Broken Expensive Stuff: When to Repair and When to Replace
Microwaves, refrigerators, fixtures, furniture, TVs, computers, cars, clothes. The fact of the matter is many very important items are not built to last forever.
It’s an open secret that “planned obsolescence” is the name of the game. If companies sell you something that never ever gets old and breaks down, well, you’ll never need to buy from them again, now will you? That’s why we try to out-game the system and get all the life out of our purchases as we can.
But it’s not always clear where the point is when we’ve maximized the utility we get from a product and keeping it around longer would only offer diminishing returns. So, when something that already cost you a pretty penny starts acting up (or won’t act as it’s supposed to), how do you know whether it’s best to fix it or to move on?
The 50% Rule. At least that’s what many people would say. If an item has already exceeded half of its expected lifespan, and it would cost more than half its value to have it repaired, then it’s fair game to get a new one. Simple enough, right?
The length of this article probably gave it away, but no, it’s not always that straightforward. While it’s a good rule of thumb, it’s not the be-all-end-all final answer. The reason? New things are still expensive, and thanks to inflation are often even more expensive than you remember from when you bought the original, now-broken items.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
For one thing, part of the 50% Rule is still up for interpretation. What if the value of your current item doesn’t line up with what you paid for it? If you feel like you overpaid, you may feel obligated to extend its life as much as possible to get your money back; if you got it for a steal, you may feel justified in putting more money into it since you still haven’t spent as much on it as you might have.
Don’t just consider the sticker price of a new item, but also how much it would cost to switch – that is to say, the financial cost as well as the time it would take. Consider these: the time to set up electronics, the frustration of transferring data to a new computer, the hassle of getting all the documents together for a new car, or the logistics of getting a new couch or washing machine into your house. Heck, for that matter, how are you going to get the old ones out?
Then there are obstacles you may have just never noticed. If your fridge occupies a tight nook that’s just the right size, you might be restricted to new models that have the same dimensions. Furthermore, many newer home-design styles have things like ovens, dishwashers, and microwaves built right into walls, counters, or cabinetry. If this is the case for you, you may have to consider if replacing them is even physically an option.
You need to factor all those things into whether it’s worth it to upgrade. But also, don’t forget you’ll be getting diminishing returns from repairing your current model at some point. It’s all about finding a balance, and that involves knowing details specific to your situation.
UNRAVELING THE RIDDLE
For example, is your current model genuinely broken, or is it just inefficient? Many people are upgrading appliances for newer versions that are more energy- or water-efficient so they can save money in the long run. That’s a good idea when its predecessor’s time is up, but many people are too eager to upgrade too early and wind up spending more money than they save.
Similarly, something might still be functioning but not functioning well. Slow computers, rattling cars, warm freezers and cold ovens are all in the “repair or replace” gray area. With these cases, it would be best to get the problem diagnosed by a professional, but also get their impartial expert opinion on how much longer they’ll be expected to last with a repair.
The key here is knowing how long the item should last. This way you can gauge how long you should try to keep something working before you’ve gotten your money’s worth out of it. Then you can apply the 50% Rule.
If you’re still on the fence, double-check whether your product is still under warranty. You might think it’s not, but it can’t hurt to check. Even if you got it secondhand, it might be transferable. That might help you make your final decision.
THE NEXT STEPS
Maybe now you’ve made up your mind about what the right path is, but both repairs and replacements still cost money. You might worry that the right path and the financially-feasible path aren’t necessarily the same. But as long as you’re doing your research and keeping your wits about you, you should be able to figure out how to do what you need to do.
If you decide you want to bring your broken item back to life, it would be best to do your homework before choosing a professional to repair it to ensure you’re getting a reputable fixer at a fair price.
These days though, many people are trying to go for the ultimate money-saving measure: fixing it themselves. This can be a great option if you know what you’re doing, but most people simply don’t. And there’s no shame in that; we can’t all be experts. But if you overestimate your skills, you could wind up doing more harm than good. You could misdiagnose the problem, put in the wrong parts, break other parts, void a warranty, and maybe even cut yourself open on something sharp or electrocute yourself for good measure. Doing it yourself poses a high reward but a high, high risk. It’s best to use discretion.
If you’re going to buy a new doohickey, be sure to be smart with your money. Did your current one conk out prematurely? Don’t make that mistake again. Do some research into what models and manufacturers are known for longevity and which are reputed to be unreliable. And again, it wouldn’t hurt to look into an energy-efficient model to save you more long-term money.
Then there’s the eternal quandary of extended warranties. Mainstream culture has mocked the idea of these for decades and yet companies still make a killing off them. Extended warranties are basically an acceptable form of gambling. You’re paying it forward to fix a problem that might never come. But of course, if that problem does come, you would want to have that warranty. So, what’s to be done?
You do even more research. For the product you’re looking into buying, specifically see if you can snuff out when in their lifespan they start having problems. If you’ve found a really good product, that might not be for a long time. Compare that to how long the base warranty is that’s offered with your purchase (and if they don’t offer a base warranty, maybe investigate whether that’s normal or if you’re entering shady dealings).
Experts insist most large-scale consumer goods will have issues either very early-on or very late into their service, rarely in the middle. Still double-check to see if your purchase would be an exception. But for the most part, the extended warranty gamble doesn’t typically pay off, unless it’s a price you’re willing to pay for peace of mind.
Depending on your finances, style and priorities, there may be other things to consider like, “If you buy a new toilet now, will it clash with the 70s motif of your bathroom!?” But for the most part, these are the most important things to consider.
If you can make a point to thoroughly assess every cost involved in either repairing or replacing your item, then implementing the 50% Rule can really help you make the right choice.
Or if you really want that fancy new toaster, then go for it.