We know what you're thinking – products don't seem to last as long as they used to. You may have fond memories of tuning in to The Simpsons on the same television for 15 years or more, but statistically speaking, we're buying a new TV every four years or so.
So how long should your fridge, camera or smartphone last? And if it breaks down, should you repair or replace it?
How long should your appliances last?
Below, we estimate how long an appliance should last, given reasonable use and some maintenance and minor repairs.
We base this figure on the more than 1000 responses we received to our 2018 consumer reliability survey, member and manufacturer feedback, and the type of product – some appliances (like TVs) have an easier working life than others (like washing machines).
Cheaper to replace
If your appliance is broken and out of warranty, you might also want to consider if it's cheaper to replace than to fix. We've estimated lifespan for when it's cheaper to replace based on advice from manufacturers.
Large kitchen appliances
Faulty thermostats and damaged door seals are worth repairing, and the cooling performance of an older fridge can be partially restored by replacing worn seals. If your fridge is more than six years old and suffers a major fault (like compressor failure) then consider replacement because a new one will be more efficient and have lower running costs.
Tip: Keeping the heat-exchanger coils at the rear of older fridges clean and dust-free helps them operate as efficiently as possible.
It's cheap and easy to replace broken racks, seals, inlet valves and pumps, even on relatively old machines and most manufacturers keep spare parts for years. Keep in mind that newer models are quieter and more efficient though, and could save you over $50 a year in running costs. Definitely get a quote before repairing electronic components – it may not be worth it.
Tip: Your dishwasher likes to run, so using it regularly will not only save you money compared to hand washing, it helps extend the life of your appliance.
Laundry and cleaning appliances
Repairing should be your first option because washing machines are expensive to buy and repairs may be simpler than you think – for instance, clearing a blocked pump in a front loader is usually a DIY job that doesn't require tools. Broken door seals are also easy to fix, as are switches and mechanical timers. Even seemingly terminal failures may be a relatively simple repair – a drum that no longer spins could be remedied by replacing a drive belt.
However, once your washer is more than six years old, a major failure usually means getting a new one. You're generally looking at replacement if the electronics, motor or gearbox fail, or for faults costing over $300 to fix.
Tip: Detergent is the biggest cost of doing your laundry, but you're probably using way more than you need – using ¼-⅓ scoop of good detergent will save your money and reduce scrud build-up, extending the life of your washing machine.
Vented dryers are simple and can be easy to repair so it's usually worth it – drive belts, thermal fuses and even the motor can be replaced relatively easily, and door catches, controls and lint filters should be readily available. You also won't realise any running cost savings from a newer model because it won't be any more efficient than your old one. On the other hand, vented dryers are relatively cheap to replace.
At the other end of the dryer spectrum, a heat pump dryer is a complicated beast – this complexity means repairs may get expensive, but their high price tag means you should think twice before ditching your old one – just make sure you get a quote for any repairs.
Tip: Clear the lint filter every load. Blocked lint filters reduce performance dramatically and are the main cause of dryer fires.
Jammed brush rolls and blocked filters can be unclogged or replaced quite cheaply, as can frayed or broken hoses and accessories. Vacuums vary wildly in price and quality so major faults like broken switches or burned out motors can cost as much as a replacement, especially for cheaper models. Advances in technology mean vacuums are moving towards cordless hand-held models, so if your older barrel vac stops working it could be a good excuse to switch.
Tip: Be careful cleaning up after renovations – domestic vacuums aren't designed for fine particles like plaster dust which can clog filters and cause your motor to overheat.
If you've got an old telly you're usually better off replacing it. TV technology advances rapidly with the major manufacturers releasing new models each year, so buying a replacement gives you better picture quality and a raft of new features, like media streaming. For newer TVs, it's worth getting a quote though – seemingly terminal faults may be as simple to fix as replacing a cheap capacitor, or may require an entire circuit board costing as much as the TV itself.
Tip: Choose a TV based on picture quality, not its 'smart TV' features – they may not be supported, so you could be left out of the frame.
While we expect computers to last five years, around one in three fails by its fourth year according to Consumer Reports (US).
Power supplies and batteries for laptops are an easy replacement at any age, but consider an upgrade if your motherboard or screen fails. A failed hard drive on a two-year-old computer could be used either as a chance to give it a new lease of life with more storage or a faster solid state drive, or as an excuse for an upgrade.
With computers it's not just the hardware you've got to consider. Older computers may struggle to run modern resource-intensive operating systems. If yours is straining under the weight of a new operating system it's time to say goodbye. Likewise, if your OS is no longer supported with security updates then ditch it because your digital security could be at risk.
Tip: If you use your computer for work then there may be tax implications for the repair or replace decision – talk to your accountant for advice.
Although manufacturers may try to convince you to replace your fruity $1000 flagship phone each year, you should expect it to last for three years at a minimum, and much longer if you opted for a top-of-the-line handset.
A common problem (usually not covered by warranty) is a damaged screen. If you've cracked the screen on an expensive phone, it's usually worth getting it repaired – especially for newish phones. There are many third-party businesses that can do this for you, but get a quote first as it can be expensive. Regardless of age, if your phone's working well but the battery fails, then picking up a new battery online can bring your old phone back to life (provided it's easy to change).
Consider a replacement phone after the two-year mark for major faults, if your phone's becoming slow and laggy, if you're paying extra for a plan that includes a new handset every couple of years, or you can no longer push back against the fickle winds of fashion.
Tip: Don't automatically lock in a two-year contract. Buying your handset outright gives you more flexibility to change providers, and sim-only plans tend to be cheaper – especially if you keep handsets for several years.
Heating and ventilation
An air conditioner is an expensive appliance to replace and doing so may require a bit of structural work on your house if you need to run new ducting or wiring. Parts may be hard to get for older models though, and after five to 10 years they might just not perform as well as they did when new. Air conditioners are also energy-intensive appliances, and upgrading to a newer model using the latest R32 refrigerant will lead to a significant reduction in running costs, less noise both inside the house and for your neighbours (a particular pain point with air conditioners), and new features such as Wi-Fi controls.
A broken air conditioner is likely to get expensive no matter whether you opt for repair or replacement so it's a good idea to get quotes for both options before making a decision.
Tip: Clean filters regularly and keep outdoor units free of obstructions to help your air conditioner work at peak efficiency. Passive climate control, like sealing drafts and installing ceiling insulation, can reduce your dependency on expensive air conditioning.
Many heaters are so cheap that repairs aren't worth considering, while the more expensive oil column heaters might not be repairable at all. Remember your rights under Australian Consumer Law if your heater doesn't last into its second winter, even if the warranty's a little shorter than that.
Older heaters without safety features like safety tip-over switches and cool-touch housings should be replaced as a matter of course.
Tip: Don't drape wet towels or clothing over your oil heater – it can easily overheat and blow a fuse or potentially catch fire. Use a proper drying rack instead.
What about other appliances?
These results are from our sister organisation Consumer NZ's 2013 member survey, which covered a range of appliances we were unable to include in our survey.
This was a member-only study, and we think respondents demonstrate higher expectations of their appliances than the general population does.
Large kitchen appliances
Good news if you love your oven: if parts are available then even an old model is well worth repairing. Broken doors, thermostats, simmerstats and elements are easy to fix. Broken fans and electronic panels can be more expensive, but a new oven won't save you much on running costs so it's worth looking into.
Tip: Check that your door seals are in good shape – a well-sealed oven maintains temperature better, and uses less energy.
Elements and element controls are easy to fix so it's worth getting them repaired. Electronic modules can be expensive, so it may be time to upgrade if they fail outside of warranty.
Tip: Replacing seals and radiant-style elements is often a quick and easy job that doesn't require specialist tools.
Microwaves are relatively cheap so if it's more than five years old consider replacing it for all but the simplest repairs (such as replacing glass platters, which are generally fairly cheap). It's worth repairing more expensive models (combination convection microwaves for example) up to about eight years old, but magnetron failure or a damaged door or cabinet usually mean a shopping trip.
Tip: Although common, a blown internal light can be fiddly and expensive to replace. It won't affect performance though, so consider whether or not you can get by without it.
- Cheaper to replace: 3–7 years
- Life expectancy:
- Budget / entry level: 2 years
- Mid-range: 5 years
- High-end: 7 years
Bowls and mixing paddles can be easily replaced, but get a quote and think carefully before repairing anything else.
Tip: Clean the pan as soon as possible after baking and pay extra attention to the paddle and driveshaft.
It's unlikely you'll be repairing small appliances such as these – they're just not worth the trouble – but you should be able to get a faulty one replaced for up to a couple of years after purchase, either under warranty or through your rights under Australian Consumer Law.
Tip: Energy consumption is pretty much identical for all kettles, but you can save on your electricity bill by only boiling what you need instead of a full kettle.
There's huge variation in food processor price and quality, so whether you should repair or replace yours depends on its value.
It's usually worth replacing broken bowls, blades and accessories, but unless you've got a really expensive mixer, major failures like motors generally mean replacement.
Tip: Food processor blades can be incredibly sharp, so keep them in their accessory case (if supplied) when not in use. This reduces the risk of cutting yourself, and protects the blades from damage, extending their life.
Many problems are caused by a dirty laser pick-up, but cleaning them is a 30-second job with a cotton bud and some methylated spirits. Consider repairing motorised loading and drive mechanisms on more expensive players. Repairing cheap or old players won't be cost effective.
Tip: If opting for a replacement, consider a media player instead – these do away with the bulk of physical media and stream digital content from a hard drive or a networked server.
Most problems with expensive high-end components should be fixed, but make sure you get quotes first. For cheaper systems and soundbars you're probably looking at a replacement for all but the most minor issues, and even if the fault's covered under warranty it's unlikely manufacturers will maintain an inventory of spare parts.
Tip: While most TVs and soundbars are universally compatible, for optimum usability you should try to get the same brand for both.
Only newer, high-value cameras are worth repairing. Replaceable lenses for a DSLR can often be replaced for less than the cost of repairs – particularly the lower-end 'kit' lenses supplied with the camera body – if it's not covered by warranty then view it as an opportunity to get a better one.
While you might opt to repair a five-year-old DSLR camera body, a failed five-year-old compact should be treated as an excuse to upgrade because new models will offer better technology and take better photos.
Tip: If you've made a significant investment in lenses for your DLSR then an adapter ring means you can still use them if you switch to a camera body with a different mounting system.
Only get your printer repaired if it was expensive. Printer manufacturers make their profit from the ink, so a new printer can be had for pocket change, and it will probably give you better features than your old one.
Tip: A more expensive printer will give you better print quality, but may also mean ink refills are more affordable. Weigh up the purchase price vs ongoing running costs when deciding what to buy.
What to consider before you repair an old appliance
While tossing that temperamental toaster that cost less than $20 is a no brainer, major repairs to a large appliance that might be nearing or at the end of its expected life take a bit more thought. Think about:
- How long will the repair last? If it's only a year or two, you may be throwing good money after bad.
- What else could go wrong? You may replace one part only to have another one fail soon after.
- How long will spare parts be available, and how long will operating systems supported?
- What are the logistical challenges? Can repairs be carried out in your home? Will retailers charge delivery fees? How long will you have to wait for parts?
- You may be concerned about the environmental impact of disposing of an old appliance that isn't quite dead, but weigh that up against the environmental benefits of a modern, more efficient appliance.
- New items are likely to have technological advancements you'll enjoy and make use of, and a new product warranty.
- Working out the residual value of your old appliance can give you an indication of what it's still worth and whether it makes economic sense to repair it. To calculate residual value (R), divide the purchase price (P) by life expectancy (L) to give a value per year. Now multiply this by the remaining years you expect the appliance to last (Y) [R= Y*(P/L)]. A residual value higher than the cost of repairs is a good economic argument to go ahead with repair work.
5 things to do before you call for a repair
Service calls for major appliances can be expensive, even before any repairs are carried out, so it's worth seeing if there's a simple solution before calling in the cavalry:
- Try turning it off and on again (it's a cliché for a reason).
- Check the troubleshooting section of your owner's manual.
- Search the "support" pages of the manufacturer's website.
- Google the fault (others might have encountered – and solved – the same problem).
- Contact the manufacturer's customer support service, either by phone, email or social media.