Repair Versus Replace - That Is The Appliance Question

APPLIANCES – These large, bulky, sturdy work savers seem like they should last for decades. But according to research done by Consumer Reports, about twenty percent of gas ranges, dishwashers and clothes washing machines sold from 2003 to 2006 broke within three years. The owners of side-by-side refrigerators with the built in ice makers and water dispensers had it even worse, after three years, 37 percent needed service.

In the first four months of this year close to twenty one million major appliances were shipped to appliance retailers. That means there are a lot of appliance failures in America's future.

Appliance repair technicians and retailers have advised for a long time that you should replace an appliance rather than repair it. They go by what become known as the 50% rule: if the repair would cost half or more of what a replacement appliance would cost, then go for the replacement. As a bonus, the replacement is often more energy efficient, reducing the ongoing cost of using the appliance.

But with the economy in a deep and long recession, many consumers are rejecting the 50% rule and, like their ancestors during the Depression of the 1930's, they are choosing to spend as little money today as possible.

In today's poor economy, getting anything repaired can be difficult. Appliance repair companies, in an effort to stay profitable, are scheduling multiple appointments for the same day, casing customers to sit at home and wait many hours. Since it is not possible to carry every possible repair part on their service vehicles, many technicians have to come back another time with the correct service part to complete the repair.

Often appliance manufactures will outsource warranty work to another local company, who in turn, subcontracts the work to another third party. So when a customer contacts the appliance manufacturer for warranty work, they often find they have to call another phone number. Then, after a service appointment has been arranged, customers end up in a conversation with a third party, who has a completely different idea about when the service call is, when the work will be completed and what is and is not covered under the manufacturer's warranty.

After the appointment nightmare comes the amount of the repair bill. Appliance manufacturers intentionally place a high price on the replacements parts, as a method to encourage customers to purchase a new appliance instead on getting one repaired, said Ronald Sawyer, an appliance servicer in Cohoes, N.Y. Ronald Sawyer is a founding member and executive director of the Professional Service Association, a respected appliance repair industry group.

"When manufacturers came up with a machine that retails for $400, that price covers all parts," he said. "But when it breaks down and you needed a new timer, the timer alone could cost $250. Manufacturers create the technology when they design new machines, they control the manufacturing process, and they make the replacement parts, so we're at the mercy of the manufacturers."

Of the five biggest appliance manufacturers, LG Electronics was the only one to acknowledge that appliance replacement parts can be expensive. There of the appliance manufacturers, General Electric, Electrolux, and Samsung all sidestepped the question. The fifth manufacturer, Whirlpool, stated they would not be able to respond before this article would be completed. The vice-president of LC Electronics USA, John I. Taylor, indicated some of the reasons repair parts are so expensive is "there are thousands of specialized parts for appliance products — maintaining inventories of replacement parts that may or may not get used can be costly."

There is another factor contributing to the cost of repairs; that is the complexity of the appliance warranties. Up until a few years ago, most appliance manufacturers offered a warranty of two years. Today, warranties on most midrange appliances are only one year. A few companies such as Sub-Zero and Miele still offer longer warranties.

Based on Consumers Reports and countless appliance repair technicians, the best method to avoid costly repairs is to purchase the simplest possible appliance. "The more doo-dads, the more stuff you add to an appliance, the more likely it's going to need a repair," said Mark Kotkin of Consumer Reports National Research Center. Consumers should recognize the more complicated and sophisticated the equipment, the more complicated and sophisticated the labor for the repair and the more specialized and expense the repair parts.

Still, few products will last as long as those made during the 1960s and 1970s. "The old Maytag washer your grandmother had, she bought that thing and used it for 35, 40 years," Mr. Sawyer said. "It held up like nothing was ever going to go wrong with it. Today, you just don't get that quality."

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