Repair Vs. Replace: Electronics Edition

By Susan Johnston

Updated October 17, 2017

These days, as a shiny, new iGadget hits the market seemingly every year, it often feels as though electronics come with built-in obsolescence, where they’re intended to be replaced rather than repaired when things go wrong. Not so fast! Before you give up on a faulty laptop or cracked smartphone that’s out of warranty, research the cost of repairs.

“For any gadget, you have to take into consideration the age and what is actually wrong with it,” says Stephanie Humphrey, weekly tech columnist for and founder of the blog A Matter of Life and Tech. “Some things can’t be repaired.” The general rule of thumb, according to Humphrey, is to repair your electronics when the device is less than 2 years old and the repair is less than 50 percent of the replacement cost. For older devices, where a repair would cost more than half of the replacement cost, it might be time to upgrade.

Here’s a look at more tips, organized by the type of device.


Computer engineer working on cpu

A lot of people assume it’s time to replace their computer when it starts running slowly. That’s a mistake, according to Humphrey. Before you replace a computer, try defragmenting your hard drive, checking what software is booting up at startup (too many programs can slow it down) or adding more RAM. Malware is another potential problem for which Humphrey says “you might be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” Run your anti-virus software, or try one of the thousands of free malware removal programs. Humphrey says laptops typically last three or four years tops, but you might get an additional year from a desktop computer. Most desktop monitors aren’t worth repairing, she adds.


Broken Tablet PC

Simple tablet issues like a cracked screen, a wonky “Home” button or a malfunctioning headphone jack can be fixed inexpensively. “Expect to pay anywhere from $75 to $200,” Humphrey says. Issues beyond that — for instance, memory or processor malfunctions — can be tougher and more expensive to repair, so it might be worth replacing the device, unless you’re the type of person who’s comfortable tinkering with it yourself (if that’s the case, be careful, as this will typically void any existing warranty). Another reason to replace a tablet is if it’s older and doesn’t have enough memory for new software.


Shattered Smartphone

Similar to tablets, smartphone screens, “Home” buttons and headphone jackets can be repaired affordably, but due to a phone’s smaller size, it’s tougher to make more involved repairs. The other problem with repairing a phone is that you may need to give up your phone for a while, unless it’s a simple repair that can be performed on the spot. “Most people can’t be without their phones for an extended period of time,” Humphrey says. “If you still have the warranty, you want to use that. If you’re not under warranty or eligible for an upgrade, you might have to repair the phone.” Some people keep their previous-generation phone for this type of scenario just in case, although this means they’ll miss out on the chance to sell it for cash or trade it in.


woman fixing camera

For those who still have a separate camera, these devices typically fall into two categories. “They’re expensive enough to want to try to repair, or they’re cheap enough to get a new one,” Humphrey says. “Once you start looking at the SLRs and different things like that, those are expensive pieces of equipment.”

Should you buy an extended warranty on electronics purchases? Usually no, says Humphrey. The one exception she cites is if you’re accident-prone with phones. In some cases, the credit card you used to purchase the item may double the manufacturer’s warranty.

“These days, you’re going have to replace electronics eventually,” Humphrey says. “But in the meantime, make sure your computer’s anti-virus software is up to date, and keep some protective case on your smartphone or tablet.”

Photo credit: Getty ThinkStock