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Repair Vs. Replace: What to Do When Your Fridge is On the Fritz

Although the term “refrigerator” has been around since the early 1800s, it wasn’t until the 20th century that families all across America brought these useful appliances into their homes. It might have taken some getting used to, but now, we couldn’t possibly live without this technology. By the early 1960s, nearly all American households had a fridge, and we now rely completely on our refrigerators to store our food safely. Refrigeration is undoubtedly the most vital food storage technique in developed countries, with 11.41 million refrigerators being shipped within the US during 2017. In fact, nearly one in every four US households has two or more refrigerators just so they can store more food for future consumption. And although California residents use 31 percent less energy than the national average, you can bet that Oakland-area families won’t stop using their refrigerators anytime soon. 
But of course, nothing good can last forever. Appliances tend to break down at the most inconvenient times. The lifespan of the average refrigerator is approximately 13 years, which will likely fly by before you know it. But sometimes, a fridge may stop functioning even when it should have plenty of mileage left. If your fridge is acting up, how can you tell whether it’s time to replace or whether a simple repair can be performed? Here are some important factors to consider when making this decision.

The design of the fridge

Believe it or not, the style of refrigerator you own may actually play a part in your choice to repair or to replace. According to Consumer Reports, built-in refrigerators are typically worth attempting to repair. That’s likely because custom jobs are simply going to cost more money and take more time to replace. Side-by-side fridges might be better to repair within a five-year time span, but they may actually be more cost-effective to replace after that period. A fridge with a bottom freezer can likely be repaired within the first seven years of ownership and may even be able to still be repaired after that. Fridges with top freezers can likely be repaired within the first six year, but may need to be subsequently replaced. This won’t always definitively tell you whether it’s better to fix or buy new, but it can be a helpful place to start.

The age of the appliance

You’ll definitely want to consider the age of the appliance when making your choice here. Most fridges can last anywhere between 10 and 15 years, so a fridge that’s nearing the end of its lifespan is a good candidate for replacement. Since older units are typically less energy efficient, that may be reason alone to opt for a new version. If your fridge is younger than eight years, repair will often be the best course of action. Fridges that are older than 15 are going to cost much more to repair, which is why replacement is probably the ideal option. If your fridge’s age is somewhere in the middle, you may have to consider other factors on this list to make the right decision. It’s a good idea to talk to your  expert if you need specific advice.

The source of the problem

There are certain refrigeration issues that can be more easily repaired than others. If only certain sections of the fridge (like the fresh section drawers) aren’t as cool as they should be or your fridge won’t dispense ice or water, that’s probably a problem that can be fixed without starting anew. Noisy fans or issues with doors are also likely to be repairable. But having a humming compressor or multiple faulty parts will typically warrant a replacement, especially if the parts are hard to come by or the fridge itself is quite old.

The cost of repairs

Ultimately, this is the most important factor to consider. If the cost of repairs would exceed half of the cost of a new fridge, it’s most likely going to be better for you to replace. You could go either way if your fridge is seven or eight years old (or younger), especially if there’s an extended service plan or warranty that you can take advantage of. But in general, it’s going to be extremely helpful to consider the expenses associated with the repair and whether your technician believes there may be other repairs to deal with at a later date. If those costs are high enough and the brand of your fridge isn’t considered to be top-of-the-line, you might want to save what you’d spend on repairs and spring for a new, high-quality unit that will last for the next decade.

You might not want to give up on your appliance prematurely, but sometimes, cutting your losses may be necessary. By keeping these factors in mind, you’ll be able to assess whether pursuing repairs or purchasing new will be more advantageous for your situation.