Should I replace or repair my refrigerator? This is a question many of us ask ourselves at some point, if not multiple points, in our adult lives. If you’re wondering when to replace your refrigerator, you’re in the right place. Before you start searching online for “repair or replace refrigerator” or “when to replace refrigerator,” stick around! The severity of refrigerator problems can vary widely, so we’ve provided a helpful overview. We hope this post will give you the information you need to make a well-informed decision about your particular refrigerator situation. Knowing whether to repair or replace can be a difficult choice if you’re not well informed first.
If you’re on the fence, think about how bad a state your current refrigerator is actually in, what sort of environmental impact it’s currently making when compared with a new model you’d likely replace it with, and the features and functionality you want or require to accommodate your family’s needs. If you keep your fridge clean, adequately vented and looked after, it can last longer than you’d think (10 to 20 years), but you should consider a replacement if it’s breaking down.
Two good rules of thumb to keep in mind are that if repairing your fridge costs less than half the price of buying a new one, it’s generally worth making those repairs. The second rule is to remember that new refrigerators are significantly more efficient than old ones, so can plan on saving money over time due to the reduced amount of electricity that a newer, more efficient refrigerator requires.
Speaking of efficiency, let’s talk Energy Star. This is the federal government’s official rating for appliance efficiency, A decade-old fridge requires twice the power of a new Energy Star-rated fridge — a strong argument for trading up, considering that even if you drop some serious cash on a new unit, you’ll make considerable financial gains against that investment over time with a more efficient refrigerator that drains your wallet less every month in operating costs. You’ll also feel a little better about your environmental impact. If you still use a very old fridge, like one built before 1992 when Energy Star first arrived, you’re using a much greater amount of energy to operate your refrigerator, and it may be time to trade up on this basis alone. Begin by only considering brand names with reputations for quality.
How old is it?
Most refrigerators last between 10 and 20 years or so, which is a pretty wide window of possibility. But as the unit ages, its potential repair bills increase. Of course, how you treat your refrigerator — in terms of keeping it clean, fixing any problems as they arise, and making sure it’s well vented and out of the sun — can make a big difference in how long it lasts. Some can last even longer than 20 years, which is appealing. But remember, these units are much less efficient than newer models, and their potential repair costs are inevitably much higher as well.
What type is it?
Different model configurations have different expected lifespans. Some hold up better than others, and some have somewhat predictable tendencies. Some require sacrificing a bit of reliability for convenience, depending on what’s important. For example, some people insist on having a water and ice dispenser on the front of their fridge, but these features can cause problems that require maintenance more often than in fridges without them. Some are more difficult to repair and as such are more expensive to fix when it’s time for maintenance. Though there are no hard-and-fast rules on what to expect from a particular model, we’ve assembled an at-a-glance guide to various models and what you might want to know about them:
- Top freezers: Ease of access to ice and less energy used than most other models; could need repairs after three to six years; often require replacement after seven years of use.
- Bottom freezers: When frozen foods are less in demand, they’re conveniently out of the way; may require repairs in the first seven years or replacement after that point.
- Side-by-side freezers: With the ice maker, there’s twice the chance of repairs (versus top- or bottom-freezer models with no ice maker); often repaired or replaced after five years.
- Built-in models: Can be more expensive to repair because they may involve access problems, but these models are usually very high-end and worth repair investment.
- Manual defrost: Though they use less energy than most modern units that feature automatic defrost, they are harder to come by these days.
If there must be a villain in this story, behold the ice maker. Easily responsible for the vast majority of refrigerator repair orders, this handy wee gadget is prone for a variety of problems. If you think there’s any chance you and your housemates can survive without ice, by all means do so; refrigerators that lack ice machines experience nearly two-thirds fewer problems requiring repairs. If you’re sure you’ll need the ice, go for a top- or bottom-freezer model instead of a side-by-side fridge, and you’ll gain several percentage points in reliability. There’s nothing like a cold drink with clinking ice cubes, but you do pay extra for that.
If you notice that food spoils faster or your refrigerator has trouble reaching or maintaining the ideal temperature it has been set to, this is a leading indicator that there could be internal problems with the unit that require maintenance. Keep in mind that wasted food and an increased energy bill are both symptoms of a problem you should not neglect.
Nobody likes a sweaty refrigerator, and it could be a symptom of a bigger problem. A deteriorated or broken seal can prevent the unit from achieving or maintaining the appropriate temperature inside, which can lead to issues with mildew, mold and food spoilage. You might even notice signs of condensation in the freezer. Both are signs you might need help.
Your fridge is probably not a silent appliance, but you’ve likely become accustomed to the sounds it makes. However, if those sounds get noticeably louder or start to include particularly weird noises you’ve never heard before, this could be cause for calling in the experts. After all, no fridge is designed to wake you up or disturb a quiet evening meal. You may have luck solving the issue temporarily by unplugging the fridge and then plugging it in again.
If your fridge leaves a puddle, this means trouble. Of course, you don’t want anyone to slip and fall, but something is seriously wrong if your fridge has trouble staying dry. This could be a symptom of broken or loose hoses, bad seals, broken drip pans or an over-frosted freezer. Whatever the cause, it’s a good reason to obtain a professional opinion.
Though it seems counterintuitive, the fridge can feel hot to the touch when a refrigerator motor overheats, especially on the back where it normally feels a little warm. If the outside of the fridge is hot wherever you come into contact with it, something is wrong. However, without the help of an experienced technician, it’s tough to tell whether the problem is a simple fix, like new coils, or a complete replacement is advisable.
A warranty can extend the life of your refrigerator while saving you some cash. You should always check to see whether your machine is still covered before contacting a service company. Most warranties expire after 10 years, but some extended warranties go even further. It’s worth a look before calling for help.
How bad is it?
Your situation could be unique and almost certainly varies from others machines. If you suspect that your compressor may have gone out, if you know you have more than one problem with the unit, or if you know that the fridge is super old, it might be time to replace it. But don’t act immediately. When it’s clear that you have a problem with your refrigerator, unless you’re pretty handy with repairs, it’s a good idea to go ahead and get an estimate from a licensed, insured and bonded repair service. Most offer free estimates, so you could even get two or three for comparison. Once you are pretty sure of approximately how much it’ll cost to repair your old fridge, you can weigh that against the cost of a new one and use the old rule of thumb we mentioned earlier: If repairs cost more than half the sticker price of a new one, you might as well go for the upgrade.
Thanks for reading our post on how to know when to repair or replace a refrigerator. We hope it was helpful. While you’re here, you may want to check out our posts on whether a home warranty covers your refrigerator, calculating refrigerator repair costs or how to give your refrigerator a long, efficient life. You may also want to take a look at our refrigerator maintenance guide.
The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.