If you've found it frustrating trying to get a product professionally repaired, you're not alone. Consumer Reports' October 2005 issue has the results of the latest "fix it or nix it" survey, which show that the process is full of roadblocks that have made a hefty number of readers simply give up.
Drawing on the experiences of 2,300 subscribers, Consumer Reports found that readers repaired 16 percent fewer products, including a number of big-ticket items, than in 1997.
Although repair costs have remained relatively stable since 2000, prices for comparable new products in almost every category analyzed have fallen, sometimes by hundreds of dollars, which helps explain why more products are being tossed. Consumer Reports' survey also found that nearly half the respondents either didn't seek repairs or quit along the way.
Consumer Reports' expert advice for products that need professional repair is to toss any for which you paid less than $150, and to nix any repair that costs more than half the price of a new product. It doesn't make economic sense to repair off-warranty toasters, countertop microwave ovens, cordless phones, CD players, VCRs, inkjet printers, and conventional TV sets under 30 inches. Many such products aren't even serviceable.
Although junking nearly new products can make economic sense, it makes no environmental sense. Consumer Reports experts suggest you check whether your community has a program to recycle or refurbish old products. For a roundup of groups that accept old or broken products, visit www.GreenerChoices.org..
When deciding whether to repair or replace, consider the case for both. A new product offers more bang for fewer bucks; inexpensive imports give consumers more for their money. New products could also offer higher energy efficiency, which could add up to substantial long-term savings.
Other reasons readers gave for replacing rather than repairing: a craving for newness, expensive repairs, and getting repairs was inconvenient. If you do buy new, refuse an extended warranty unless the item is pricey, fragile, or hard to fix.
On the other hand, repairs make the most sense for expensive products that have recently come off warranty. If you're thinking about a repair, take the following steps to ease the process:
• Be sure that the product is really broken. The trouble may be a loose plug, improper wiring, a tripped circuit breaker, or a bad surge-protector outlet.
• Go by the book. Most instruction manuals have a troubleshooting section, and some manufacturers' Web sites also provide help.
• Search for help online. Some useful sites include http://www.repairclinic.com, http://www.pcappliancerepair.com and http://www.livemanuals.com.
• Contact the manufacturer. About 10 percent of readers who complained about a problem got an offer to fix or replace an out- of-warranty product free of charge.
• Consider factory or authorized service, but don't dismiss independents. Readers were equally satisfied with the quality of their work.
You can delay having to make any decision about repairs by taking on preventive maintenance. Consumer Reports has advice for its subscribers at www.ConsumerReports.org for keeping old products behaving like new. Among the appliances in the list are: printers, clothes dryers, washing machines, dishwashers, microwave ovens, electric and gas ranges, and CD and DVD players.
Consumer Reports also includes a chart with year-by-year advice, based on survey data and the expertise of its market analysts and engineering experts, on when to fix or toss 15 types of electronic equipment, appliances, and mowers.
In addition, the magazine reveals what's on the horizon for a wide range of products to aid in your keep-or-toss decision, and offers a chart indicating the percentage of five-year-old products that have ever been repaired or had a serious problem, along with a sampling of brands that have been more- and less- reliable over the past few years.