My neighbor’s refrigerator died a couple of weeks ago. It was running, but hardly putting out any cold air. Since it was in the middle of a heat wave, she felt that she had little choice but to just go get a new one. So she went out and spent $2,000 on a new fridge.
I don’t blame her, in a way for choosing to replace over calling a repairman. Very often the cost of a repair can equal or exceed the cost of a new appliance by the time you factor in parts and labor. At that point, it becomes a personal choice whether to repair or replace. Where I do think she went wrong, though, is in not attempting to even find out what the problem was and fix it herself.
A couple of weeks after having the new fridge delivered and the old one moved to the garage until it could be recycled, a friend who knows a little something about appliances happened to be visiting and took a look at it. It turned out that what it needed was a good cleaning. The entire back of the unit was caked with dust and the fan was so clogged that it was hardly turning. After he cleaned it out it functioned normally, so the friend took it home to his place. He got a free fridge for nothing more than running a vacuum cleaner attachment over the coils and fan. Sometimes the problem is very simple to fix.
Cleaning the back of the unit might not be something that would occur to the appliance novice, but in this day of readily available information via the Internet, there’s no reason not to at least Google your problem and see if there are any easy fixes that you can try. When my washer started having problems, I Googled the symptoms and found out that the problem was likely a faulty knob. I bought a replacement knob, installed it and the problem was solved for less than $20.
I’ve had the same thing happen with cars (a simple rubber gasket fixed a problem that the mechanic wanted to charge $400 to fix), other appliances, and many other objects. Many times the problem isn’t that difficult or expensive to repair. It just requires a willingness to get your hands dirty and a simple replacement part or cleaning task.
If you don’t know what to search for on the Internet or you’re getting conflicting answers, you can try a home or appliance repair store. Ask some of the employees in the relevant department if they have any ideas. Sometimes they are clueless, but some of them know what they’re doing and can give you some ideas or parts to try.
Another good source of information is the manual that came with the appliance. Most have a “Troubleshooting” section that describes the most common problems. If you’ve lost the original, you can generally download the book from the manufacturers’ website or read their support information online.
Of course, if you really want to buy a replacement appliance or car, a malfunction can be the perfect excuse to go out and get a new one. But if you’re interested in saving money, it’s best to try and find a simple fix, first. If the unit is already broken, you can’t make things much worse so you might as well try a little DIY repair. You might be surprised to find that all you need to do is clean it, glue a dislodged part back on, or make some other very simple repair. Take a minute to research the problem and see if there is a simple fix before you shell out the big bucks on a replacement.