Buy or DIY? When You Should Repair vs. Buy a New Gadget to Save Money

Mihir Patkar 18-05-2017

Gadgets break. From your television to your smartphone, nothing is going to last forever. The question is, when it does break, should you buy a new one or repair it? It’s not a simple answer, but there are ways to figure out what makes more sense.


The first step, always, is to make sure the gadget is actually broken Are You Sure It's Bricked? How You Can Fix Your Broken Smartphone Back in the day, a bricked device would be very tough to recover, but over the years some resilience has been built into smartphones and tablets. These days a few clever button presses, useful additional... Read More . Please check that it’s not a loose cable or some other minor flaw. Once you have figured out what is wrong, then it’s time to decide whether to replace or repair.

Rule of Thumb: The 50% Formula

There is a popular rule of thumb to decide whether you should fix a gadget or buy a new one. Find out the cost of repairing your broken device. If it’s more than 50 percent the cost of buying a new gadget, then it’s better to buy a new one.

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Lots of people make a basic mistake in this formula, so pay attention: you should calculate against the cost of buying a replacement, not against the original cost of the device. Simply put, don’t compare the repair cost with what you paid for the gadget. Compare it with what you will pay for a new gadget. If the repairs cost more than 50 percent of buying a new gadget today, that’s what matters.

Consumer Reports approves of this formula too, whether you are repairing it yourself or taking it to a service center. They also offer another piece of advice: “If an item has already broken down once before, replacement may make more sense.”


When to Ignore the 50% Formula

As good as the 50 percent formula is, it’s not going to apply all the time. Your circumstances might be different, and so you need to assess this for yourself. My advice would be to chuck the 50 percent formula for any of the following scenarios.

diy repair replace broken screen

DIY or Seek Professionals?

If it’s a problem that the company’s service center will fix, then it’s probably also something you can fix yourself. DIY fixes aren’t always easy though, and it’s best to do some research first.

diy repair replace woman fix tools


Generally, DIY repairs are a good idea with any gadget that has removable parts. For example, you can try DIY repairs with a PC. Some parts of your phone too can be fixed yourself, like a loose button.

But what about more complex problems, like replacing a damaged mobile phone display How to Replace a Damaged Phone Screen Display Here's how to DIY replace a damaged phone screen display. You don't have to pay for smartphone repairs if you break the screen! Read More ? You can do it yourself, but you need to be confident that you aren’t going to further damage the phone in the process.

Plus, for a first-time DIY repair, you might need to factor in the cost of tools. For example, smartphones need specific tools to open and repair them.

Don’t be a hero: listen to the experts. Do your research with DIY websites to fix anything Something Broken? Learn To Fix Anything With These 4 Websites You can spend hundreds of dollars to have a professional help you out, or you can learn how to fix it yourself for the cost of some tools and a couple hours of work. Read More , like the always popular iFixit. Hit up a few forums as well.


Look Beyond the Price

Far too often, the only factor we consider in these decisions is the price. Money isn’t the only valuable here though. You need to calculate the worth of other items.

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  • Time spent on repairs — You will spend your own time and energy on researching whether to repair or replace, figuring out how to repair, and actually repairing the gadget. Don’t ignore that: it’s all time that could be spent elsewhere.
  • Time without gadget — How long will you be without access to that gadget? “Not using it” is the same as “wasting it”. Calculate your waste.
  • Sentimental value — There’s no shame in being attached to an inanimate thing. If it sparks memories or has any sentimental value for you, add that. A gift or an inheritance is far more valuable than its current value in the market.

Use the Replace or Repair Worksheet

Jason Maxham, who blogs at The Art of Troubleshooting, created an extensive worksheet for the “Replace or Repair?” question. It’s a guide with nine sections, helping you assess everything and come to a logical decision.

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It’s a good idea since it forces you to think rationally. The worksheet will ask things like your needs and wants, the estimates for repair, whether you can repair it yourself, and so on. Print it out and fill in everything.

The last sheet, especially, is the most helpful. It compares different factors that go into any gadget, and you can put in your estimates for replacing or repairing. It also encourages you to look at used or refurbished gadgets Refurbished vs. Used vs. Certified Pre-Owned: Which Is Better? If you want to save money on electronics, don't buy new! Here are the difference between pre-owned, refurbished, and used. Read More , since replacement doesn’t always mean buying something new.

Download the Replace or Repair v4 Worksheet.

Which Gadget Breaks the Most?

In your experience, which devices have been the most repair-prone? Headphones top my list, but I also know people who break a smartphone every two months.

What’s your most broken gadget?

Image Credits: Abraksis/Shutterstock

Related topics: Personal Finance, Recycling, Smartphone Repair.

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