Saturday, April 25, 2009

To Repair or Replace?

Sometimes the toughest call to make when something breaks is whether to repair it (or have it repaired), or to replace it.

Usually it's not hard. In many cases, whatever broke can't be fixed (a window, for instance) or can't be fixed for less than the cost of replacing the item. (Many electronic devices fall into this category.) In an equal number of cases, the repair is cheap and easy and getting the thing fixed is the only logical option.

One of the reasons I wrote The Portable Dad was to make the point that things can be repaired instead of replaced. Repairs can be cheaper, equal or better in quality, and are the ultimate form of recycling.

Every now and then, though, it's tough to know which option is the better choice.
Had that happen recently with my old BMW. A failed nut let a bolt come loose and tear up my transmission. I took the transmission out, and thought the damage could be repaired and had a welder have a go at it. That cost $60.

I put the transmission back in and it leaks. The welder reattached the bit that broke off, but the bolt had done other damage as well that he wasn't able to fix. Unfortunately, there was no way to know that for sure without reinstalling the tranny and trying it out.

The problem with that is that installing a transmission is a damn lot of work, and because the repair isn't good enough I'll have to do it again and install a second-hand transmission I bought for $310. The $250 savings made the repair attempt look like the better option, but given the amount of work involved and the fact I knew leaks were a possibility it probably wasn't. (I hadn't priced the replacement transmission before I had the first one repaired. I should have.)

So here's some factors that will hopefully help you make the right choice in similar circumstances:
  • Never compromise safety. Tires are a good example. Most punctures in tires can be repaired, and the repair is as strong as the rest of the tire. Cuts or punctures on or near the sidewall, however, aren't as strong, and your tire can fail. That can put you into a ditch (or the path of an oncoming big rig.) If the repair to anything isn't as safe as replacement, replace.
  • Compare the cost of repair vs. replacement, and get more than one repair quote if possible.
  • Factor in your time and effort.
  • Consider any deadlines you may have. Sometimes buying new stuff is the only way to get a job or assignment done on time.
  • Remember that old does not necessarily equal inferior and new isn't always better.
  • And finally, realize that every once in a while, no matter how well you consider all your option, you'll probably still make the wrong choice. It's life, it happens.

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