Is your 20+ year old Sub-Zero worth repairing or replacing?
The cost of new units combined with the required physical work to actually replace a built in fridge is a major factor is why repairs will always be more cost effective. But is it worth it?
The answer is YES, probably. Read on.
From our point of view:
Everyone wants a one stop repair. We want to be able to fix your machine for a long time in one stop and not get a call back until years in the future. If we had to keep coming back to your home to replace each part on your refrigerator piece by piece every couple months, you would hate us, and we would feel terrible. We also do not want to bite off more than we can chew, and end up doing a costly repair that doesn't 100% work due to the condition of the unit being way past its prime. It is imperative that a technician can evaluate these very specific points to determine whether a machine is a serviceable unit that is worth a full repair.
Here are the most important factors we evaluate to determine whether to fix your Sub-Zero.
- The Condition of your Frame & Doors
- Availability of the parts for your specific unit.
- Model Specific Service History
- Cost efficiency of the repair vs buying a new unit
- Sizing constraints in the kitchen
- Your kitchen outlook and timeframe until replacement.
The condition of your frame and doors.
Your fridge is just a steel box. Inside that steel box there is insulation. The manufacturer hangs some doors on this box, and outfits it with a little air conditioner and calls it a refrigerator. If the steel box and insulation are in good condition, and those doors still close well, the only thing left is the air conditioner portion. That is, your mechanical system, and it can just about always be replaced and made to function like brand new using original parts.
The number one thing we look at is whether there is irregularities present on the frame of the unit that would inhibit the doors from closing. The root cause of this is almost always a slow drain leak that has not been resolved for many years. The water from the drain leak penetrates the frame of the unit and it slowly rusts and eventually warps the part of the unit that door gasket rests on. Once the door gasket no longer makes a firm seal, we can no longer efficiently control the amount of air leaking into the unit, causing more moisture, mold, inefficiencies, frost ups, you name it. That is why the first and most important step in determining "repairworthiness" is to evaluate your frame.
The Unit above should not be repaired unless its a quick simple repair to hold you over until your new fridge arrives. The unit below is in perfect cosmetic condition and should be repaired with a long time horizon in mind.
Your Doors and Door hardware.
One terrible thing that can happen to these doors is that they sort of warp, or get air bubbles that literally changes the shape of the door. The door begins rub on the frame and door closing ability is greatly reduced. This is almost ALWAYS a side effect of the door being so cold for so long, and then rapidly warming up due to failure. Most failures that are addressed quickly within a few days will not affect the door. If left unaddressed, or if the unit is turned off after many years in operation, the doors can balloon. If a door replacement is necessary it certainly lowers the attractiveness of a lasting repair, although it is certainly possible to replace a door when necessary.
Older units door hardware was primarily a system of stainless steel and nylon bushings. Over the years, the bushings would wear down and break. If not addressed the door hardware would ride metal on metal, the door would stop closing as well. We replace door hardware all the time, and most of the time this helps the door function better as well as straightens it.
Availability of the parts for your specific unit.
Sub-Zero has been great at keeping your Sub-Zero refrigerator parts in stock and available. It is why we recommend to everyone that the purchase of an appliance from this American made brand is 100% the proper decision when building a new custom kitchen. Everyone knows that the kitchen is supposed to outlast the appliance, many sub-zero refrigerators are outlasting their kitchens.
That doesn't mean we can get parts for your 1975. The fact that older units from the 1970's and 1980's are not really in service as much as the once were is common sense. They stopped selling a lot of common parts on those machines and in many cases, large repairs may not be advisable for those units. However, units such as the 500 Series that came about around in the late 80s until the lates 90s are some of the greatest refrigerators ever made and still widely used in many kitchens. We find that common parts are still available for these units and generally, are worth repairing.
If a unit doesn't have parts readily available, we generally advise against larger repairs even if it is possible because the possibility that down the line you may need to replace anyway.
Model Specific Service History
The old adage "They don't make em like they used to" certainly applies here. If your goal is working with what you've got, and just want a solid working refrigerator, your 20 year old sub-zero is especially up for the task. 500 Series and 600 series models we like to compare to old John Deere tractors, they are burly machines that can be repaired and restored and just keep going. A proper repair can give you years more of service while saving you literally thousands of dollars. A new machine can cost between ten and fifteen thousand dollars before installation begins. A repair isn't coming close to that.
Knowing the units is important.
After doing this for years you begin to see a pattern. We know some units are better than others, and some units are sort of "one-offs". Luckily there are not too many of these. Sometimes a failure in one part can snowball, or there are things to look out for in the future, especially as units get up the 20 year mark. Using a company that knows the product inside out that can check the full system of your machine and not be short sited when evaluating is very important. Case and point: we almost always replace solenoid valves when ice-makers fail on certain units that produce more heat because we know that not doing so is asking for inconvenience and possible trouble for older units (we work in manhattan and have seen a flood or two from leaky valves that we working fine at the time of service)
Cost efficiency of the repair vs buying a new unit.
Price wise, a lasting repair will save you many thousands of dollars versus buying a new unit. Even pre-pandemic inflated prices for built in refrigerators were steep. Repairs do not even begin to scratch the surface of the cost of replacement and the labor involved in getting that achieved.
How long will the repair actually last though?
Sometimes we get calls from customers we serviced over a decade ago! Repairs can last a long time if the unit is in nice shape. The whole reason we do an in depth evaluation of these machines is to not have you throwing good money after bad. If we deem a machine in favorable condition for repair, we expect the repair to last years into the future. We offer good warranties on repairs, sometimes we warranty units for many years after a recommended repair is performed. We do this because we know that if these machines are in excellent shape, and reliable new parts are being used during the repair, we are most likely buying many years of uninterrupted service.
What if my machine is in so-so shape?
Sometimes machines have not been maintained, they have run hot for many years that ultimately has led to a failure. In this case, it should be identified by the technician and other systems in the refrigerator should be tested to ensure they work properly as well. This could mean simply running each compressor, making sure they start uninterrupted, checking the defrost system to ensure it functions. Ice Makers are almost always a wild card but as a rule of thumb if they are performing flawlessly they usually continue to. If all this checks out, and the machine is in decent condition, proceeding with the repair will be a great benefit. That doesn't mean that not maintaining it all those years will do you any favors in the long run, just that you more than likely can continue using the machine you've got for a while longer.
Sizing Constraints in your kitchen
The best time to install a new built in fridge is when you build your kitchen. Sometimes people will say " I am not going to buy a built in Fridge to replace this built in fridge." This is something to consider. Most kitchens that have a built in fridge would really only look right with a built in as the kitchen was literally built around it. The standard size of a sub-zero is just so much different than a normal refrigerator size. Not only is it taller and wider than a normal refrigerator, it is shallower. This means a normal fridge will literally stick out from your cabinets, protruding almost a foot into the room in some cases. If you have an island or a doorway near by, this simply just wont work. However some kitchens can make this work, and if your unit is not in repairable shape, then this option could benefit you.
The wider the unit gets (beyond 36 inches) the less options you start to have for replacement. All things considered, the repair is almost always going to be the most cost effective, easiest solution. Not to mention, with the quality that is being put out in the appliance industry now a days, I would take a 30 year old rebuilt sub zero before a brand new samsung any day.
Your kitchen outlook
Redoing your kitchen in six months? Repair the machine using as little parts as possible. Let's say your compressor fails from overheating or lack of maintenance. You have a few options like rebuilding the whole system that could last upwards of teyears, to just simply replacing the compressor. You should probably just replace the motor, when the kitchen gets demo'd you'll have the best beer fridge ever made. Feel like keeping the kitchen as is for fifteen more years? Rebuild the machine and get piece of mind.
Why don't you just buy a new unit and put it in the new kitchen?
No one wants to design a kitchen around a specific sized fridge. There are tons of options today that are available versus twenty years ago. If your fridge breaks and you replace it with a ten thousand dollar exact replacement, you literally have to redesign your kitchen around it. If it is your dream fridge, go for it. However I guarantee that you can spend that money more wisely today with the myriad of options available. I recently did this in my townhome (I scored a beautiful glass front BI-36 unit on the secondary market). What a mistake, the fridge was beautiful but once i got to the drawing board we realized that the whole kitchen layout had to accommodate the fridge, instead of having the fridge accommodate the kitchen lay out we wanted. Not ideal.
Installing and re installing is not good.
Installations should be done by a professional installer, probably not your contractor. Installations are so important for the longevity of your machine that a botched one can ruin a machine, make it look un-level or like the doors are sagging and even lead to pre mature failures. Sub-Zero even extends your warranty a year if installed by a factory certified installer. Rule of thumb, you want to put that fridge in and leave it there, forever.