Thursday, February 14, 2013

Repair or replace: a new wrinkle

I've discovered a new wrinkle in the "repair or replace" equation: sometimes, the cost of a replacement is actually less than the cost of a repair. Especially when the replacement is purchased secondhand.

Case in point: our blender is about four years old. We've had it about four years, and it worked fine for the first year or so. Then the collar—the plastic part that holds the pitcher on the base—cracked, causing the blender to leak whenever it was used. Being ecofrugal types, our first thought was to repair it, so we fixed the crack with superglue. However, before long the collar cracked again in a different place, so we figured we'd just replace the part. Just to be on the safe side, we ordered two, figuring that if this part is the weakest link in the blender mechanism, we might as well have a spare. And that turned out to be very prescient of us, because the replacement collar cracked after a few months of use. And then the spare one did the same.

At this point, rather than order another round of replacement parts, Brian decided to try again to repair the one we had—this time filling in the entire area over the crack with the epoxy. And that worked, sort of. The collar held together, but fluid still seeped into the crack, so instead of a big leak, we got a little trickle of blackish fluid from the bottom of the jar every time it was lifted off the base. This got old pretty quickly.

So today, I went online looking for the replacement part again. Brian suggested ordering three of them this time, since we seem to go through them so quickly. I was grumbling to myself about having to spend $10 a year just to keep this blender working, and I found myself wondering whether it would be cheaper in the long run to replace it. At first blush, the answer appeared to be no, because the top-rated blender at ConsumerSearch is priced at $200, and for that price we could replace the collar another 40 times. There was a budget model that cost only $65, but when I checked the detailed report on it, I found that it had some durability problems—so we might pay $65 up front and still end up having to buy replacement parts within a year. I found myself feeling nostalgic for my mom's old Oster, which was built like a brick house. It was big, heavy, and loud, but its metal parts took a licking and kept on ticking. And then it hit me: "If what you really want is an old blender, why not look for one?"

I tried searching the "appliances" section on Craigslist, but I didn't get many hits in our area. Then I expanded my search to the entire site and discovered a whole bunch of posts that included one or more blenders lumped in with a bunch of other household items. One seller, within striking distance of our house, was offering three blenders, all priced between $5 and $12. And it took me only a moment to calculate that any one of these would cost less than the $16 plus shipping we were about to spend on replacement parts for our existing blender. We could buy a whole new blender for $10, and even if it lasted only one year, we'd come out ahead.

So, to cut this long story short, we are now the proud owners of a secondhand Black & Decker blender, complete with a spare pitcher, all for a measly ten bucks. According to the seller, it's only a few months old, so we actually got a blender that's several years newer than the one we have now for less than the cost of the parts we'd need to keep the old one running another year. (I was actually a bit disappointed that it wasn't a solidly built model from the seventies with all-metal parts—maybe in a nice avocado green—but I guess people who still own those old troopers are holding on to them.) We've determined that it runs, and it isn't significantly louder or quieter than our old blender—and best of all, the base that holds the pitcher is BIG, spreading the weight of the glass pitcher out over a much larger area than the small, easily-stressed collar on our old model. So that part, at least, should hold up better than its predecessor.

All in all, I'd have to say that in this case, replacing was definitely the more ecofrugal choice. By replacing the old blender, rather than continuing to buy new parts for it, we're reducing waste; by buying the new one secondhand, we're reusing as well; and if we can find anyone on Freecycle willing to take our existing blender as-is, we can keep that one out of the landfill a little longer too.

And yes, this does mean that we celebrated Valentine's Day by going out and buying a cheap blender. Hey, to a tightwad with green sensibilities, that's way more romantic than a dozen pesticide-laden roses—and it will last a lot longer.
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