CR’s interactive tool leverages product costs, depreciation rates, and survey data to help you make the right choice. Plus, expert advice on what to do next.
By Keith Flamer
Data visualizations by Andy Bergmann
When your washing machine breaks, how do you know whether to roll up your sleeves, work the phones to find a pro, or swipe your Visa at the nearest appliance dealer? It’s a decision that 21 percent of CR members were confronted with, according to recent surveys, in which we collected data on 103,633 washers purchased between 2011 and 2021.
Washers are complex appliances that run on water, pumps, hoses, drains, drums, switches, sensors, control panels, and filters—integrated parts that operate above most consumers’ comfort zone. When something breaks, the cause can be difficult to diagnose. So calling the proverbial Maytag Man—a certified expert—may be your best call. But how do you decide?
Repairing an almost new machine or replacing an ancient one are relatively easy decisions from a cost perspective. But what happens when your washer falls in the middle and is, say, from 4 to 7 years old? Considering that a washer’s shelf life is close to 10 years, it can be hard to decide whether to invest in fixing a middle-aged washer, or just cut bait and buy a new one.
Enter the age and original cost of your washer below, along with the cost to repair it, if you have that information. The meter at the right will steer you toward your most cost-effective option—based on estimated repair costs, original purchase price, and the current value of your washer based on years of ownership.
Consider it a launch pad to guide you through that panicked moment when your washer quits and dirty clothes pile up. And then read on for more detailed information to help you decide: Should I fix it or nix it?
Factors to Consider
If you spent $650 on your washer seven years ago and you’re doing seven loads per week (a lot of wear and tear), a new washer purchase makes sense. But if the machine is 3 years old and you spent $1,200 on it, a repair may be the better financial choice.
If you do decide to ditch your old washer, consider the environmental impact. If you’re having your old washer hauled away by the retailer that sold you a new one, ask if the old machine will be recycled. Check to see if your local waste management facility or trash hauler accepts appliances for recycling. Or search for a nearby recycling center with Earth 911’s search tool. When ordering a new washer, you can do your part (and save money) by investing in an eco-friendly Green Choice washer.
Overall, new machines are gentler on clothes and more efficient than ever, and they use 70 percent less energy than they did in 1990, according to the Department of Energy. And the most water-efficient models in our washer ratings use an average of 10 gallons of water, 75 percent less than older models. Still, some are greener than others.
Typical Washer Issues
In our survey, water-drainage issues accounted for 14 percent of washing machine repairs, while nonspinning drums were cited for 13 percent. Here are some of the common washing machine repair issues reported.
The control panel doesn’t work.
Water isn’t draining.
The washer is vibrating excessively.
The drum doesn’t spin properly.
The drain pump is clogged.
There’s odor, mold, or mildew.
Your Manufacturer’s Warranty
Most washer warranties cover 1 year, though Speed Queen offers warranties up to seven years on some models. Our survey suggests this isn’t a major factor for most shoppers, but whether or not your washer is covered will take on new importance the minute it stops working.
Here are some things you can do to determine if your problem is covered under warranty, or if it’s worth turning to the manufacturer for a repair.
Find out what your manufacturer’s warranty covers, including any stipulations that could deny you coverage. Read the fine print.
Check the brand website and online forums to see if your issue is part of a recall or repeated problem that suggests the company may replace a part or the washer itself.
Review the owner’s manual and online resources to determine whether the problem can be addressed with a simple fix like replacing a knob, cleaning a filter, or rebalancing the wash load inside the machine.
Research Before You Call a Repair Tech
YouTube is a popular resource to diagnose appliance problems, or just to see if others are experiencing similar issues. You can also scour washer and repair reviews on Google and Yelp. But wading through a riptide of comments, hacks, and ragtag advice takes time and sound judgment, so be wary. Unless you have some experience in appliance repair, you’re probably better off with an expert fix from a more reliable source.
Product manuals and brand web pages can also help you troubleshoot your washer’s problem. Some appliances even have built-in self-diagnostic systems. If that fails, try calling the brand’s customer service hotline or using its web chat portal. But be aware that some brands simply issue automated responses online, and others will only send a technician. You know what that means: a costly house call.
If you turn to a pro, expect to drop some money up front, before receiving your repair quote. Unless you’re handy or have an appliance tech friend, there’s little way around this. Once you’ve doled out that service fee, it might be hard to say no to the quote, unless it’s outrageously priced compared with the value of the washer itself.
“The service charge is going to be at least $100 to $150,” says Dean Landers, president of Baltimore-based Landers Appliance, a certified washing machine service center. “Some may say no to a service charge, but they’ll cover their costs by increasing the labor. Others separate the two for transparency.”
Our survey reveals that the median cost for out-of-pocket washer repair costs was $179. Median repair costs differ based on the machine type (not counting the service quote fee).
Top-Load Agitator Washers: $138
Top-Load HE Washers: $173
Front-Load Washers: $197
Making Greener Choices
• We compiled 45 Ways to Save More and Waste Less.
• Repair vs. Replace: Refrigerators, Ranges, Dishwashers, Dryers.
• See our fourth-annual Appliance Brand Reliability Rankings.
For more, see CR’s Guide to Sustainable Living.
If You Decide to Repair Your Washer
Overall, 67 percent of CR members surveyed attempted to repair their washers when they broke. Two-thirds of these repairs were handled by repair professionals, but about 33 percent attempted to repair their washer themselves or through a friend or family member. CR doesn’t recommend that you fix a washing machine unless you’re quite handy and it’s a minor issue. Today’s machines are complex. If you’re replacing a button or clearing a filter, that’s one thing. Repairing a motor to manufacturer specifications is another. You may also find that you do not have access to the specialized parts and tools typically reserved for authorized distributors.
“It really depends on the person’s skill level,” says Rich Handel, CR’s laundry expert. “If you need to replace the drum bearing for a front-load washer, it’s complicated. You basically need to take the whole thing apart to get to it.”
Who Do You Call for Washer Repair?
Among those who relied on professional repairers:
An independent repair shop completed 53 percent of CR members’ repairs.
The retailer who sold them the washer performed 25 percent of them.
The manufacturer was selected for 22 percent of professionally performed repairs.
“We examined repair outcomes by the type of repair professional hired,” says David Gopoian, CR’s research program leader. “Consumers who reach out to independent repair shops are typically more satisfied with their repair results than those who have their repairs handled by retailers or manufacturers.”
According to our member survey, 91 percent of repairs by professionals were successful, although 19 percent of those required a follow-up repair visit. More than half—56 percent—of washer repairs were at least partially covered by a manufacturer’s warranty or an extended warranty. Of washer repairs not covered by warranties, 80 percent were performed by independent shops.
Although there’s insufficient survey data to nail down median repair costs for specific washer problems, the median cost for water drainage issues is $195. The median cost for faulty control panel problems is $173.
If you decide in the end that a repair isn’t worth it, you can opt to replace your washing machine.
Here’s a pulled-back look at the data that informs our tool above—worth considering as you shop.
Top-Rated Washing Machines
Here are top-rated models from our ratings, some of which are Green Choice eco-friendly washers from brands that offer top-notch reliability as well as water and energy efficiency.
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