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Repair or Replace? How to Plan Ahead Before Appliances Wear Out

It's happened to most homeowners before. In the middle of a busy workweek, you realize that you're completely out of clean clothes. Several loads of wet laundry later, you gaze in horror at your broken dryer. Meanwhile, in the back of your mind you wonder-just what is that burning smell?

Appliance failure is a common enough tale. Nothing lasts forever, even if your shrinking budget makes you feel like it should. Unfortunately, it's easy to take major household appliances for granted. You use them every day and expect them to work reliably.

So, when they conk out, you're faced with a choice: repair or replace?

Don't panic. You may feel incapable of making an intelligent choice right now, but if you've done your homework, you'll already have a few back-up strategies in mind.

First, learn what to do before your dishwasher leaks all over your kitchen floor or you're staring dumbly at your soggy clothing.

Choose a Reliable Product Early On

A moment of crisis is not the best time to make smart decisions. While it's possible to get a great deal on a quality appliance while stressing about your old one, it's better to have a reliable brand in mind early on.

Most homeowners like to imagine their dream house. They may wander the aisles at the local big-box appliance store or browse online from time to time. Why not be proactive in your wanderings? If you discover a worthy product or brand, keep track of it for future reference.

For example, while you're online, bookmark product descriptions for brands you trust. Check product reviews from a consumer's advocate or at the manufacturer's website. Ask neighbours which brands they like best.

Finally, seek out appliance retailers who regularly sell reputable brands. Explain what you need and ask which products work for those needs and your budget. Yes, you may still panic shop after an appliance failure, but if you're constantly on the lookout for quality appliances, you'll go shopping armed with the power of valid information.

Budget Ahead

In an era when fewer homeowners than ever have a petty cash fund for in-home emergencies, it may not be pleasant to read this time-worn advice: have a savings account, and make regular deposits into it for a rainy day.

Remember, no one truly plans for appliance failure or related homeowner emergencies. But you can forestall sticker shock if you already have new-appliance funds tucked away in your savings account.

If you can, establish a home improvement account and set up automatic withdrawals from your paycheck. After a while, you'll have a tidy sum put by. The automatic aspect makes it mostly painless.

Investigate Home Warranty Plans

If you've always wondered about home warranty plans that cover the costs of appliance repair (or-in some cases-replacement), now may be a good time to look into them further.

Again, it's helpful to talk to those who've taken advantage of such warranties before. You should also understand the fine print. Despite their amazing claims for replacing old appliances, most warranties have small loopholes. Know exactly what you're getting before you buy an expensive monthly plan. If you need to, contact the Better Business Bureau before you purchase.

If you're told to replace old appliances with a particular brand, it's generally better just to save the money and avoid the replacement plan altogether. After all, no one likes to pay monthly premiums if they end up with a worse brand than their old one. Avoid unpleasant surprises by investigating home warranty plans thoroughly and ahead of time.

Get Help from a Reputable Appliance Dealer

After all these proactive strategies, you still need to know what to do after an appliance breakdown. Remember:

  • Follow this rule of thumb: Replace a product if your repair costs are more than 50 percent of a new product's price.
  • Call several appliance repair outlets for repair estimates. But don't assume the cheapest price is always the best. Check service credentials and customer service reviews, where applicable.
  • Ask your retailer if in-house service personnel do their own work rather than sub-contract. Also, find out if your appliance is on warranty (and what the warranty covers).
  • Learn about your appliance brand so you understand a given product's expected lifespan. If your product is at the end of its lifespan, it's probably time to replace.
  • Understand which appliance types are easiest to repair. Dryers often fall into this category; older washers may not. Neither do old (pre-2001) refrigerators.

No matter how well you prepare, a broken appliance can still frustrate your plan. Tell yourself that it's okay to be frustrated. Call your mom or best friend to let off a little steam.

Then, tell yourself you have this. You really do know what you're doing, even if you feel some stress (after all, that's natural). So when it's time to repair or replace, you'll know exactly what step is the right one for you.