CHOICE membership

To repair or replace, that is the question

repair

#21

I now replace rather than repair. e.g last month dryer which was only 4 years old stopped working. I had a repairer come out which cost $90 who then advised me the logistic board needed replacing and this was not financiallty worthwhile. Items are becoming smarter, but not lasting for any great length of time. I changed back to a more manual dryer rather than a “smart” one.


#22

Back in the dark ages, when I was young, I made a deliberate decision to invest in tools and learn to repair & maintain my possessions - very largely motivated from numerous experiences with “professionals” charging for repairs which failed and I had to (re-)fix myself. Some 45 years later, in summary, this has been very wise/profitable BUT I have advised our kids not to bother following my example, as recent production tends to fail sooner, but not be repairable (due to design, short service life, super-cession, lack of parts, or not being worth the effort). While I work as a professional, I paid my way through university as a (trained) car mechanic, and have taken formal courses in diverse fields, as well as the learning that experience forces upon you.

When confronted with a fix or replace decision, I tend to be pretty rationalist (except in the case of sentimental value stuff, where over-capitalisation is not part of the decision). I tend to dismantle or otherwise investigate (eg, test) just far enough to get a clear picture of what is really the issue to be fixed (NOT farther). I then sort out the likely cost of repair (eg, special tools, parts if available) vs what I estimate the remaining value of the item is (in current dollars, not what I paid for it)(add time in as you value it). Whatever people tell you, there is always a risk inherent in any repair that things will come unstuck (demonic intrusion!), so there really needs to be considerable daylight on the “value” side. Quick examples: (OK but not great)Our Maytag washer survived 20 years of 3 wash a day use (think too many children), then the transmission froze. Repair was $240(my cost) vs estimated remaining value to us of $400 over 3-5 years. In the event, it went just over 5 years. (great) Our old Sunbeam Mixmaster went 30 years before a tempered part of the controller broke; no easy replacement parts or repair to the metal, so I found a used head on Ebay for $15 after looking at (terrible) reliability reviews for the new $300+ replacements - working perfect 6 years on with excessive use. On the other hand, with phone/tablet progression, even replacing a battery in an older unit can be a poor investment.

My perception is that current manufacturing seeks to turn “durable” items into “consumables” which they can bank on having to be replaced sooner rather than later … good business model but a waste of time and resources for me. Hence, I advise our family to begin with the end in mind, and buy the highest quality (based on actual independent product reviews, not advertising) they can find - which also tends to mean better warranty and longer parts support. Finding truly skilled and honest (repair) artisans is hugely difficult - my list of those I would recommend is not long - and if you use word-of-mouth be sure to ask till you get multiple recommendations (ie, weeding out “my drinking mate” or cousin). I know my personal limitations, so while I will do prep work for panel beating, I leave the spray work to someone with a “good (great) eye” for painting … in my experience this could be as low as 10% of painters. People like to make a lot of money, and it isn’t just the car game where “over-servicing” (replacing parts that don’t need it) is common - hence the need to have a clue what the actual problem really is … otherwise (for example) your gas hot water heater may be replaced rather than have a $40 part changed so that the “disposed for you” unit can be sold on to someone at another job.

To make any decision like this, you need information (duh). Information comes from 3 sources: repositories (eg, manuals, web - especially specialist discussion threads), experts (sometimes available through the web, but generally more time and $ to access), and research (DIY, with big time and $ costs - best not go there unless forced). Older manuals contain more gold than newer (think: litigation). Also, the web is now by far the biggest example of “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. People with that limited knowledge/experience feel a need to share it, often in totally inappropriate situations. Before embracing some quick fix brilliance, look to see if others have “thanked” the poster because their advice actually worked - if not, keep looking (in my experience).

One final piece of wisdom from 45 years of fixing: HIDE your abilities and experience! Otherwise, you will be assailed by people looking to “borrow” tools, dump every broken item they ever have in your lap, then come back after you kindly changed a globe in their car to tell you that the transmission is gone and “you were the last one to work on it.” If you can’t help yourself, swear them to secrecy once the job is done! Seriously!


#23

Thanks for sharing your insight @bpositiv, it’s appreciated.


#24

I think it depends on what the object is.
I own an Apple refurbished iPhone which works perfectly. Computers; it depends on how old and how much it will cost.
White goods, TVs, audio, etc.; generally I’ve found it cheaper in the long run to replace. When I’ve repaired ovens, fridges, dishwashers, etc., it generally cost $ hundreds and invariably breaks down shortly after the repair. I’ve also found White goods repairers not too good (my apologies to honest repairers, but it’s all too easy to get a cowboy and get burned).
Cars; luckily I’ve been going to the same family business since 1980. If you find a good mechanic, follow him/her as they’ve well worth an extra few bucks.


#25

I think a repair cafe where one or two people with skills can help others would be great. But I think that a small payment for advice would be needed, this way retirees could have flexible work and also get a little cash in hand.


#29

Repair should be the first option considered. Youtube and Google is your friend!!! But beware 240V. Always isolate through turning of at the switch, as well as unplugging from the wall. Don’t muck with electricals if you haven’t a clue. If you have an old house (maybe without RCDs installed), then you should buy a portable RCD device to do your testing. Also - if you don’t ask - you don’t get. There are lots of stories out there where consumers have called or written to the manufacturer seeking advice on whether something broken can be replaced, or repaired - and a new one arrives in the mail free of charge! I once had a 10 year old mitsubishi vaccum cleaner motor replaced just by making a phone call. It was the best vac I every had, and it still goes - does hard duty in the shed.
Another consideration is whether new technology in a replacement will end up saving you money (and the environment). Old fridges and freezers fall into this category, I think. Pool pumps too.
And another thing to consider is increased safety which might be available on replacements. For example, the soft start now available on hand held grinders.


#30

I’ve always been a repairer of things, and have done TVs, laptop keyboards, data loggers, motor bearings and brushes, pumps, petrol engines etc successfully quite a few times, and of course cars and bicycles many times, although cars are not really doable yourself anymore since they are full of electronics. Back in 1986 I built a car entirely from scratch using parts from my wrecked one (written off by a 4WD and trailer cutting a corner on my side of the road!), but that is not something I’d attempt with a modern car full of black boxes of electronics.


#31

Building a car from scratch would be a great project. A lot of hard work too no doubt


#32

Indeed it was- I worked on it most days for 3 weeks after driving to Melbourne to pick up the bare shell- it was a rush as I had a deadline- I was a groomsman at a friends wedding, 400km away.


#33

Phew, three weeks! I’ve spent longer than that on crosswords. Sounds like a rewarding experience though.

Here’s a general observation; the act of repairing and working on cars tends to inspire romanticism and pride, but repairing home appliances and electronics seems to be treated differently. I suppose heading out to work on a retro toaster doesn’t have the same ring to it as building a classic car, but is there an image problem with certain types of repair? Any comments or thoughts are welcome.


#34

Image problem? We build light planes (5 - from plans & kits over 30 years) which gets a mixed reaction from gob smacked awe to horror that we would trust our lives to something we built ourselves. My father was an electrician and handyman. His first question on visiting relatives and friends was “what have you broken?” and they would trot out blown appliances or point to the door that got stuck. He was welcomed with open arms - mother kept the kids and family under control while Dad and the man of the house (if there was one) had some man-time over tools. He also came home from work with some things - a repairable washing machine? - someone could use it and someone wanted it removed. He was universally loved.

Today, with so many sealed units, when the drive fails, it is buy another unit and attach. No longer the no/minimal cost to repair. The part may cost more than a new appliance - recipients are not so sure it is a good idea and paying for these parts means no longer minimal cost, means fixing less.

When I was a kid everything was repaired or re-purposed or cannibalised for parts. Now I hear “why would you bother” because it is easier to get another, especially under the “guaranteed trade-in” which is where my box of parts (that used to be a sewing machine until the dealer’s agent worked on it) went, towards a new sewing machine.

A few trends - people no longer have the back yard workshop, houses / units are too small to store appliances waiting for repair, repairs are more than the price of new, people are time poor, appliances are cheap, software / electronics are a mystery.


#35

Thanks for the input @zackarii, you raise some interesting points. I agree with those trends being factors/barriers to consider as well


#36

It really bothers me to have to throw away an appliance because it is cheaper to buy a new one than to repair it. As a child we had a jug and a toaster with elements that could be easily replaced by anyone with the removal of a couple of nuts. The elements could be bought for around 20 cents and replaced at home. It’s a shame small appliances can’t be repaired like that anymore.


#37

We recently had a comment from one of our members about repairing their washing machine. Their machine required replacement of a fairly minor part, but while making the repair their technician commented that compared to many European brands, their (Korean) brand of washing machine tends to be harder and more time consuming to open and access the internals for (even fairly minor) repairs because they are designed for rapid assembly in the factory. This makes them cheaper to build, but more difficult to repair.

It may well be that European manufacturers have factored design for disassembly into their products for some time due to European Extended producer responsibility laws. These laws can compel manufacturers to take responsibility for recycling or disposal of their products when they reach end of life. This is big in automotive circles through the End of life vehicles directive, but in some countries also applies to consumer goods, such as washing machines.

For the consumer, this could mean a slightly higher initial purchase price (as manufacturers have to factor in the cost of disposal), but appliances that are cheaper in the long run as it’s in the manufacturers interest to build appliances that last longer and are easier to pull apart (and therefor cheaper to repair). It could also help to reverse our throw-away society mentality.

What do you think? Would you prefer an appliance with a longer lifespan that cost a little more to buy but was easy to maintain and keep running, or an appliance that cost less upfront but probably needs to be completely replaced after a couple of years?


#38

Definitely worth paying a bit more for something that lasts and is repairable, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to identify such products! With so many consumer items being manufactured in China now, once reliable brands have become less so, and quality control often seems to be ignored. It irks me that certain large hardware stores sell cheap and nasty imported electric tools that often break down within weeks of purchase, and I’m told you can just take them back and they give you a new one, no questions asked… it’s as if it is expected.
I’m pleased to say that I’ve been using the same good quality German branded power tools for over 25 years in some cases.

For cars, it used to be possible to do pretty much everything yourself, if you had the right equipment, I’ve built motors, gearboxes, diffs, distributors etc, but nowadays cars are full of mysterious black boxes of electronics, making it impossible to DIY anything much more complicated than change the oil or replace a flat tyre.


#39

Hi @airedale
All Choice evaluations of products should included “whole of life costs” (in the same way it is done with printers). It would be more realistic, diminish the attractiveness of low purchase price, and make the choices much clearer.

In the case of washing machines, it would include ‘average’ repair costs for consumable parts such as water pumps, amount of detergent and water used, etc.

And to answer your question, I would pay more to buy a machine with a guaranteed longer lifetime (including availability of parts).


#40

Thanks @gordon and @meltam,
Personally I’d also prefer to see an emphasis on quality rather than price, and reporting on whole of life cost would
certainly help bring more attention to this, though it’s a very difficult thing to measure scientifically (as the saying goes ‘your results may vary’), but we can certainly investigate how we can capture this information in our member reliability survey.


#41

A colleague sent this through so I’d thought I’d share it here too. Also, not necessarily an endorsement of the principles mentioned hear but rather food for thought.

https://www.ifixit.com/Manifesto


#42

The ifixit manifesto sounds good to me. (I’ve used ifixit’s excellent repair guides to repair a number of phones.)

One issue mentioned in the ifixit manifesto is the right of access to repair documentation. I whole-heartedly support this, and have found trying to get repair documentation or even exploded part charts incredibly difficult and most often impossible to obtain. Lacking these makes it all the harder to repair or get the correct replacement parts.


#43

You’re right @meltam, that’s a massive hurdle. We always had manuals in the past for our cars, motorbikes and other equipment. Now I find they’re often hard or impossible to obtain. Thankfully Youtube videos often pick up the slack