MINNEAPOLIS -- When the used treadmill that Lindy Forstater bought for $70 quit working, she decided giving it the heave-ho wasn't an option. "I don't want to contribute to a throwaway society like in the movie 'Wall-E'," said the Shorewood, Minn., resident. "I try to hold on to stuff. I just took my 10-year-old Sony (TV) in for repair, but I can't find anyone to repair my treadmill -- or my toaster."
"Repair or replace?" used to be a consumer's dilemma for everything from the leaky coffeemaker to the infected computer. But now that repair shops for many small appliances are as scarce as parts for a 1994 NordicTrack, replacement often is the only option.
Being a smart shopper can help keep appliances out of the repair shop or the recycling bin longer. Before you buy a blender, a smartphone or a dishwasher, do some homework. Consult Consumer Reports for quality and reliability, look at online reviews and read up on warranties. You may even check to see if there are authorized service centers in your area.
And instead of stuffing the owner's manual in the junk drawer, read it. Pay special attention to the "care and maintenance" section. It will offer simple tips that can extend the life of your appliance.
When the time comes to decide whether to repair or replace, use Consumer Reports' 50 percent rule: Replace a broken item if the repair will cost more than half the price of the new product. In some cases, you can avoid paying for a service call to make that decision. First, explain to a repair person on the phone or in an email what you think is wrong with the item. He or she may be able to diagnose the problem, give you a ballpark price to repair it or suggest a DIY solution.
Who fixes what?
Need your refrigerator repaired? Just look in the Yellow Pages or on Google or Angie's List. But finding someone to repair a wafflemaker or a treadmill is exponentially more difficult.
Before you shop around, check with the retailer or the manufacturer for repair options, authorized service centers or websites that accept repairs by mail.