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Mary Hunt

You're worried that the washing machine is on its last spin cycle. It makes a horrible screeching sound and needs a lot of coaxing to make it all the way through a full cycle. It's not like it's still under warranty. You've had it for four years, and it wasn't new when you got it. You got an estimate for repair and discovered it will cost $319 to get it back into tip-top shape.

Should you give this old, inefficient machine the heave-ho in favor of a new model that will use less electricity and water?

A new name-brand front-loader is on sale for $999 plus tax and delivery. Should you basically throw away $319 now for a temporary fix or bite the bullet and buy the new one?

Here are some basic guidelines and suggestions to help you decide, based on costs for replacement and repairs, and the advantages of new models.

If you cannot pay cash for the new replacement

You should get it repaired to buy yourself time to save up for the replacement. Even if the repairs will only keep this appliance going for a year or two, you're far better off repairing and then saving for a new machine than financing a new one then and paying double-digit interest for the next three to five years.

If the appliance is eight years or older

Once an appliance becomes elderly, usually it makes sense to replace it with a newer model.

If repairs are really expensive

If the repair bill is more than half the price of a new product, you are probably better advised to buy a new one. But again, the deciding factor will be whether or not you will have to go into debt to buy new.

If the appliance is under warranty

Even if repairs will be only partially covered by a warranty or service contract, repairing is the way you should go. If it's under warranty, call a factory-authorized repair shop. If not, an independent contractor is likely to offer better service at a lower cost.

The costs for diagnosing problems and making repairs on home appliances have gone up considerably in recent years, which has made replacing with a new model more common.

A word to the wise: Home appliances have built-in obsolescence. By design, life expectancy has gone down slowly over the years. Refrigerators used to last for 30 years or longer by design. These days you'll be lucky to get 10 years, and that's with excellent maintenance and timely repairs.

Anticipate so you are not caught off guard. Setting aside a small amount of money every month to anticipate the cost of repairs and eventual replacement of major home appliances will give you cash options to make wise decisions.

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