When the used treadmill that Lindy Forstater bought for $70 quit working, she decided giving it the heave-ho wasn't an option. "I don't want to contribute to a throwaway society like in the movie 'Wall-E,'" said the Shorewood resident. "I try to hold on to stuff. I just took my 10-year-old Sony [TV] in for repair, but I can't find anyone to repair my treadmill -- or my toaster."
"Repair or replace?" used to be a consumer's dilemma for everything from the leaky coffeemaker to the infected computer. But now that repair shops for many small appliances are as scarce as parts for a 1994 NordicTrack, replacement is often the only option.
Last year, Minnesotans recycled 6.2 pounds of electronic waste per capita. That adds up to 33 million pounds of TVs, computers, printers, DVD players and phones, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Being a smart shopper can help keep appliances out of repair shop or the recycling bin longer. Before you buy a blender, a smartphone or a dishwasher, do some homework. Consult Consumer Reports for quality and reliability, look at online reviews and read up on warranties. You may even check to see if there are authorized service centers in the area.
And instead of stuffing the owner's manual in the junk drawer, read it. Pay special attention to the "care and maintenance" section. It will offer simple tips that can extend the life of your appliance.
When the time comes to decide whether to repair or replace, use Consumer Reports' 50 percent rule: Replace a broken item if the repair will cost more than half the price of the new product. In some cases, you can avoid paying for a service call to make that decision. First, explain to a repair person on the phone or in an e-mail what you think is wrong with the item. He or she may be able to diagnose the problem, give you a ballpark price to repair it or suggest a DIY solution.
Who fixes what?
Need your refrigerator repaired? Just look in the Yellow Pages or Twin Cities Consumers' Checkbook or on Google or Angie's List. But finding someone to repair a wafflemaker or a treadmill is exponentially more difficult.
Before you shop around, check with the retailer or the manufacturer for repair options, authorized service centers or websites that accept repairs by mail.
Here's a sampling of local options:
Small electronics (smartphones, tablets, MP3 players, GPS navigation, video game consoles)
Gophermods (1313 SE. 5th St., Suite 106B, Mpls., 612-354-2937, www.gophermods.com)
GadgetMend (a kiosk on the first floor of the Mall of America, 612-460-7315, www.gadgetmend.com); limited hours
Geek Squad (Best Buy locations, 1-800-433-5778, www.geeksquad.com)
Small appliances (toasters, food processors, coffeemakers, mixers and electric shavers)
Appliance Repair Corporate (1061 109th Av. NE., Blaine, 763-780-8200).
Har Mar Lock & Service Center (1551 Larpenteur Av. W., St. Paul, 651-636-8171)
Bob's Treadmill Repair (651-283-9825). Pickup and delivery
Second Wind (11 locations, 763-533-9888, www.2ndwindexercise.com)
Help for do-it-yourselfers
If you'd like to try to tackle the repair yourself, check out these sites:
Howstuffworks.com (instructions and illustrations)
Homerepair.about.com (maintenance tips)
Manualsonline.com (300,000 owners' manuals)
Getting rid of appliances -- large and small -- can be a hassle. Check with your city or county to see which items they accept for recycling, then check into one of the organizations that fosters person-to-person recycling.
• Rethinkrecycling.com lists recycling options for six metro-area counties.
• Minneapolis residents can discard mattresses, metal, appliances, monitors, TVs and computers as part of the city's recycling program. Other items such as tires, construction materials and moving excess can be taken at no cost to the city's dropoff site, but you have to make prior arrangements. Call 612-673-2917.
• Smartgivers.org offers an extensive list of charities that pick up various items still in working order. Freegeektwincities.org tries to refurbish computers to sell in its thrift store or give to volunteers.
• Best Buy accepts many electronics items free for recycling, including TVs 32 inches or smaller, wall mounts, car video, MP3 players, stereo components, boomboxes, cameras, computers, phones, CDs and DVDs, video games and accessories. For a list, go to Bestbuy.com/recycling.