Shopping Discussion

Buy a new fridge or get ours serviced?

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  • May 16th, 2015 6:18 pm
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[OP]
Deal Guru
Aug 14, 2007
12236 posts
3226 upvotes
--

Buy a new fridge or get ours serviced?

We moved into this house about 5 years ago and have the basement (it's my mother in laws house).

The fridge was already here when we moved in, worked fine.

Lately I've noticed drinks aren't as cold anymore (even though I turned up dial to make it colder) and more recently the motor or fan or whatever it is in the back has started making grinding sounds continuously, sometimes it's loud but most of the time it is not.

So now I'm thinking we need a new fridge soon before it just dies or would it be easier to get it serviced?

If we decide to buy a new fridge, I don't know wether to get one that has the water / ice dispenser on it considering I drink a ton of water now or not but we're also looking to buy a house around the end of the year so I don't want to spend thousands of dollars either.

Which brands should be avoided and which are high quality and worth buying?
20 replies
Deal Expert
Jan 7, 2002
26840 posts
24316 upvotes
Waterloo, ON
1. A fridge that's more than 5 years old is probably not worth repairing. It's going to cost $100+ for a technician to come and diagnose the problem, then more for parts and labour to repair it.

2. Before you call in a technician I suggest you Google on the make and model number as well as keywords like "won't cool" to see if this is a common problem with this unit and what others have done to fix it. It's possible there's a simple solution that you can do yourself, e.g. vacuuming around the coils. Or this search may confirm that you'll need to spend a lot of money on parts and labour.

3. Generally unless it's a simple problem to fix, you're better off to get a new fridge. Look for "scratch and dent" models on sale to save money. Make an offer that's lower, say by 10% or even 20%, than the "sale" price. Be polite and respectful and chances are they'll accept your offer.

4. Avoid features like water/ice dispensers because (a) they're expensive and (b) they tend to fail more often than the fridge itself. You can have cold water "on tap" by keeping a carafe in the fridge. Is it really that hard to refill it once or twice a day?

5. You may want to look at the annual appliance issue of Consumer Reports to compare models and features as well as to see which brands are most reliable. Beware that house brands like Kenmore are basically re-labelled name brands. Also beware that companies like Whirlpool offer products under various brands like Whirlpool, Maytag, Amana, etc. The guts of these appliances are essentially the same with minor variations in external features. You might as well buy the cheapest label within that family.
veni, vidi, Visa
Banned
May 12, 2004
9756 posts
4135 upvotes
Ottawa
Unless you already have a water line skip the icemaker/dispenser. Depending on your kitchen layout it could cost you half the price of the fridge. It's not like it produces something that can't be had for free a few feet away...
Deal Addict
Jan 5, 2003
4851 posts
4639 upvotes
Toronto
When was the last time you defrosted it and vacuumed the coils? Vacuum the coils (at the back for top freezers, underneath for French doors); the dust that accumulates acts like an insulation blanket and the coils can't disperse heat. Re: defrosting, most top freezers (especially cheap ones) only cool the freezer compartment and a small amount of cold freezer air is directed into the fridge compartment. A freezer compartment might have so much ice build up that the vent ,and other things like drains, are sealed up with ice. These are just some basic maintenance tips to try before you throw it out.
Jr. Member
Jan 12, 2015
104 posts
15 upvotes
Toronto, ON
Most newer fridges no longer have the coils on the back of it. Even the top mounts. It is imparitive to keep the coils clean. Use a shop vac on it at least once every six months. Even if you keep a clean house the coil attracts dust bunny's like it is going out of style thanks to the condensing fan motor. The more dust that collects on the coils will make the compressor work harder and eventually overheat and switch off on limit.

If the fan motor in question that is making the noise is coming from the back and bottom (condensing fan motor) it is easy to replace if you are somewhat handy. Same with the water valve and ice maker. The evaporator fan motor (in the freezer section) is another story. It is not easy to access, but once you get to it, easy to replace.

Other things to check is the vent between the freezer and fridge. Is it clear? How are the gasket seals looking? Are they clean and undamaged? Is there frost build up on the back of the freezer?

(I'm a former refrigerator technician)
Deal Guru
User avatar
Aug 20, 2005
10775 posts
2853 upvotes
Nowhere
First of all, get a refrigerator thermometer. Drinks aren't as cold as they used to be means nothing. Is the fridge keeping food at a safe temperature? That is what you need to know to avoid getting sick. Food poisoning is not fun.

As someone else mentioned, clean the coils. Some can be hard to reach so an appliance cleaning brush comes in handy. There is lots of troubleshooting info online. When my fridge was on the fritz last year, between looking online and posting here, I was able to fix it. Money was tight and I had too sick cats at home (big vet bills) so the last thing I needed was to buy a refrigerator plus I didn't like the ones I saw when I went looking (just in case). It cost me under $40 to buy the condenser motor fan online and fix it and I got to keep the refrigerator I liked.
[OP]
Deal Guru
Aug 14, 2007
12236 posts
3226 upvotes
--
Thanks everyone for the replies, it does have the coils on the back so I'll vacuum that off this weekend
Sr. Member
Mar 27, 2007
534 posts
40 upvotes
Okanagan
If you have to get a new fridge, forgo the fancy add ones. Also pay for a warranty. These fridges just don't last.

As suggested, look for the 'dent an scratch' sales.
Deal Fanatic
User avatar
Sep 27, 2006
5089 posts
1963 upvotes
Not so easy there Ma…
Another thing to check if cleaning the coils doesn't do it is to check for a blockage in the air circulation between the freezer and fridge department. There's also the little fan that does that job. Maybe it's making the grinding noise. That could be some food somehow touching it or possibly ice.
Sr. Member
May 7, 2010
774 posts
214 upvotes
Toronto
I am in Bowmanville and have had Paddy's Market out 3 times for 3 different appliances. It is usually around $90 for a service call. I believe they will service Pickering.

I had them out for my 9 year old fridge when the defroster back up and water kept leaking down into the fridge. (yes we tried defrosting it ourselves, but the problem came back 2 weeks later) That call cost me $104 in total, and the fridge has been great ever since.

Something broke in our washing machine, and the drum wouldn't spin anymore. $15 part, $90 in total for the call.

My 9 year old oven starting getting way to hot on the outside when were baking. $100 service call, but the part was almost the cost of what I paid for the oven. $100 down the drain and we bough a new oven from Paddy's. Better price on the same model than any of the big stores. Free delivery and hauling away the old one. That made the service call almost a wash.

So 2 outta 3 appliances saved at minimal cost.
Jr. Member
Mar 17, 2015
145 posts
10 upvotes
Toronto, ON
Whoa! exact same thing happened to me, like precisely the same. Wife is out right now getting a fridge we're unsure what brands are good as well...
Deal Expert
Jan 27, 2006
20762 posts
14244 upvotes
Vancouver, BC
MuaySteve wrote: I am in Bowmanville and have had Paddy's Market out 3 times for 3 different appliances. It is usually around $90 for a service call. I believe they will service Pickering.

I had them out for my 9 year old fridge when the defroster back up and water kept leaking down into the fridge. (yes we tried defrosting it ourselves, but the problem came back 2 weeks later) That call cost me $104 in total, and the fridge has been great ever since.

Something broke in our washing machine, and the drum wouldn't spin anymore. $15 part, $90 in total for the call.

My 9 year old oven starting getting way to hot on the outside when were baking. $100 service call, but the part was almost the cost of what I paid for the oven. $100 down the drain and we bough a new oven from Paddy's. Better price on the same model than any of the big stores. Free delivery and hauling away the old one. That made the service call almost a wash.

So 2 outta 3 appliances saved at minimal cost.
Appliances are relatively simple things. If you get a good repairman or can do a thorough search on the internet for answer, you can probably repair it at a reasonable cost.

A noisy motor typically has a lot of dust that needs to be vacuumed out. If you can't remember when the last time it was vacuumed out, then it's way over due. You'll probably find that the noise will go away with the dust. You should check to see if the interior coils are frozen up (ie. a solid block of ice)... if they are, the defrosting cycle isn't probably running which means that you need to replace your defrost timer ($30, two screws, and removal of a couple of wires).
Deal Expert
Jan 7, 2002
26840 posts
24316 upvotes
Waterloo, ON
craftsman wrote: Appliances are relatively simple things. If you get a good repairman or can do a thorough search on the internet for answer, you can probably repair it at a reasonable cost.
They used to be relatively simple things. Nowadays even the cheapest fridge or stove has at least one computerized circuit board that's vital to its operation. While board may cost a few cents to manufacture in China, its design is proprietary so the customer has no choice but to pay whatever the service organization wants to charge for it. (Hint: A lot more than the cost of manufacturing it.)

Our fridge has twice failed similarly to the OP's, i.e. "Lately I've noticed [food isn't] as cold anymore (even though I turned up dial to make it colder)." First I checked all the usual things that others have suggested above. But that didn't fix anything. The fridge still didn't cool.

I called the service department of the locally-owned appliance store where we'd bought the fridge. A technician arrived quickly enough ($100 as he entered the door.) It took him half an hour to recheck all the stuff I'd checked then run diagnostics to determine that the temperature control board was dead. The board is proprietary so naturally he didn't have a spare on his truck. He had to go back to the shop and then return here (another $100 as he entered the door) to install it. A half hour's labour that was included in each $100 service call fee paid for his time. But then there was the $200 charge for the 5¢ board. So in total ~$400 plus tax--plus the value of spoiled food we had to replace.

Now this happened once just after the original 1-year warranty expired. Then it happened a second time a couple of years later. At that point the fridge was still too new to write off. But we'd already spent more than half the price of a new fridge to keep this one going. Touch wood the third temperature control board is more reliable. There won't be a fourth.

P.S. I don't begrudge the $100 charge for a service call. After all the technician has to drive to our home and drive back. That can take anything from a few minutes to an hour, depending on traffic (and a lot longer in cities like Toronto.) And that's each way. Likewise I can't expect their truck to stock every conceivable part. So nowadays even a relatively simple repair can cost half the price of a new appliance.
veni, vidi, Visa
Sr. Member
Sep 18, 2004
568 posts
280 upvotes
bylo wrote: 1. A fridge that's more than 5 years old is probably not worth repairing. It's going to cost $100+ for a technician to come and diagnose the problem, then more for parts and labour to repair it.
I have to disagree with this. There is a cost to servicing the fridge, but there is a cost to replacing the fridge as well. The time spent looking for a new fridge, getting it delivered, installed, disposing of the old fridge, dealing with ruined food, etc. all adds up to more than $100. Even beyond that, a fridge with an expected service life of 15-20 years is not something I would want to buy in a rush. A high end model (or even upper mid-range) can cost $2K, so waiting for a sale vs. buying in a rush can mean savings of $500 or more.

My advice: look on a site like Homestars for reputable fridge repair services. The $100 diagnosis fee is well worth it, since it will tell you definitively whether you need a new fridge or not. I did that, technician showed up on the same day, and fixed it for something like $110 all in (his diagnostic fee + a $20 part). Even if you do need a new fridge, it's worth it to know that you're not tossing a fridge out because of the failure of a cheap component.
Sr. Member
Sep 18, 2004
568 posts
280 upvotes
bylo wrote: ...
A half hour's labour that was included in each $100 service call fee paid for his time. But then there was the $200 charge for the 5¢ board. So in total ~$400 plus tax--plus the value of spoiled food we had to replace.

Now this happened once just after the original 1-year warranty expired. Then it happened a second time a couple of years later. At that point the fridge was still too new to write off. But we'd already spent more than half the price of a new fridge to keep this one going. Touch wood the third temperature control board is more reliable. There won't be a fourth.
...
Didn't see this at first. I see now why you gave the advice you did (and as you can see my experience was different, which is why I gave different advice). Just a couple of points: after the first $100 service call, you knew that it would cost another $300 to repair the fridge, or am I misunderstanding?

If so, I would say that the $100 initial call was well worth it, because it allowed you to compare the repair cost ($300) vs. buying a new fridge. If you hadn't called the technician, you would have no way of making an informed decision.

Again, finding a good technician is key here, which is where a site like Homestars is really useful. The guy I called actually asked me questions over the phone, so he had some idea of what the problem was (and therefore which spare parts may be needed). Nothing is guaranteed, but it may have saved you the extra $100 for another trip.

Another point is that buying a new appliance does not protect you from repair costs in any way. You say that the original failure was around the time of the 1-year warranty expiring, and then there was another failure a couple of years later. What if you had bought a new fridge, and the same thing happened after 1 year? You would be out $2K in addition to the repair cost. Now, you might say that the way to protect against that is to research various models to find one with good reliability ratings. I totally agree, but it's very hard to do this in a rush, while food is rotting away. For that reason, my advice would be to go with a repair first if the cost is reasonable, and consider a new fridge afterwards.
Deal Expert
Jan 7, 2002
26840 posts
24316 upvotes
Waterloo, ON
molo wrote: I have to disagree with this. There is a cost to servicing the fridge, but there is a cost to replacing the fridge as well. The time spent looking for a new fridge, getting it delivered, installed, disposing of the old fridge, dealing with ruined food, etc. all adds up to more than $100. Even beyond that, a fridge with an expected service life of 15-20 years is not something I would want to buy in a rush. A high end model (or even upper mid-range) can cost $2K, so waiting for a sale vs. buying in a rush can mean savings of $500 or more.
WADR you're taking what I wrote as well as my post just above yours out of context.

I said "more than 5 years old is probably not worth repairing." I stand by that for the typical ~$1,000 fridge that most people have. Naturally if you have a high(er) end model the threshold for the repair vs. replace decision will be higher.

Also fridges are no longer designed to last 15 to 20 years. They typically start to fail in expensive ways after a few years.

And the ~5 year threshold for regular fridges is based on advice from Consumer Reports, an organization that specializes in making these kinds of assessments.
The $100 diagnosis fee is well worth it, since it will tell you definitively whether you need a new fridge or not. I did that, technician showed up on the same day, and fixed it for something like $110 all in (his diagnostic fee + a $20 part). Even if you do need a new fridge, it's worth it to know that you're not tossing a fridge out because of the failure of a cheap component.
It certainly made sense the first time. I'm not sure it made sense the second time. I know it won't make sense the third time. (For the type of problem I experienced.)
veni, vidi, Visa
Deal Expert
Jan 27, 2006
20762 posts
14244 upvotes
Vancouver, BC
bylo wrote: They used to be relatively simple things. Nowadays even the cheapest fridge or stove has at least one computerized circuit board that's vital to its operation. While board may cost a few cents to manufacture in China, its design is proprietary so the customer has no choice but to pay whatever the service organization wants to charge for it. (Hint: A lot more than the cost of manufacturing it.)

Our fridge has twice failed similarly to the OP's, i.e. "Lately I've noticed [food isn't] as cold anymore (even though I turned up dial to make it colder)." First I checked all the usual things that others have suggested above. But that didn't fix anything. The fridge still didn't cool.

I called the service department of the locally-owned appliance store where we'd bought the fridge. A technician arrived quickly enough ($100 as he entered the door.) It took him half an hour to recheck all the stuff I'd checked then run diagnostics to determine that the temperature control board was dead. The board is proprietary so naturally he didn't have a spare on his truck. He had to go back to the shop and then return here (another $100 as he entered the door) to install it. A half hour's labour that was included in each $100 service call fee paid for his time. But then there was the $200 charge for the 5¢ board. So in total ~$400 plus tax--plus the value of spoiled food we had to replace.

Now this happened once just after the original 1-year warranty expired. Then it happened a second time a couple of years later. At that point the fridge was still too new to write off. But we'd already spent more than half the price of a new fridge to keep this one going. Touch wood the third temperature control board is more reliable. There won't be a fourth.

P.S. I don't begrudge the $100 charge for a service call. After all the technician has to drive to our home and drive back. That can take anything from a few minutes to an hour, depending on traffic (and a lot longer in cities like Toronto.) And that's each way. Likewise I can't expect their truck to stock every conceivable part. So nowadays even a relatively simple repair can cost half the price of a new appliance.
Depending on the fridges that you have... a generic statement that fridges over 5 years old aren't worth repairing is painting all fridges with the same brush. I have two fridges in my home that are well over 20 years old and I do all of the maintenance on them - from replacing the defrost timer (which die every few years) to replacing the blower motor as well as the white magnetic door seal. The only time I got a tech in was for a compressor (which was replaced over 15 years go on one and hasn't been replaced on the other).

Sorry to hear about your $400 charge for your repair but I'll bet you that you can get the same board online for half that amount and you can probably install it yourself.
Deal Expert
Jan 7, 2002
26840 posts
24316 upvotes
Waterloo, ON
craftsman wrote: a generic statement that fridges over 5 years old aren't worth repairing is painting all fridges with the same brush
Agreed. But that's not what I said. I said, "A fridge that's more than 5 years old is probably not worth repairing" and "Generally unless it's a simple problem to fix, you're better off to get a new fridge." Those qualifiers were intended to address your valid concerns.

Also I looked up a recent Consumer Reports article on repair vs. replace. They've changed their [qualifier alert!] generic advice to replace the appliance if the cost of repair exceeds half the cost of a new appliance.
I have two fridges in my home that are well over 20 years old and I do all of the maintenance on them - from replacing the defrost timer (which die every few years) to replacing the blower motor as well as the white magnetic door seal. The only time I got a tech in was for a compressor (which was replaced over 15 years go on one and hasn't been replaced on the other).
Some people maintain and repair their own cars, computers, furnaces, etc. That doesn't mean that everyone has the time or inclination, let alone the skills, to DIY. I imagine the service industry has lots of horror stories about people who in attempting to fix a simple problem turned it into an expensive problem.

And realize that your 20-year old fridges are power hogs compared to today's products. You could [qualifier alert!] probably have paid for new fridges from a few years worth of power savings.
I'll bet you that you can get the same board online for half that amount and you can probably install it yourself.
Yes, I realize that too. Unfortunately it's no longer as easy to diagnose problems today as it was in the good old days since again the technology brings with it all sorts of proprietary obstacles like how to run the diagnostics to determine that the board is defective.

Even changing that board is far more complicated than it used to be. The plastic cover isn't screwed on like in the good old days. It snaps in. To remove it you have to know where the tabs are located or risk breaking the cover in the process. Those locations aren't marked on the cover nor otherwise obvious without a shop manual. All in the name of progress and manufacturing cost reduction...

But I agree that every situation is different. It's worth doing some homework and checking for obvious things before picking up the phone to call for help or rushing down to the store to buy a new appliance.
veni, vidi, Visa
Jr. Member
Jan 3, 2015
173 posts
137 upvotes
Delta, BC
My experience with appliances was that I always thought it was cheaper to order parts and repair yourself googling the problem and watching youtube videos. However, with older appliances, my new strategy is to find newer, used ones on Craigslist. Appliances can depreciate up to 50% out of the box and people are always upgrading to the latest - stainless steel, French door, front-load, and fancy electronics.

Fridges - There is a huge savings in in electricity consumption in newer models that are more energy efficient. I had two 15+ year fridges that I replaced with 2-3 yr old models I found on CL for $100 and $200. My electricity bill was cut in half after I replaced them (from approx. $100/month to $50/month). I did replace the defrost timer in one of the original fridges and the seals were going but I should have replaced them a long time ago. My local utility (BC Hydro) paid me $30 each for the old fridges and I got a $75 rebate on reducing my electricity after a year as well.

Dryer - belts will break over time and are easy to replace. I spent $20 on a refurb kit (new rollers and belt) and ended up buying a newer used dryer for $60 on CL a few years later following my new strategy. There isn't much energy savings in newer models though I wanted one with a sensor and it is also easier to find parts for a newer model.

Also google the CBC Marketplace story on problems with newer appliances

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