Our ratings of area appliance repair services reveal substantial quality
differences between companies. Several appliance repair services were rated
superior for overall quality by at least 90 percent of their surveyed
customers. Others received such favorable ratings from fewer than 50 percent.
Fortunately, some of the areas lower priced companies are among the highest
rated for service quality. In fact, on average, lower priced companies
rate higher on service quality than their higher priced competitors.
And price differences can be substantial. For example, we found that prices
to replace the door gaskets on a Whirlpool refrigerator ranged from $316
to $603 at different shops in the area, and prices to replace the motor
and pump on a General Electric dishwasher ranged from $172 to $377.
If your appliance is still covered under its manufacturers warranty, use
a shop authorized to do in-warranty repairs. But after the warranty expires,
be sure to consider shops that dont perform warranty repairs. We have
found that, on average, independent shops rate better than factory repair
services (although some independents do score low).
The most common complaint we receive about appliance repair services is
failure to correctly fix the appliancesometimes after multiple attempts.
Other common problems are missed service appointments, failure to bring
the right parts, and delays in obtaining parts.
To get good service from any company, describe your appliances symptomsalong
with its manufacturer and model numberwhen you first call for service
and find out how the company charges for service calls (how much time is
included in the minimum charge, how charges are figured after the minimum,
etc.). Confirm with the serviceperson details on how labor charges are
calculated when he or she arrives. After the diagnosis is made, ask the
serviceperson to provide a written estimate before proceeding with repairs,
and obtain a written invoiceincluding itemized charges for labor and parts,
date, and company warrantybefore you pay.
Unfortunately, no easy rules of thumb exist for determining whether an
appliance is worth repairing. Dont pay much attention to often-quoted
average-lifespan figures. If you are happy with your appliances appearance,
size, features, and energy usage, and it seems to be in good condition,
it should probably be repairedit is likely to provide many years of service
beyond its average lifespan.
If you decide its time for a new appliance, our Major Appliance Stores
article will help you find reliable stores that charge low prices.
But even if youve had a poor track record with unreliable appliances,
dont buy an extended warranty. We consider these warranties incredibly
bad deals for most consumers who buy them.
Like much in life, when it comes to major appliances you dont know what
youve got until its goneand youre left scrambling. Picnic coolers,
camp stoves, and laundromats are lousy substitutes for refrigerators, ranges,
washers, and dryers. When an appliance breaks down, you need to get it
repaired right and right awayso you can start taking it for granted again.
Our ratings of area repair services for quality and price will help you
find a solution.
We gathered information on area appliance repair services. We surveyed
consumers, counted complaints at the Better Business Bureau, and collected
price information. The services listed on our Ratings Tables received
at least 10 ratings in our customer survey, and some received 50, 100,
If you decide to buy a new appliance, our Major Appliance Stores article
will help you find reliable stores that charge low prices. If youre on
the fence over the repair-or-replace issue, check out our advice below.
Ratings from Customers
We surveyed area consumers (primarily CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers)
and asked them to rate appliance repair services they had recently used
on several questions related to service quality: doing work properly on
the first try, starting and completing work promptly, letting you know
cost early, and overall quality. Our Ratings Tables show what percent
of each companys surveyed customers rated it superior (as opposed to
adequate or inferior) on each question. The table also reports the
percent of surveyed customers who rated each company adequate or superior
(as opposed to inferior) for overall performance. (Click here for further description of our customer
survey and other research methods.)
Based on their responses, you have good reason to choose a service carefully.
Several of the companies listed on our Ratings Tables were rated superior
overall by more than 90 percent of their surveyed customers. But some received
superior ratings from fewer than 50 percent.
Our Ratings Tables also show counts of complaints we gathered from
the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for a recent three-year period.
Although this article focuses on repair work, we were unable to select
only those complaints at the BBB that relate to repairs (as opposed to
complaints about appliance sales or other lines of business). The complaint
counts we report include all complaints filed against the companies.
You can check current BBB complaint information on any company by visiting
www.bbb.org or by phoning 312-832-0500. You can check current customer
survey ratings by clicking on the companys name on our Ratings Tables
and, in the details under our listing for the company, click a link to
go directly to the BBBs most up-to-date report on the company.
When using the complaint information, keep in mind that complaints are
not always justified; sometimes customers are unreasonable. Remember that
we didnt have a measure of business volume; large companies are more likely
to incur complaints simply because they serve more customers. Also be aware
that some companies may be at greater risk of incurring complaints than
others because of the specific types of business they do.
Warranty Repairs and Specialization
You might expect that a manufacturers authorization to a company to perform,
and be reimbursed for, warranty repairs would be an indicator of good service
quality. But warranty-work authorization actually reveals little about
a companys overall competence: Shops that perform warranty work are much
less likely to perform repairs properly than shops that do not perform
This is because some manufacturers never check on the quality of their
authorized shops, and few conduct more than occasional cursory reviews.
In addition, shops not authorized to perform warranty work for any manufacturer
generally do not sell appliances; because their livelihood depends on service
rather than sales, they have an especially strong incentive to perform
Theres also a meaningful distinction between specialists and generalists.
Repair services that work on only a handful of appliance makes can stock
their trucks with a relatively large selection of the parts they might
need. Furthermore, their technicians are likely to possess extensive experience
servicing specific machines.
But, as with companies authorized to perform warranty repairs, the expected
advantages of specialization arent actually reflected in our customer
Once you have identified repair services that offer high-quality workmanship,
you need to consider price. Our Ratings Tables show our price index
score for each company that was evaluated in our last full, published article.
To calculate these price index scores, our researcherswithout revealing
their affiliation with CHECKBOOKshopped each company for prices on four
different repair jobs. The scores show how each companys prices compared
to the average price for all surveyed companies. The scores are adjusted
so that the average price index score is $100. A company with a score of
$90, for example, had prices 10 percent lower than the average.
As shown on Table 1, shop-to-shop price differences can be substantial.
For example, prices to replace the door gaskets on a Whirlpool refrigerator
ranged from $316 to $603, and prices to replace the motor and pump on a
General Electric dishwasher ranged from $172 to $377. These large differences
are reflected in companies price index scores, which range from $72 to
|Replace gaskets for upper and lower doors on a Whirlpool refrigerator||$316||$408||$603|
|Replace drum belt on a Kenmore clothes dryer||$84||$132||$195|
|Replace bake element on a General Electric oven||$120||$168||$294|
|Replace motor and pump on a General Electric dishwasher||$172||$274||$377|
1 For each of these jobs, the companies were given additional, detailed specifications.
In addition to price index scores, our Ratings Tables report each companys
minimum charge for a service call and indicates in parentheses whether
this charge covers a complete diagnosis or specified amount of time.
Most of the repair services listed on our Ratings Tables charge flat
rates after diagnosisthey compute a jobs labor charge by multiplying
an hourly labor rate by the amount of time allotted for that job according
to one of several published manuals. If the manual calls for 30 minutes
to replace the heat element in an electric clothes dryer, the customer
pays for 30 minutes of labor, regardless of the amount of time it actually
takes to complete the repair. The benefit of this system to consumers is
that after diagnosis you will know the exact cost of the repairs. But the
downside of the flat-rate system is you might pay more than if the company
charged for time actually spent. For example, if a flat-rate manual calls
for 30 minutes of labor for a job, and the technician finishes the job
in 10 minutes, you still pay for the extra 20 minutes.
Some companies listed on our Ratings Tables charge on a time-and-materials
basis for the work performed beyond the time covered by their minimum service
call charge. We found these companies hourly labor rates range from $60
to $120 per hour. These companies charge by time unitstypically 15 or
30 minutesand some round up to the next higher time unita company that
charges in 15-minute units would charge two units for a 20-minute job.
Others round to the nearest time unita company that uses 15-minute units
would charge for one unit for a job that actually takes 20 minutes.
In this industry, as in so many we have studied, we found no evidence of
any relationship between price and service quality. In fact, companies
with below-average prices tended to have higher scores on our customer
survey than companies with above-average prices.
Even if youve been unlucky and have a poor track record with unreliable
appliances, dont buy an extended warranty when you buy a new appliance.
As discussed in our article Just Say No to Extended Warranties,
each year consumers waste billions of dollars on extended warranties (also
called protection plans). Retailers increasingly count on the sales of
extended warranties for mostor even allof their profits, and we believe
these warranties are incredibly bad deals for most of the consumers who
Finding a good repair service is only the beginning of the battle. How
you deal with whichever shop you choose also matters. Here are some guidelines:
When you call for an appointment, ask about the companys system for calculating
chargesespecially about what the minimum charge covers. Also find out
the companys policy on travel charges if the technician has to return
to the shop for parts. Repair services usually dont charge for travel
time for the second visit, but it cant hurt to make sure. If the company
charges on a time-and-materials basis, find out how it calculates time
chargesby what time unit (per 15 minutes or per 30 minutes, for example)
and how much it costs per unit.
During this initial call describe as accurately as possible your appliances
symptomswhen in the operating cycle the problem occurs, what it sounds
like, etc. This description will help the company assign the right technician
to the job, put necessary parts on the truck, and schedule enough time
for the job.
Unless you are content to wait around all day, request an appointment for
a specific hour.
To make sure they show up, call back the morning of the appointment. A
morning call also lets you confirm that the company really is planning
to come and has the right address.
Improve your chances of getting an exact arrival time by suggesting that
the technician start the day at your home.
If you cant get an exact time, at least arrange for the technician to
call you a half hour or so before arriving. Many companies are glad to
Before the technician arrives, clear everything away from the appliance
so that work can start at once.
Note what time the technician arrives.
Describe the appliances problem to the technician just as you did over
the phone. You can also be more helpful at this pointfor instance, by
showing samples of clothes damaged by the washing machine.
But avoid offering your own diagnosis of the problem. Otherwise the technician
may make the repair you request instead of fixing the machine.
After the diagnosis is complete, request an estimate. Make sure the estimate
is a firm quote that will not be altered regardless of how long the job
actually takes. Any company that charges on a flat-rate basis should, of
course, be willing to treat its estimate as binding. And even companies
that price on a time-and-materials basis will ordinarily stick to their
estimates, except on very unusual jobs. Before work begins, ask the technician
to write down the price quoteperhaps on a service call ticket.
If the estimate seems too high, and you can get along without your appliance
for a few days, ask the technician how long the estimate is good for and
whether coming back will incur an additional travel charge. Many companies
will give you a few days to think about a repair and not charge for travel
a second time.
If you decide you want to shop around, get the technician to write out
an itemized estimate.
Use the estimate to call a few other repair services for price quotes.
To check on the fairness of parts prices, call a local parts distributor.
The repair services prices for parts should not be much higher than what
youd pay if you buy direct.
Avoid letting the technician take your appliance away from your home. Virtually
all repairs can be made in the home, and by retaining your appliance you
retain your leverage.
Ask about any warranties on parts and labor.
If you go ahead with the repair, ask to keep (or at least see) any replaced
parts. You have a right to these parts.
Ask the technician to explain what he or she will be doing. Observe the
process, but dont tie up the technician in needless chitchat. You could
be charged for the time you waste.
Get an itemized invoice before you pay. The invoice should contain:
Name, address, and phone number of repair service;
Your name and address;
Description of appliance repaired, including make and model;
Date of invoice;
Itemized charges, including a breakdown of labor and description and prices
for each part (including whether used parts were installed);
Name of technician; and
Any warranty on parts and/or labor.
No matter what repair service you chooseand no matter how well you deal
with itprofessional help costs money. Because the average minimum service
charge for appliance repair costs about $75, you can often save a lot by
doing it yourself.
Industry estimates indicate that consumers could avoid about 30 percent
of service calls by reading the owners manual and using a little common
sense. All too often the appliance is simply unplugged, a circuit breaker
has tripped, a fuse has blown, or the water is cut off. And many homeowners
can handle even more complex problems. If you want to give it a try, consult
the appliances troubleshooting list in do-it-yourself guides. These are
especially helpful for dishwashers and clothes washers, the two appliances
that are safest and easiest to service. You can buy parts from local distributors
or from websites like www.repairclinic.com, which also offers a lot
of other useful how-to information.
The recent increase in the number of consumers fixing their own appliances
has not gone unnoticed by the major manufacturers. The websites of all
the major manufacturers now post information to help customers complete
simple repairs on their own and download repair manuals for free. For the
most common appliance repair jobs, several manufacturers sell repair kits
that include the necessary parts and instructions on how to complete the
Much of the diagnosis and repair work most homeowners can handle can be
performed with screwdrivers, wrenches, and other common household toolsplus
one somewhat specialized item: a continuity tester to determine whether
and where an electric circuit is broken. You can buy one for under $20
online, from an appliance parts dealer, and most hardware stores.
But before you take on a repair, note a few important cautions:
Always unplug the appliance before you start working.
Never plug a continuity tester into a wall outlet until you have attached
the test clips, and never use a continuity tester on a plugged-in appliance.
(Also, some appliance models have solid-state controls that can be damaged
by your continuity tester.)
Always think before you touch anything. Make sure you dont become part
of an electrical circuit.
If youre uncomfortable with your grasp of the fundamentals of electricity,
leave appliance repair to the professionals.
Major appliances wouldnt be fixtures of nearly every home if they were
dangerous. Occasionally, however, they can cause serious damage.
The main risks are from water damage. A clothes washers supply hoses may
burst or crack and produce a spray of water much like turning a garden
hose loose in your house. Thats bad if your washer is in an unfinished
basement, terrible in a finished basement, and a catastrophe on an upstairs
floor. Insurance companies, which may have to pay homeowners claims after
such mishaps, recommend changing washer supply hoses every three to five
years. Since insurance companies arent buying the hoses, they have selfish
reasons for eliminating all possible risk. But other experts recommend
replacing hoses after five years, seven at most. Use heavy-duty, steel-reinforced
hoses, which cost less than $20 a pair.
Although a clothes washers discharge hose can also break, this is less
of a risk since it is not under constant pressure. If it does break, the
flood will generally be limited to one load of dirty, soapy water. Worse,
if the hose breaks down low near the discharge outlet while the washer
is in use, the washer will keep trying to fill and discharge until you
turn it off. Consequently, some homeowners replace the discharge hose at
the same time they replace the supply hoses.
Another flood risk is the possibility that the water shut-off valve on
either your clothes washer or dishwasher fails, and the appliance keeps
filling until water spills over the top. This problem is uncommon and most
homeowners just live with the risk. But to cut the riskand also the risk
of supply-line breaksyou can install on each of your supply lines an electronically
activated shut-off valve connected to an electronic moisture detector;
if moisture appears on the floor, the detector senses it and shuts off
the supply lines.
An electronic moisture detector will protect you from even slow leaksfor
instance, a pinhole leak or faulty seal that leaks a little water in a
hard-to-see spot below your clothes washer or dishwasher. That kind of
slow leak wont, of course, cause sudden damage, but in time may cause
your flooring to rot out or damage the ceiling below. To avoid slow leaks,
a simpler precaution is to inspect periodically right after running the
appliance. Remove the trim strip/access panel below the door to see under
To avoid slow leaks from your clothes washer, place a plastic pan or tray
under the entire washerbut dont count on this pan to deal with water
from a burst pipe or failed shut-off valve. Even if the pan is hooked up
to a drain system, it wont be able to handle an onslaught of water.
The other most common appliance-related disaster is fire. Thousands of
fires start each year when dryer exhausts become clogged with lint. The
best protection here is to note if your dryer seems to be getting less
efficientif, for example, you have to run it twice as long as before to
dry a load of clothes. If so, clean out the entire exhaust duct from the
dryer to the outdoors. You can buy a 10- or 20-foot flexible dryer vent
brush at an appliance parts outlet for less than $40.
Another fire risk has resulted from defects in dishwashers. In 2007, General
Electric, Jenn-Air, and Maytag issued recalls for over 5 million dishwashers
due to risk of fire caused when leaky rinse-aid dispensers short-circuited
the wiring. Maytagincluding its Amana, Jenn-Air, Admiral, Magic Chef,
and Crosley linesapparently continues to have problems making safe dishwashers:
In 2010, it recalled another 1.7 million units because the heating elements
posed a serious fire hazard. Periodically check the U.S. Consumer Product
Safety Commission website (www.cpsc.gov) to see if your appliances
are on a recall list and, if so, arrange for a free repair.
As a general precaution against disasters, run your clothes washer and
dishwasher only when you are home. If you are going on vacation, consider
shutting off clothes washer supply valves.
Your seven-year-old dryer isnt working. The repair estimate is $250. Do
you repair it or buy a new one?
Lists are published all the time showing the lifespan of various types
of major appliances, and you may have read somewhere that 12 years is typical
for a dryer. So why spend $300 for five more years when a new dryer costs
$600? To decide whether to repair or replace any appliance, consider how
much time your investment is likely to buy youbut be aware that published
lifespan figures can be misleading.
First, the 12 years is an average. If yours is already seven years old,
its likely to last longer than the 12 years. Small households that use
appliances lightly can expect longer-than-usual lifespans. And because
lifespans of appliance models are all over the map, a well-built appliance
with few fancy controls might last much longer than its less-durable, more
Second, many appliances are discarded because owners want different features,
a new color, or another size; or dont want to move it to a new house;
or want to get rid of the machine for reasons unrelated to durability.
Some might even be terminated because owners misuse published lifespan
figuresa self-fulfilling prophecy that prematurely condemns many appliances
to the junk heap. If you are happy with your dryer, these factors are irrelevant.
Also, just because something breaks on your appliance doesnt necessarily
mean other things will break. Even on new appliances things break. An appliance
with no visible damage that, except for the problem prompting the repair,
has functioned well might last many years without other problemsand the
next problem also might require only a reasonably priced repair. Many major
appliances, including relatively inexpensive modelswhich may cost less
because they have few extra (and failure-prone) controlslabor on for decades.
If you are considering replacing an appliance because you dont want to
have to deal with an unexpected future outage, keep in mind that appliance
problems are generally inconvenient, not disastrous. Its not like having
the brakes fail on your car or the bottom falling out of your water heater
and flooding your house. The worst catastrophe that could result from an
appliance breakdown is flooding caused by the failure of a clothes washers
or dishwashers shut-off valve (see above), and that is very unlikely.
There are, of course, good reasons for replacing a broken appliance
Many new appliances are more energy efficient than older models, and some
are designed to be as green as possible. But to make an environmentally
based decision youll need to do the math, because some appliances (especially
dryers) have not improved much in efficiency in recent decades; and even
clothes washers and dishwashers, which have made strides, wont make a
big difference in energy use if you do only a handful of loads a week.
Rust and other visible flaws might signal impending problems.
You like the features and looks of new appliances: a new washer that operates
more quietly; a new range with sealed gas burners to keep out spills; a
new refrigerator with more storage capacity.
In short, the repair-or-replace decision is not always easy. And you will
have to do some balancing.