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What to Do With a Broken Refrigerator, Repair or Replace?

Jason, 09/02/2016

Purchasing a refrigerator is no easy (or cheap) endeavor. People usually spend days, weeks, or even months saving up and shopping around for a good deal. And when you do finally find one that is to your liking, it is an extremely rewarding feeling. You leave knowing that you won’t have to go through that process again anytime soon as the average lifespan of a refrigerator is about 10 to 20 years. However, at some point you will have to come to terms with the unfortunate reality of the situation: your refrigerator isn’t going to last forever.

While refrigerators usually don’t require as much upkeep and are more durable than other home appliances like trash compactors or dishwashers, they are not invincible to damage from daily wear-and-tear. Problems may range from something simple like a broken icemaker or water filter to more serious issues such as overheating. Because the severity of problems vary, it can be tough deciding whether you should pay for repairs or just purchase a completely new one.

The decision depends on many factors including the age and type of refrigerator as well as the extent of damage done. We wanted to make the decision a little bit easier for you. Refer to this guide if you are deciding whether you should repair or replace your refrigerator.

SIGNS YOU SHOULD CONSIDER REPLACING YOUR REFRIGERATOR

Overheating

It is a little bit counterintuitive to think that a refrigerator, something that is designed to keep your food and beverages cold, can overheat. However, because most refrigerators run on a motor, it is possible for the motor to overheat. While it is completely normal to feel some heat when you touch the back of your fridge, it should not be so hot that you have to pull your hand away quickly to prevent being burned. Feeling an exorbitant amount of heat coming from your fridge is a clear sign that something is wrong with your fridge or your refrigeration thermometer.

Because the coils in the back of your fridge are insulated, they prevent you from feeling too much heat. However, if you do notice that your refrigerator is heating up, you should contact a repair technician as soon as possible to take a look at the coils The repair technician could tell you one of two things: (1) that the problem is not too serious and you can easily fix it by replacing the coils, or (2) that the fridge is on its last legs anyway and it might be a better investment to simply replace it. To prevent this from happening, be sure to dust your refrigerator’s condensers at least once every month.

Freezer Unit Freezing Over

On the other end of the spectrum is the possibility that your refrigerator freezer is running too cold. Of course, the whole point of a freezer is to keep food frozen that is supposed to be frozen. However, you should not have to pick ice off of your food before you can cook it. If your fridge freezer is starting to look like an iceberg, you have a problem on your hands. Before you call a technician, we recommend trying to fix the problem yourself. Try to defrost the freezer by unplugging the fridge. After plugging it back in, keep an eye on the freezer and monitor what happens. This should do the trick.

However, if you are still having problems after defrosting, you might want to call a technician specializing in appliance repair or consider buying a new refrigerator. This problem is more common in older refrigerators because they do not have an automatic defrost mechanism like newer units do. Therefore, taking the plunge and buying a new fridge or freezer will save you a lot of time, money, and repair trips in the long-run.

There is a Puddle of Water Around the Fridge

Not only is this dangerous for your fridge, but is also dangerous for you! Walking around the kitchen should not be a hazard due to puddles from the fridge. Not to mention the mess you have to clean up on a daily basis. A leaky fridge could be the result of many different things including:

  • The door not closing completely – check the seals around the doors for wear-and-tear
  • Hoses from the fridge to the drip pan are loose, out of place, or damaged
  • The drip pan itself is broken
  • The freezer is too frosty

While you can check for these problems on your own, we recommend calling a technician to get to the root of the issue. You don’t want to get stuck wasting money on the wrong replacement parts because you failed to correctly diagnose the problem. However, if the replacement parts end up breaking the bank, you might want to consider buying a new refrigerator altogether.

Your Food is Spoiling

Don’t wind up wasting more money on energy and grocery bills because you refuse to buy a new refrigerator! If you begin to notice that your fruits and vegetables and meat are starting to smell or spoil more rapidly, it is a very telling sign that it may be time to go shopping for a new refrigerator. Not only is this ruining your food, but it is also wasting a lot of energy.

Fridges that take a long time to cool your food or cannot maintain the temperature settings are wasting a lot of energy. The inability to maintain temperature settings is one of the first signs that a fridge is on its way out.

You Can Hear Your Refrigerator Running

Refrigerators are not known to be the quietest appliances. Most refrigerators do emit a slight humming sound, which is completely normal. However, if you hear your fridge running and you are not within the immediate vicinity of the kitchen, it would be wise to hire a repair technician and determine what the issue may be.

Before calling a technician, you can try to fix the problem yourself by unplugging then re-plugging your refrigerator. If an ongoing buzz persists after trying this, contact your repair technician and finally get some peace and quiet.

Extreme Condensation

This is a common problem for refrigerators that are not cooling properly. If you touch the outside of your refrigerator and it is sweating, you should start by analyzing the rubber sealing that encompasses the door. The sealing prevents cold air from getting out and warm air from getting in. If you notice that there are water droplets or hints of mold or mildew, you should call a technician or buy the necessary replacement parts. New sealing will help keep the cold air in and keep warm air out.

You can also look for hints of condensation inside your freezer. If you notice your freezer perspiring, it probably means that your temperature setting is out of whack. It is extremely important that you address this problem right away as it could cause your food to spoil.

FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING TO REPAIR OR REPLACE YOUR BROKEN REFRIGERATOR

After you notice the signs that your refrigerator is breaking down, there are numerous factors that you should take into consideration when deciding to repair or replace the unit. These include factors such as age, type of refrigerator, whether it is energy-efficient, and the extent of the damage done.

Refrigerator Age

While the lifespan varies based on refrigerator type, consumers can usually count on their fridge to last approximately 13 years. Some refrigerators, including the increasingly rare single-door units, usually last up to twenty years. However, common refrigerators such as freezer-top and side-by-side refrigerators typically last about 14 – 17 years. Other factors such as how well it is cared for and its construction can also have an effect on the life expectancy of your refrigerator.

There are a few steps you can take to prolong the life expectancy of your refrigerator. This includes keeping the unit out of direct sunlight and away from heat-producing appliances such as microwaves and dryers. It is also important to ensure that the coils on the back of your fridge are a few inches away from the wall to prevent damage to the insulation. You should also make sure to clean the coils, door seals, and drip can at least once every month. This will prevent gaskets from drying out and cracking.

If you are still unsure about whether to replace or repair your refrigerator a good rule of thumb to keep in mind is the fact that the longer you’ve had your fridge, the greater the potential repair cost. If your fridge is older than ten years old, it may be more costly to keep repairing it than to buy a new one.

Refrigerator Type

When considering whether to replace or repair your refrigerator, it is important to consider the type of refrigerator you currently have as some types of fridges are more difficult and costly to repair than others. According to a study conducted by Consumer Reports, one should adhere to the following guidelines when choosing repair vs. replace.

Built-in refrigerators are almost always worth repairing. Not only are they less expensive to repair but typically have a longer lifespan anyways.

Side-by-side refrigerators should be repaired within a five-year window and considered for replacement after that.

Bottom-freezer refrigerators should be repaired within seven years and considered for replacement after that

Top-freezer refrigerators should be repaired within three years, considered for repair within three to six years, and replaced if older than seven years

PRO-TIP: Before considering replacement or repair, you should always check to see if you have a warranty or extended service. Typically, with a warranty, you can either get the refrigerator replaced or repaired for free. However, if your refrigerator is over ten years old, you likely do not have a warranty for it anymore.

Energy Efficiency

If your refrigerator was manufactured prior to 1992, you probably are suffering from extremely high energy bills. Energy Star began rating refrigerators in 1992 to identify and promote energy efficient products and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to Energy Star, a ten-year old fridge uses twice the amount of energy of an Energy Star-rated fridge. Not only does this waste power and increase your utility bills, but it is also terrible for the environment.

Therefore, if you do have a fridge that is over ten years old, you might want to consider investing in an Energy Star-rated refrigerator. You will see the result in your energy bill after the first month of installation. We understand that the thought of buying a new, energy-efficient refrigerator is a large investment. However, the benefits will begin outweighing the costs almost immediately.

Extent of Damage

We went through the different types of problems that can arise with your refrigerator earlier, but we didn’t go too in-depth about the extent of the damage. This is because it varies for each situation. However, regardless of the problem you should always consult a refrigerator repair technician about any damages before choosing to invest in a new unit.

But, as a good rule of thumb, if you have multiple faulty parts or if your refrigerator is over ten years old, it is probably time to replace it. Consumer Reports recommends replacing your refrigerator if the cost to repair it is more than half the price of buying a new one.

Wrapping Up

When it comes to the decision of whether or not to repair or replace your refrigerator and freezer, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration. However, based on the specific problem, age of refrigerator, type of refrigerator, and the extent of the damage, you should have a pretty good idea about what to do. If you do decide that it is time to buy a new fridge, don’t consider it a bad thing. You will most likely end up saving yourself thousands of dollars worth of repairs and spoiled food. You can also consider it an opportunity to buy that black stainless steel refrigerator, undercounter refrigerator, or French door refrigerator you’ve always wanted.