Every year, kitchen appliance manufacturers release new models boasting upgraded features and impressive-sounding improvements. While most of this is just marketing spin, it's easy to start feeling like your old appliances are outdated and need to be replaced – but how do you know when it's actually time to head to the shops?
Well, according to CHOICE whitegoods expert Ashley Iredale, if your appliance is still in good working order, it rarely makes financial sense to replace it.
"Generally, it's worth waiting until an appliance breaks before you buy a new one," says Ashley. "In short, if it ain't broke, don't fix it (or in this case, replace it)."
That's a good rule of thumb, but there are some specific factors you may want to consider when deciding when to upgrade your kitchen appliances.
A broken microwave light may be inconvenient, but it won't affect cooking performance.
Does it still work as well as it used to?
As appliances get older, they may continue to perform their function, but start to develop small faults which impact how well they work, or how convenient they are to use. In these cases, it's worth weighing up the costs and benefits of repairing, replacing, or sticking it out.
For example, Ashley says that if the light dies in your microwave, it's usually cheaper to buy a new microwave than to replace the light, but you can also just keep using it as it is.
"Replacing the light on your microwave can easily cost $50–100, when you can buy a new CHOICE recommended microwave for under $50," he says.
More serious faults
However, some faults can become a little more inconvenient, like a kettle that needs to be manually taken off the boil or a toaster that only toasts on one side.
While these appliances can still technically perform their function, they're also fairly cheap to buy, so for most people it's probably worth upgrading once they get to that point
Replace vs repair
If your kitchen appliance can no longer perform its function, you may be wondering if it's worth repairing it, or if it makes more sense to simply buy a new one. The answer varies depending on the quality and type of appliance and how old it is.
Larger appliances such as fridges and ovens are usually worth repairing for at least the first six years, while dishwashers are probably worth repairing until they're at least seven years old, depending on the fault.
Your stove should be your longest-lasting kitchen appliance and most are worth repairing for at least a decade
High-quality fridges, ovens and dishwashers can be worth repairing for much longer, sometimes up to 20 years. Your stove should be your longest-lasting kitchen appliance and most are worth repairing for at least a decade – or even after 20-plus years in some cases.
Microwaves are usually not worth repairing if they're more than five years old unless it's a very simple repair or the model was very expensive (a combination convection microwave, for instance).
Smaller benchtop appliances such as kettles, toasters and sandwich presses are rarely worth repairing once they are outside warranty.
Tip: If the product is faulty, you do have rights under the Australian Consumer Law and should contact the business to resolve the issue.
If your old fridge is on its last legs, you might want to replace it ASAP.
Is it on its way out?
If a major appliance such as a fridge or oven is getting towards the end of its expected lifespan and starts making excessive noise, giving off a smell of burning electricals, or just failing to perform, it might be time to look for a replacement.
"If an appliance is signalling it's on the way out, then you might want to replace it earlier," says Ashley.
"You can't really live without a fridge, so if your old one is in its death rattles then get a new one sooner rather than later. Other appliances you can live without for a few weeks while you source a replacement."
10 year-old ovens
Our in-house home economist Fiona Mair says if your oven is more than ten years old, replacement parts may not be available, so if it's starting to fail, it might be time to think about upgrading. She says there are some telltale signs that your oven may be on the way out.
"When some of the functions stop working, the oven takes more than 15 minutes to preheat and cooking times are noticeably longer than before – these are all signs your oven may be coming to the end of its lifespan," she says.
Fiona also says that if you have an old electric solid cooktop that seems to be taking a very long time to heat up, it may be time to upgrade.
"Solid hotplates use a lot more energy compared with ceramic hobs, so if they are taking a while to heat up then you would be best to replace the cooktop," she says.
If you have an old conventional oven with limited features, it may be worth upgrading to a fan-forced model with a digital display.
Are the tech advancements enough to make an upgrade worthwhile?
Appliances are constantly getting smarter and flashier, but it's really up to you whether these new features justify an upgrade or not. Ashley says generally the newer features in appliances are more of a want than a need.
"Your old fridge still kept your food cold even without Wi-Fi, so it's a judgement call as to whether the increased amenity is worth the investment," he says.
However, there are some exceptions. Fiona says it may be worth upgrading an old conventional oven with limited functions: "A fan-forced oven with a digital display is so much more versatile for cooking and also better for temperature accuracy and energy efficiency."
Ashley adds that an oven with a pyrolytic cleaning function can also make life a lot easier.
What about safety upgrades?
Currently, there's no law to ensure that the products we buy are safe, which is why we're campaigning for the introduction of a general safety provision.
However, many appliances do adhere to mandatory and voluntary safety standards – with modern versions featuring newer features including child locks, safety guards and failsafe switches that may be absent on your old appliances. The power cords on older appliances may also start to fray over time, in which case it's probably time to upgrade to avoid getting zapped!
According to Fiona, the most common safety issue that can develop on older benchtop appliances – such as pressure cookers, blenders and microwaves – is a degradation of the seals.
"Over time, the seals on pressure cookers and blenders can deteriorate and become a safety issue, as you don't want moisture entering into the workings," she says.
But there's no need to upgrade just because of a faulty seal: "Most manufacturers supply replacement seals and recommend replacing every couple of years or so."
Damaged seals or faulty doors on microwaves can be a bit more tricky.
"If you have a particularly old microwave (over 10 years) I'd recommend having the door checked for damage, as faulty doors can cause microwave radiation leakage," says Fiona.
"If it's damaged, it may be worth simply buying a new microwave, depending on how much it will cost to fix."
Fiona also says that gas cooktops that were sold before 1 July 2017 may be missing the now mandatory flame-failure device – which means the gas will automatically cut out or reignite if the flame goes out. Without this feature, gas can escape silently and invisibly, building up in a room.
In terms of environmental safety, if you have a very old fridge, the refrigerant inside it may still contain ozone-depleting CFCs, in which case it may be worth upgrading so the old refrigerant can be disposed of safely.
Upgrading: better for the environment or false economy?
New appliances are generally more energy efficient than older ones. But, according to Ashley, replacing an old appliance with a more efficient, newer model can often be a false economy.
"When you factor in the huge energy and resource costs of manufacturing the replacement, and of disposing of the old one, it's usually better for the environment to just stick to the old model," he says.
An exception would be if you have an opportunity to downsize – for example, if your children have left home – as a smaller fridge, say, could save enough energy to make an upgrade worthwhile.
Another way to reduce your environmental impact when upgrading your (still-functioning) appliance is to sell it or give it away for free, so it's not going straight to landfill.