for consumer champions must be to sort out the washing machine problem and get manufacturers to issue ten-year warranties so they have a powerful vested interest in producing super-reliable machines and standing by them. Mr Fixit won’t like it, as a drum full of unwashed socks is his bread and butter, but that’s not important in the scheme of things.

Member

As you say, John, washing machines and dishwashers have mechanical components. Cars are much more complex, yet manufacturers manage to give us warranties of three or more years. I agree that these and other domestic appliances should come with a ten year warranty.

Mechanical components are subject to wear and tear, so perhaps the warranty should be ten years or a certain number of cycles, whichever comes first. This works fine for cars and protects the manufacturer from claims relating to excessive use.

Member

First and foremost it would be a help to the uninitiated like myself to be given a list of minor problems likely to go wrong, in particular to washing machines [the only dishwasher in my abode is one with 2 hands protected with a pair of latex gloves] so that it is possible to be able to rectify an obvious fixable problem before resorting to expensive repair bills, depending of course on the age of the machine and it’s warrantee. For example, on one such occasion my washing machine failed to empty during the washing cycle. I sort the advice of a male relative who suggested I check the drainage pipe. So armed with the indispensable latex gloves, a bucket and a ratchet tool plus a keeling pad I managed to clear a blockage in the join of the pipe beneath the sink, thereby saving myself a large repair bill.

On one occasion years ago when all my children were young, whilst waiting for the repair man to arrive to fixit, I threw all the washing into the bathtub to soak over night and next day invited all four of them to remove their shoes and socks and jump up and down on the washing. It turned out to be the cleanest wash I ever had and we all had a lot of fun in the process!

Member

A washing machine engineer would be able to identify common minor problems but they probably depend on the model. Leaks are common and may be easy to fix. Having washed my remote control car key (it survived) and done a fair amount of money laundering (coins and notes) over the years, I presume that I am not the only one to have blocked a hose or damaged a drain pump. An occasional hot wash will help keep the innards of a washing machine free from the build up of detergent residues and mould.

Member

Once an appliance is over 6 years old, I’d be reluctant to have it repaired unless it was something ‘dead obvious’ that I’d tackle myself. For example, I’d be happy to make the repair if it was a leaking gasket or motor brushes. But if it looked like an electronic problem or drum bearings were shot, I’d replace it.

It may cost anything from £50 – £100 to have something repaired: if it is already 6+ years old, how much more use are you going to get before it really is ready for retirement?

I’ve found Bosch and AEG are reliable: our fridge/freezer is 11 years old and looks almost new and our tumble dryer is 14 years old and runs like new too. We’re on only our third dishwasher in 30 years (current model is 2 years old) and our AEG washer sounds as sweet as when it was first installed. All appliances were Which? Best Buys at the time of purchase.