What to do when an appliance conks out

  • Chicago Tribune
  • Monday, September 13, 2010 5:26pm
  • Business

Home appliances break and wear out, and many consumers are often surprised, almost as if they expect these machines to last forever.

But appliances have life spans. A trash compactor lasts just six years, on average, compared with a gas boiler, which typically lasts 20 years. Dishwashers tend to last a decade, while clothes washers last about 11 years.

Longtime homeowners know:In any given year, some appliance in a home will likely go kaput.

Life expectancies of home components depend on the quality of the appliance and its installation, as well as intensity of use, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Here’s how to use appliance life-span information to your financial benefit.

Repair or replace? If the repair costs half the price of a new appliance, seriously consider buying new, said Mark Kotkin at Consumer Reports. According to the magazine’s research, any major household appliance more than eight years old should be considered for replacement rather than repair. The magazine also suggest you skip the repair and buy new if your appliance costs less than $150. For example, it’s not going to pay to repair an out-of-warranty toaster.

Budgeting. Business folks know stuff wears out. They budget for replacing furniture in offices and machines in factories. Consumers are different.

“I’ve seen a lot of people’s budgets over the years, and it seems like household maintenance is one category that people miss,” said Matt Bell of MattAboutMoney.com.

People who know the age of their appliances and their expected life spans can budget better for replacements. Or they could maintain a more general emergency fund for when bad things happen. Either cash stash will help you avoid finance charges on a credit card you can’t pay off right away, said Bell.

Cash for applicances. Knowing an appliance’s life span might help you to decide whether to take advantage of incentives via the Snohomish County PUD and elsewhere to replace old models with energy-efficient ones.

Home warranty. A home warranty is a service contract for an existing home that covers major operating systems, such as a furnace or a dishwasher. The homeowner buys a repair contract, often for $300 to $500 a year, and pays a service charge for each call. If many of your major appliances are near the ends of their useful lives, a home warranty might be worthwhile. But warranties are complicated, covering some types of breakdowns and not others. Pre-existing conditions and malfunctions that stem from poor maintenance or installation can be excluded.

Average appliance life span in years

Compactors:6

Dishwashers:10

Disposers, food waste:9

Dryers, electric:12

Dryers, gas:12

Freezers:11

Microwave ovens:9

Ranges, electric:16

Ranges, gas:17

Range/oven hoods:11

Refrigerators:12

Washers:11

Water heaters, electric:13

Water heaters, gas:11

Air-conditioners, room:9

Air-conditioners, central:11

Boilers, gas:20

Dehumidifiers:7

Furnaces, gas:15

Furnaces, oil:17

Heat pumps:12

Source: ApplianceMagazine.com

Shopping Tips

Compare prices. Start your comparison search online, even if you’ll buy in-store.

Haggle. About 75 percent of consumers who tried to haggle on prices of appliances succeeded, according to a Consumer Reports survey.

Consider energy. Appliances have two costs, the original purchase cost and the operating cost. Consider both.

Don’t buy the warranty. Extended warranties usually aren’t worth it because most appliances don’t break during the warranty period and cost about as much as a repair would.

Source: Consumer Reports

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