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Is it better to repair or replace large appliances?

When large appliances don’t operate properly or break down, homeowners often face a difficult decision: do I repair it or do I replace it?

In most cases, calling an appliance repair technician out can lead to an answer fairly quickly and could save you big.

Daryl Wooten, owner of highly rated Wooten Appliance in Ellicott City, Md., recalls a recent call from a homeowner who was on the verge of replacing his 15-year-old refrigerator, which had water leaking from the bottom. As it turned out, a clogged defrost drain in the freezer caused the problem; an easy fix for Wooten.

“That’s a very common problem that took minimal work to fix,” Wooten said. “(The homeowners) were definitely happy and it probably gave their refrigerator another five to six years of life.”

Wooten said the total cost of the repair came out to $99, instead of the more than $1,500 it would have cost to replace it with a similar model.

Repairing can be more cost-effective

Chuck Matthews, lead appliance technician for Lanny Adams Appliance Service in Atlanta, said the cost of repairing is usually about 20 to 30 percent of the cost of replacing. Factors like the age of the device, how well it’s been maintained and how much it’s been used are all things to consider in determining whether to repair or replace.

“A repairperson can come over to the house and fix the problem at a good cost,” Matthews said. “It will also save you the time of having to shop and compare prices [for a new appliance].”

Matthews and Wooten both said it’s important to note that appliances made in the past 10 years don’t seem to be as high quality as their older predecessors. That may mean you need to maintain and repair your appliances more frequently.

A general rule of thumb, appliance experts say, is if a repair is estimated to cost more than half the cost of a new appliance — such as a dishwasher, refrigerator, stove or washer and dryer — and the unit is through more than half of its useful life, six or seven years on average, it may be time to buy a new one.

Ask for a recommendation

A reputable technician can make recommendations about whether a repair or replacement is a better option. Experts say the average price of a repair, including the service fee, is between $170 to $215.

“One of the things that gives you an indication to stick a fork into it for a washer, for example, is if it’s not spinning as fast, as there may be a problem with the transmission, which can cost $400 to $550 to replace,” Wooten said. “On the other hand, a common problem I see that can be fixed is when dishwashers or washing machines get too much residual soap in them. That’s an easy fix. We can usually just run it through a full cycle with nothing in it, or use a cleaner.”

Matthews said other less expensive fixes for large appliances can include fan motors, electronic controls and belts. Issues with the refrigerant system or a compressor on refrigerators, as well as a motor on the washer and dryer, for example, may mean it’s time to replace.

Find a trustworthy repairperson

In the long run, Wooten said, hiring an appliance repair service provider to take a look is worth it.

“If you’re not sure why it’s not working, it’s worth taking a gamble and having someone come out,” Wooten said. “You may have to pay a service fee, but you’ll at least find out what’s wrong with it. Chances are, it will be repairable and cost-effective.”

Before making that call, make sure to find a trustworthy technician who gives sound advice and doesn’t have a history of overcharging for their services.

“Take a look at online reviews or talk to neighbors that have used a company in the past,” Matthews said. “Because you’re taking a chance if you end up searching through the [phone book]. A reputable company will carry good inventory on the trucks and be able to come out the same day or the next day.”

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