Refrigerators and other major appliances should be replaced if the cost of repair would be more than half the cost of a new unit, according to Consumer Reports. For most models, consider replacement rather than repair if the refrigerator is more than 7 years old.
The normal lifespan of a refrigerator is 10 to 20 years, and ENERGY STAR standards recommend replacement of any refrigerator manufactured before 1993 even if the refrigerator is still working properly, because of the energy inefficiency of earlier models. Among more modern refrigerators, some kinds are more prone to needing expensive repairs than others. As a general rule, side-by-side refrigerators are less efficient and more expensive to maintain than models with top or bottom freezers and should be considered for possible replacement if more than five years old. Refrigerators that are equipped with ice makers are especially troublesome.
The refrigerators usually most worth repairing are built-in models and bottom-freezer models, which can be considered for repair even if older than seven years. Top-freezer models are usually more energy-efficient than bottom-freezer models but have a shorter lifespan and should probably be replaced if more than seven years old when it begins to malfunction.
Signs that a refrigerator needs repair or replacement include hissing, sweating, leaking or rapid cycling. Other reasons for replacing a refrigerator include improved energy efficiency, remodeling or the need for a smaller or larger unit due to changes in the size of the household.