7 MIN READ
Have Something That’s Broken? Here’s How to Decide If It’s Worth Fixing
I’m a big klutz, so barely a week goes by when I don’t accidently break, drop, rip, tear or scratch something around my house.
Putting an unintended hole in my favorite hat (don’t ask) or scratching the dishwasher with my car key (really, don’t ask) isn’t a big deal.
That time I dropped the microwave, though? That was a very big deal. (I said I don’t want to talk about it.)
How to Decide Whether to Repair or Replace Your Belongings
When something you own breaks or gets damaged, should you spend money to repair it or just buy a new one altogether?
“Don’t spend more than 50 percent of the cost of a new product on repairing an old one,” Consumer Reports suggests. “And if an item has already broken down once before, replacement may make more sense.”
But sometimes the answer isn’t always so clear cut. Let’s take a look at some other things to consider when you’re trying to decide whether to repair or replace some common items.
Auto repair bills can eat up a huge chunk of money, but so can purchasing even the most basic new or used car.
You don’t want to spend money fixing one problem only to have something else go wrong.
On the other hand, it’s expensive to buy another car and, if it’s preowned, you can’t be sure you’re not buying a whole new set of problems.
Here’s how to decide:
Is the vehicle under warranty?
If you aren’t sure if the car is still under warranty, enter its Vehicle Information Number on its manufacturer's website. (To quickly find the page you need, type “[make of car] VIN.”)
If the car is still under warranty, make an appointment at your local dealer to find out if the repair is free.
Is the problem part of a known recall?
Search the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s database to find out if the issue is part of a recall.
If so, contact the nearest dealership for your make of car and schedule a repair appointment.
Is the problem safety-related or merely cosmetic?
Some repairs can be safely ignored if they don’t make the car dangerous to ride in or drive. For instance, a damaged trunk liner may be an annoyance that’s not worth paying to fix.
A non-working seatbelt, on the other hand, should be repaired immediately.
Can you make the repair yourself?
Mechanics and car dealership service shops can be expensive. One way to keep costs down is to make the repair yourself. If you go this route, make sure you know what you’re doing so you don’t make matters worse.
Do the math.
Sometimes crunching some numbers will help you decide. “If the cost of repairs is greater than either the value of the vehicle or one year's worth of monthly payments, it's time for another vehicle,” say the car experts at Edmunds.com.
Clothing and Apparel
It’s not uncommon for people to wear garments like socks and t-shirts until they’re too threadbare to put on.
When they’ve served their final duty as clothing, recycle them into rags and save the extra money you would have spent on pricy paper towels.
But what about the pair of dress shoes you spent a fortune on or the blouse you’ve held on to for sentimental reasons?
Is the damage worth spending money on to fix? Consider these questions:
How often do you plan to wear the item?
If the garment is a timeless classic you can wear for years to come, it’s most likely worth fixing.
On the other hand, a pair of inexpensive slacks you’ve never liked and that don’t fit you right probably aren’t worth the time and expense to fix.
How much is the garment worth?
It makes sense to repair a puncture in a $200 down jacket that you’ll wear all winter.
But it’s probably not worth paying to fix the torn hem of an inexpensive beach sarong you only wear once a year.
Can you easily replace the item?
Let’s go back to the expensive down coat for a minute. That’s worth repairing because it would most likely cost a lot more to replace.
On the flip side, toss the belt with the broken buckle and pick up a replacement at the thrift store for a couple of bucks.
Can you make the repair yourself?
Some clothing repairs, like missing buttons or torn seams, are easy enough to tackle yourself. Large mending jobs or extensive alterations may require a professional tailor or seamstress.
Are you emotionally attached to the item?
If you have a sentimental attachment to a damaged piece of clothing, the question of whether or not to repair it may seem like an obvious “yes.”
But before you spend a bunch of money fixing it, consider whether there’s another way to enjoy the garment without wearing it. For instance, turn a favorite skirt into a teddy bear or a button-down shirt into a little girl’s dress.
When an appliance breaks down, it usually creates a large and immediate problem. People can usually get by without a dishwasher, but a broken refrigerator or washing machine is a much bigger deal.
Don’t panic. Ask yourself these questions to help you decide whether it’s time to repair or replace a broken appliance.
Is the appliance still under warranty?
Check your paperwork: New appliances typically come with a one-year warranty, but most stores also offer an extended warranty at the time of purchase.
Can you repair the appliance yourself?
If you know the trouble with your appliance is, say, a broken dishwasher water hose or lawn mower drive belt, check YouTube for do-it-yourself repair videos.
You’ll still have to spend money on parts, but you’ll save on the labor costs of having a professional repair it for you.
Is the appliance obsolete?
Many of today’s appliances are so high-tech that models made only a few years ago are already outdated. Whether you want to hire a professional or DIY the repair, it might be tough to find affordable replacement parts.
Will replacing the appliance save you money in the long run?
Modern appliances are much more energy efficient than their older counterparts. For instance, “newer refrigerators use about half as much energy as older models,” notes the Washington Post.
Home and Personal Electronics
It’s difficult to determine whether it’s worth repairing personal electronics.
Of course the usual caveats about checking to see if the device is under warranty apply. If not, your next steps vary by device.
The lifespan of a television varies according to whether it’s an LCD, LED, plasma or old-fashioned tube. That means it’s tough to judge whether your TV will last long enough to offset the cost of any repair it requires.
The best way to decide whether or not to repair your broken television is to compare what you paid for it against the cost of parts and labor.
“Anything under 32 inches isn’t even worth fixing,” television expert Craig Siplin told Angie’s List. That’s because the value of the TV will fall short of the cost of repairs.
If you’re not comfortable fiddling around inside your computer, remember Consumer Report’s 50% rule to determine if repair or replace is the better option.
Tablets and Smartphones
Due to the nature of their design, it’s notoriously difficult to repair tablets and smartphones on your own.
Hiring a professional is your best bet, but be sure to shop around for estimates. If it costs at least 50% more to fix than it would to replace, it’s probably time to start shopping around for the best deal on a new tablet or smartphone.
One More Thing to Try
Before you make a final decision on whether to repair or replace an item, check to see if your town has a Repair Café where local craftsmen and specialists can help you learn how to fix your stuff for free.
Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Trust us, the microwave thing wasn’t nearly as weird as the time she burned her hair in the toaster.