Here at Sustainable Personal Finance, we’re all hippies who love the environment, but there are just certain things that we’re not going to give up. Rather than giving up our cars, let’s just focus on driving them less and getting maximum gas mileage. This both lowers the cost of operating the car and prevents a few pounds of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere. You save a few bucks, and the environment becomes slightly cleaner. Everybody wins. Go ahead and have a steak, champ.
If you want to take your environmental passion to the next level, you can buy a used car. One less new car gets produced, and we often overvalue reliability. Newsflash folks: a car with 100,000km on it is about 95% as reliable as a brand new car, and you’re paying at least double for a new car. You have to make a lot of $500 repairs before you get close to making up that gap.
But we’re not talking about cars, we’re talking appliances. Specifically, washers and dryers.
My washer is approximately 5 years old. It’s a front loading washer, since apparently front loaders use less water and cut down on drying time. That’s all fine and good, so I bought it. It was a $300 premium over the plain top loading model, but I went ahead and bought the premium brand because that’s what frugal people are supposed to do, right?
About a year ago, it started making a loud low-pitched whine as it went through the final rinse cycle. It’s slowly gotten worse, so I called the appliance repair guy. He came over, had a look, and told me the bearings were close to worn out. Okay, how much would it cost to fix it?
He quoted approximately $400. I was looking at $250 for parts and $150 for his time to put it in. Oh, and I paid $50 to have him show up and diagnose the problem.
In the meantime, the price of front loading washers have gone down. I can buy a basic unit for $500. There’s no way I’m going to spend $400 on repairs when I can buy a similar machine for $100 more.
I complained that parts were expensive. It’s almost like they don’t want you to fix it. He confirmed that and took it one step further: retailers are putting pressure on the manufacturers to do exactly that so people just throw up their hands and buy a new one every five years. They’ve intentionally brought the quality and the price down and jacked up the price on parts, just to discourage people from getting their appliances fixed.
This makes sense for the company too, since they don’t have to keep producing parts for machines that are years old. There are companies that make generic parts, and they’re happy to come in and produce these parts. But why would they discount their prices when there’s no competition?
He then came up with an interesting suggestion. New machines aren’t worth fixing, he said, but old ones are. Parts are considerably cheaper, since it isn’t a tiny computer running the thing. They were made using better quality materials. They were much simpler machines back then, meaning there are less things that can break. A well-maintained machine from the 1970s or 1980s will last forever.
My Dad has a Maytag washer/dryer combination that he bought in 1979. In the past ten years, he’s put a little over $200 into repairing both machines, once each. Yeah, they’re an ugly off-white color, and they’re probably not very energy efficient, but they are a significantly cheaper option than buying new.
As for me? I went on Kijiji, looking for a replacement machine. I quickly found an ad from somebody who had upgraded their washer to a front loader unit, and wanted the old one to go away. I went over and had a look. It was a Maytag, it looked about 20 years old, and it worked. I paid $50 for the machine and paid my buddy pizza for letting me borrow his truck and his lifting power. Total investment, $50. My backup machine can suck power faster than a 400 watt space heater and I’ll still be hundreds of dollars ahead of an energy efficient machine that isn’t going to last a decade.
Sometimes, when it comes to saving money, you’ve got to look outside the box a little. I got a washer that still has plenty of life left. It’ll still be going long after my front loading machine has started rusting away in a landfill somewhere.