There are a few necessary factors to consider before you decide what to do with your refrigerator. A new or used refrigerator will typically cost between $750 to $4,000+ depending on what you need. The average repair will cost between $40 to $300. Typically, DIY repair will save you money and save the planet. Ultimately, you have to decide what's worth it to you based on your needs and circumstances.
Consider the following:
Wait! Beware of voiding the warranty
Always see if your appliance is still under warranty before going rogue with your tools, since attempting repairs yourself may void whatever warranty you have.
Got a warranty? Great, reach out to customer service. Since most fridges that develop issues do so after 5-8 years of use, chances are your warranty has expired.
Do you know if that broken part or system is under recall?
Check the brand’s website or the Consumer Product Safety Commission's recall page to see if the brand has included your problem in a recall. If it is, well, let the brand clean up its own mess.
(If you indeed own a recalled refrigerator, go to the manufacturer's website and/or contact the customer service department to file a claim. You will need your model number and serial number.)
Time is money. Diagnosing the problem may take some time, fortunately, you can phone a friend
Pinning down a problem's cause can be a real head-scratcher. Troubleshooting is often the most time-consuming part of the DIY repair journey so be prepared to spend time figuring out why your fridge is throwing a tantrum.
Tools and Parts Availability
Unless you have one of those 1950s era bomb shelter fridges, chances are you can find parts for it...
Some repairs may require specialized tools and replacement parts. Ensure you have access to these before attempting any repair. You will want to make sure you have all the tools you need. Otherwise, what could've been a simple fix can turn into a drawn-out epic.
Time and Effort
Let's not sugarcoat it. DIY fridge repair can be a bit of a workout. You will need to move that heavy appliance around to access its components. For example, to access the water inlet valve you need to remove the rear panel. It is a straightforward repair once you can access the rear of your fridge.
It may not be worth repairing a top-freezer fridge even after a few years. They are the cheapest type of refrigerator, and repair costs are a larger proportion of the purchase price.
- Side-by-sides are the second cheapest type of refrigerator, but they cost substantially more than top freezer units. Their median repairs are only slightly more costly, so it is more worthwhile to repair them.
- Bottom-freezer units have slightly higher repair costs than side-by-sides, but the high-end units are more expensive, so repairs are more worthwhile.
- Built-ins are so expensive that repair is always worthwhile, regardless of cost.
How long do refrigerators last? Is it living on borrowed time or still in its youth?
Fridges will last 10-20 years, depending on the brand, model, and maintenance performed. If your refrigerator is younger than 10 years old, always consider a repair. If its repair cost is nearing the price of a new unit, it might be time to let it go. However, if you have a trusty refrigerator and the repair costs less than half the price of a new appliance, pull up your bootstraps and keep that old friend running!
Not all problems are created equal. Some, like a faulty thermostat or a clogged drain, can be tackled with the right tools, a repair guide, and a positive attitude. But if you're dealing with sealed refrigerant systems, power supply components, or any repair that's out of your depth, don't hesitate to call a pro.
- If you're looking to save some cash, you can tackle repairs that need some patience and the right tools – think evaporator fan and ice maker assembly replacements.
- You definitely don't need a professional to swap out a fridge water filter or door light. Save their time (and your money) for the big stuff.
- For all our DIY enthusiasts out there, just remember: the only hurdles you can't leap over by yourself are refrigerant leaks and compressor failures. Everything else? It's fair game!
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I calculate to repair or replace?
It depends how complex you want to get!
- Consumer Reports provides a simple calculator tool based on product costs, depreciation rates, and survey data to help you make the right choice.
- Most of the internet will tell you to use the 50% rule. The 50% rule suggests that if the cost of repairing an item is more than 50% of the cost of replacing it with a new one, it is better to replace the item.
But the 50% rule is flawed and is just a starting point for decision making. There are nuanced factors like sentimental value, environmental impact, and how much you value your time that make a simple a+b=c formula inadequate.
If you're the kind of person who likes to understand all the details before making a decision, read this article from Jason Maxham.
Both repair and replacement have a long list of pros and cons associated with them. Depending on the circumstances, the controlling factor that ultimately drives your decision can vary widely. Can a formula take into account all of this complexity, and spit out the correct answer? My first pass left the 50% Rule wanting as a tool: it had no obvious way of incorporating the aspects which I felt were primary considerations...
The article goes into more calculations like salvage value, value added (to the machine by the repair), replacement cost (new vs used), and then outlines formulas like
- msalvage = market value of the broken machine (aka, the salvage value)
- mpost-repair = market value of the machine after repair
- rvalue-added = value added to the machine by the repair
which are related like this:
mpost-repair – msalvage = rvalue-added
(hint: the market price is different from how much a repair is personally worth to you.)
rcost = the direct, out-of-pocket cost of the repair
and note the relationship for an economically sound repair decision:
rcost ≤ rvalue-added
Therefore, we can calculate a profit or loss from a repair as follows:
rvalue-added – rcost = rprofit/loss
Conclusion: if you want numbers to guide you, the value-added model of repair is a much better alternative to the 50% rule.
Why is it better to repair than replace?
Fixing items rather than replacing them can be more advantageous due to several factors:
- Environmental impact: Repairing items reduces waste and conserves natural resources.
- Cost-effectiveness: Fixing an item may be less expensive than buying a new one, especially if the repair cost is significantly lower than the replacement cost.
- Preservation of sentimental value: Repairing cherished items allows you to maintain their sentimental value and personal history.
- Skill development: Fixing items can help develop problem-solving and technical skills.
- Supporting local businesses: Choosing to repair often involves working with local repair shops, which supports the local economy and fosters community connections. Repair creates jobs.
How do you know when it's time to replace your refrigerator?
It might be time to replace your refrigerator when you notice the following signs:
- Age: As mentioned above, if your refrigerator is approaching or has exceeded its average lifespan (around 10-20 years), it may be more cost-effective to replace it with a more energy-efficient model.
- Increased energy consumption: Older refrigerators often consume more energy than newer, energy-efficient models. If you notice a significant increase in your energy bill, it might be time to consider a replacement.
- Frequent repairs: When your refrigerator requires frequent repairs or replacement parts become difficult to find, it could be more practical to invest in a new appliance.
- Inadequate cooling: If your refrigerator is not maintaining consistent temperatures or struggles to keep food cold, it may be a sign that the appliance is no longer working efficiently.
- Excessive noise: Knocking or humming noises coming from your refrigerator could indicate a problem with the compressor or other components, which might warrant a replacement.
- Condensation or frost buildup: Excessive condensation inside the refrigerator or frost buildup in the freezer can be signs of issues with the door seals or cooling system.
How long do refrigerators last?
Refrigerators typically last between 10 to 20 years, with an average lifespan of around 13 years. However, the actual lifespan of a refrigerator can vary depending on factors such as the brand, model, usage, and maintenance practices. To extend the life of your refrigerator, follow these tips for refrigerator maintenance and care.