Replacement is the best option for any malfunctioning refrigerator over 8 years old, according to Consumer Reports. With refrigerators newer than this, the time to repair or consider replacement varies by model and replacement cost.
Top-freezer models are the least expensive refrigerators to replace. If the refrigerator is under 3 years old, it is a good candidate for repair. Between 3 and 6 years, the owner should consider such factors as previous repairs and the cost of the current repair. Once these models reach the 6-year mark, any major malfunction indicates it is time for a replacement.
Side-by-side models remain good candidates for repair if less than 5 years old, but models between 5 and 8 years old require consideration on an individual basis. Bottom-freezer models are repairable during the first 7 years, and repairs are a possibility until the 8-year mark. Built-in refrigerators are the most expensive to replace, and repair is the best option until they are 8 years old.
Other factors to consider, regardless of the model, are the cost of repair and the energy efficiency of the model. If a refrigerator is inefficient and requires major repairs, then replacement often becomes a much better option. As of 2015, new refrigerators are often more efficient than models manufactured a decade earlier.