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Appliance life expectancy

Should you go to the effort to repair a broken appliance? Or is it time to get a replacement?

There are 2 ways to estimate an appliance’s lifespan. We use both.

Economic life: At some point an appliance reaches the end of its economic life: that’s when it's more economical to replace the appliance than repair it. Our estimates of “economic life” are based on a survey we sent to manufacturers in February 2013. Where we didn't receive a response, we used data from a previous year’s survey.

Life expectancy: This is how long an appliance should last, given reasonable use and perhaps some repair. Our estimates of “life expectancy” are based on our appliance-reliability surveys and feedback from our members.

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Large kitchen appliances

Dishwashers

  • Economic life: 7-20+ years
  • Life expectancy: 15+ years

Repair or replace? Broken racks, seals and inlet valves can be swapped out – manufacturers keep spare parts for years. Electronic controls on older models are harder to fix, but at least get a quote.

While you might be able to repair a machine older than 15 years, keep in mind that newer models are quieter and more efficient.

Find out more about dishwashers in our dishwashers test report.

Refrigerators

  • Economic life: 10-20+ years
  • Life expectancy: 15+ years

Repair or replace? Problems such as faulty thermostats and damaged door seals are worth repairing. You can partially restore the cooling performance of an old fridge by replacing worn seals.

Replace your fridge if it suffers a major fault (such as compressor failure) and it's more than 10 years old. New fridges are more efficient and have lower running costs.

Find out more about fridges in our fridges and freezers test report.

Ovens & stoves

  • Economic life: 10-20+ years
  • Life expectancy: 15+ years

Repair or replace? Ovens and stoves are worth repairing until spare parts become scarce. Broken doors are repairable, particularly if it's just a matter of replacing the hinges. Blown thermostats, simmerstats and elements can also be swapped out. Broken fans and electronic modules can be more expensive to fix.

Find out more about ovens and stoves in our test reports.

Small kitchen appliances

Microwaves

  • Economic life: 5-20 years
  • Life expectancy: 8+

Repair or replace? Unfortunately, the magnetron – the guts of your microwave – is the most common source of problems. Replace your microwave if you can't get the magnetron fixed under warranty or the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA). Blown bulbs can be surprisingly expensive to fix. Can you get by without the internal light?

Find out more about microwaves in our microwaves and benchtop ovens test reports.

Espresso machines

  • Economic life: 5-10+
  • Life expectancy: 5+

Repair or replace? You might be able to remedy minor problems by descaling your machine. While some manuals recommend a commercial descaling formula, a mixture of vinegar and water is often enough.

Components such as group head seals, filter baskets and portafilters are replaceable. There are several companies specialising in espresso machine repairs: you might be able to fix a more serious fault.

Find out more about espresso machines in our espresso machines test report.

Kettles and toasters

  • Economic life: 2-8+ years
  • Life expectancy: 5+ years

Repair or replace? Some kettles and toasters aren't designed to be repaired. However, a few manufacturers still stock spare parts if you need a new lid for your kettle or element for your toaster.

While warranties for kettles and toasters usually last 1 to 2 years, your CGA rights extend beyond this period (based on the price you paid and the use of the appliance).

Find out more about kettles and toasters in our jugs and kettles and toasters test reports.

Laundry and cleaning

Clothes dryers

  • Economic life: 7-20+ years
  • Life expectancy: 15+ years

Repair or replace? Vented dryers are simple beasts, so they’re easy to repair. Internal components such as the drive belt, thermal fuse and even the drive motor can be swapped out. You should also be able to order external components such as door catches, controls and lint filters from the manufacturer or a service centre.

Tip: Buying a new dryer? Look for a model with a sensor. Sensors can prevent you from over-drying clothes and wasting energy.

Find out more about clothes dryers in our clothes dryers test report.

Vacuum cleaners

  • Economic life: 3-20+ years
  • Life expectancy: 12+ years

Repair or replace? While a vacuum should last 12 years, its life expectancy will be reduced if you use it to suck up fine gib or plaster dust. That aside, jammed brush rolls and blocked filters can be unclogged or replaced. Replacement hoses and nozzles are also available. Whether or not you fix a more serious problem depends on the price of your vacuum.

Find out more about vacuum cleaners in our vacuum cleaners test report.

Washing machines

  • Economic life: 7-12 years (top loaders) 12-20 years (front loaders)
  • Life expectancy: 10+ years (top loaders) 15+ years (front loaders)

Repair or replace? Blocked pumps and broken door-seals are fixable (you can often clear a blocked pump yourself). If your machine's drum stops spinning, the motor brushes or the drive belt might have worn out: get a quote for repairs. Major washing-machine faults include failed drum bearings, fried electronic modules and broken gearboxes.

If your machine's older than 6 years, don't spend more than $400 to fix it.

Find out more about washing machines in our washing machines test report.

Heating

Dehumidifiers

  • Economic life: 2-15 years
  • Life expectancy: 10+ years

Repair or replace? The dehumidifiers in our test database vary considerably in price, from $300 to $750. But we'd expect even cheap models to last 10 years, as our surveys show they're reliable.

It's not worth repairing a cheaper model if it develops a major fault such as compressor failure.

Find out more about dehumidifiers in our dehumidifiers test report.

Heat pumps

  • Economic life: 5-15 years
  • Life expectancy: 10-15 years

Repair or replace? Minor problems such as noisy fans should be fixed. Major issues like a broken circuit board or faulty compressor mightn't be worth repairing, particularly if your heat pump is older than 7 years.

Minimum energy performance standards were revised in June 2006 and again in April 2013. If you have an older system, upgrading to a more efficient model could be a better option than spending money on repairs.

Find out more about heat pumps in our heat pumps report.

Heaters

  • Economic life: 3-5+ years (fan) 3-10+ years (convection and radiant)
  • Life expectancy: 5+ years (fan) 10+ years (convection and radiant)

Repair or replace? Some manufacturers keep spare parts for 10 years or more. They also offer generous warranties – 5 to 7 years in some instances. But you're unlikely to have the same luck with cheap heaters and repairs may not be economical.

Find out more about heaters in our electric heaters test report.

Electronic appliances

Cameras

  • Economic life: 3-7 years (compact and CSC) 3-10 years (DSLR)
  • Life expectancy: 5-10 years

Repair or replace? While you might opt to repair a 5-year-old DSLR, a 5-year-old compact is nearing the end of its economic life. Use the fault as an excuse to upgrade. Recent advances in technology mean new models have smaller bodies crammed with bigger sensors and more features (such as WiFi and GPS).

Find out more about digital cameras in our digital cameras test report.

Computers

  • Economic life: 3-7 years
  • Life expectancy: 5 years

Repair or replace? While we expect a laptop or desktop to last 5 years, around 1 in 3 fails by its 4th year according to Consumer Reports (the US consumer organisation). Malware often contributes to the early demise of a computer, so keep your antivirus protection up-to-date.

It's time to replace if your computer malfunctions after 5 years. A new computer lets you take advantage of the latest processors, graphic cards and operating systems.

TVs

  • Economic life: 3-10 years (plasma) 3-12 years (LCD)
  • Life expectancy: 12+ years

Repair or replace? It might be best to replace an old TV. Individual components are difficult to fix; and you often need a complete printed circuit board (which can cost almost as much as the set itself).

New TVs have built-in digital tuners – this can save you the cost of a set-top box.

Find out more about televisions in our televisions test report.

Your rights

The Consumer Guarantees Act obliges retailers to guarantee their products are "of acceptable quality". This means that they must last for a time that’s reasonable for the particular product and the price paid for it.

Manufacturers and importers must hold spare parts for this length of time, unless you're told at the time of purchase that spares and service won’t be available.

If an appliance fails before its time is up – and you haven't caused the fault – the retailer has to put things right:

When it's a minor problem the retailer has a choice between fixing the appliance, replacing it, or taking it back and giving you a refund.

If it's a serious problem then you can choose whether the retailer replaces the product, or takes it back and gives you a refund. You can also claim for losses that have happened because of the fault. If your washing machine is faulty, for instance, you can claim the costs of going to the laundromat while it's being fixed.

Tip: your receipt proves where and when you bought the appliance. Keep it tucked away with the appliance's manual.

Lines of support

A service call for a major appliance can cost upwards of $100. This might make repairs uneconomical. Can you resolve the glitch without calling in the fix-it person?

  • Unplug a troublesome electronic appliance from the wall, wait a minute or 2, and then reboot it.
  • Check the troubleshooting section of your owner's manual.
  • Search the "support" pages of the manufacturer's website.
  • Google the fault (you might find others have encountered the same problem).
  • Phone or email the manufacturer's customer support service for advice.
  • Still no luck? Many companies use social media to correspond with their customers. Post the problem on the manufacturer's Facebook page or Twitter account.

Report by Luke Harrison.

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