Repair or replace? Scenarios, costs and verdicts.

When a bit of your kit goes bung, do you fix it or get a new one? Anthony Fordham presents some common catastrophes and gives his verdict.

Built-in obsolescence. It’s the scourge of the consumer electronics world. Originally a term coined by US car manufacturers, it referred to the practice of making perfectly functional cars seem undesirable by the creation of a sexier new model that still, after all, did the same job. Built-in obsolescence in CE is a little more sinister. It basically means products break after only a couple of years of use so you?re compelled to go out and buy a new model.

Of course, the reality is less malicious. CE products are so (relatively) cheap and the pace of change is so fast, there?s no incentive for any company to produce units that last. My DVD player is six years old. When it breaks, why would I get it repaired when I could instead buy a new unit that now has progressive scan and HDMI output?

This kind of thinking works fine over time spans of five years or more. If a $700 product lasts five years, that means you?ve paid $140 a year to own it, which isn?t too expensive. But if your funky tech toy breaks after only 18 months, the numbers don?t stack up quite so well.

So the question becomes: is it even possible to repair many of these devices? Some have no apparent external screws or clips (think the iPod), others are so dependent on single-chip controllers and integrated circuits soldered to mainboards deep in their electronic guts, there?s not much a set of jeweller?s screwdrivers can do.

We?ve gathered eight problems you can expect to encounter in your gear, if you have especially bad luck. Repair or replace? The short answer is that almost everything can be repaired… for a cost.

Why so expensive?

The world has moved on since the days of TV repair men doing house calls. Back in the bad old days, CE was so expensive and unreliable that people were prepared to pay by the hour to have it fixed, since buying a new TV was out of the question. Because the demand for repair services was relatively high, the costs were relatively reasonable.

Today most people replace kit rather than have it repaired. And why not: the choice is between going without a TV for a week or more, or going down to the shops and walking out with an even better TV.

Because demand is low, repairers are more or less forced to charge seemingly exorbitant ?taking the lid off? fees and per-hour costs. It?s still cheaper than buying a new device, for the most part. But these days, only just.