Repair or Replace? What To Do With Broken Cardio Equipment.

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If you buy quality gear for your home or garage gym, very little, if anything, will break over time. There aren’t a lot of moving parts on squat racks or dumbbells. But that’s not the case for your cardio gear.

Whether it’s your treadmill, elliptical, rower, stairclimber, or spin bike, the odds are that you’ll have to repair or replace them at some point. The question is, what to do when there’s a problem?

When your cardio gear breaks, what should you do? Repair or replace? And how do you decide?

Lucky for you, I spent thirty years in the appliance and electronics business, where this question gets asked multiple times every single day. It’s actually much easier than you think to make this decision, so read on!

Should You Repair or Replace Broken Cardio Equipment?

Whether to repair or replace your broken cardio equipment depends on the repair cost in relation to the expected lifespan of your unit once repaired. If the repair cost is a good match with the expected life, the repair is an intelligent decision. If not, then replacement is the better option.

There’s a little more to it than that, but that’s the basic concept. The problem is that emotions and faulty logic often cause people to make the wrong decision.

That’s why, at the end of this article, I’ll give you one simple question to ask yourself when you are in these situations. The answer to that one question will guide you to the right decision!

repair or replace this broken treadmill motor?
Ugh! Broken again?!?!?

What You Do and Don’t Need To Know To Make This Decision

There are a few essential things you’ll need to know to make an intelligent decision. There’s also one thing that way too many people consider when it shouldn’t be considered at all!

How old is your cardio machine?

Father Time
No one escapes Father Time!

Is it two years old or twenty? Unless the cost is negligible, repairing a twenty-year-old machine is seldom worthwhile. Repairing a two-year-old machine is almost always worthwhile (depending on cost, of course).

But what about machines that fall between those two extremes? If you aren’t sure where you fall, keep the age of your machine in mind and read on.

If you already know you need to buy a new one, make sure to check out our buying guides on treadmills, ellipticals, and rowers!

What Does Your Warranty Tell You?

warranty

First, if you are covered by warranty, you shouldn’t be reading this article. Have your rower or elliptical repaired at no cost to you, and move on with life!

But outside of paying or not paying for repairs, your warranty tells you something much more important about your cardio machine. It tells you what the quality level of your gear actually is because the manufacturer is telling you by the warranty length!

We know exactly how long manufacturers think their gear will last without needing repair by the length of the warranty. If the warranty is one year for parts and labor, they expect no repairs in the first year but aren’t confident after that.

If they give a lifetime warranty on the frame, you know they expect the frame to last forever without needing repair.

Have you ever wondered why your stuff always seems to break the week after the warranty ends? This is why. The manufacturers know exactly how long their gear will last and will not warranty it even one day past that expectation!

The longer the warranty, the better quality your unit is. Yep, it’s that simple. Here’s a general guideline…

  • 0-1 year warranty = an entry-level machine
  • 3-5 year warranty = a mid-level machine
  • 5+ year warranty = a high-end machine

How long do cardio machines last?

Lots of people have written articles trying to answer the question of how long cardio machines last. Those same people tend to guess at or ultimately make up the answer instead of basing it on actual repairs and service track records.

Hourglass
How much time is left?

Some websites say “7-12 years, with 10 being the average.” (source).

Others will state, “According to what the manufacturers say, the average life of a treadmill is about 10 years.” (source)

Both of those are wrong.

What we need to consider is the level of use your machine gets. Your treadmill doesn’t have a calendar built in. It has no idea “how long” it should last. It only knows how much you use it.

With treadmills, we know the average expected life is about 5,000 miles (source). If you run 5 miles a day, 5 days a week, you know that your treadmill gets about 1,300 miles a year in use. That means you hit 5k miles in just under four years of service.

My treadmill is only used for walking, and I put roughly 4 miles a week on it (the rest of my walking is done at the dog park every day). My tread will last considerably longer because of that.

So the real answer to how much life your cardio gear has left is a combination of build quality as indicated by your warranty combined with your level of use.

Light UseMedium UseHeavy Use
Entry-Level Machine3-5 years2-3 years1-2 years
Mid-Level Machine7-10 years6-8 years3-5 years
High-End Machine15-20 years10-15 years8-10 years
Average lifespans of cardio machines based on machine quality and amount of use.

How Much Is The Repair?

Piggy Bank

I spoke to Jason Fried, the fitness buyer at Abt Electronics (one of the largest independent fitness dealers in the country). Below is a chart of average repair costs for the most common repairs on treadmills, rowers, ellipticals, and exercise bikes.

One important caveat he gave is that the more expensive your machine is in the first place, the more expensive the repairs. Replacing a control board on an entry-level rower will cost significantly less than replacing the same board on a high-end unit. 

Remember that this chart is an estimation, not an accurate prediction of what your specific repair will cost.

Entry-LevelMid-LevelHigh-End
Console$400-$500$600-$800$1000+
Motor$400-$500$600-$800$1000+
Control Board$600-$800$750-$1000$1500+
Belt replacement$200-$300$300-$500$400-$600
Average repair costs of the most common repairs. Costs include both labor and parts as of June 2023.

How Much Did You Spend On Your Unit?

While you will need to know the machine’s age, warranty length, average lifespan, and repair cost, you might be surprised to find out that what you paid for your gear should never come into the decision!

Sunk Cost Fallacy:

The Sunk Cost Fallacy describes our tendency to follow through on an endeavor if we have already invested time, effort, or money into it, whether or not the current costs outweigh the benefits.

(source)

How much you’ve already “sunk” into your elliptical or spin bike has absolutely zero to do with whether you should repair or replace it if broken. 

If that one isn’t making complete sense to you, check out this article by the Decision Lab, and all will be clear! Or, watch the old 80’s Tom Hanks movie “Money Pit” for a more comical yet impactful explanation.

The more important thing to know is how much a new one would cost. Find that out and keep it in mind so you can factor it in in the next section.

Answer This One Simple Question To Make Your Decision Easy

Dog question

It took a minute to get here, but I’m ready to give you the secret question that will make your life easy!

I’ve used this approach with literally thousands of customers over the years, wondering whether to repair or replace their products, and it works every time!

Let’s say your spin bike is ten years old, and based on your use, you can expect another three years out of it.

You also know that the repair costs $200, while the replacement costs $1500.

Now, ask yourself this question:

If you didn’t own a spin bike but were looking to buy one at the store, would you buy a ten-year-old refurbished bike that’s got maybe three years of life left for $200, or would you buy a brand new one that you expect to last another 13 years for $1500?

Do you see why what you paid originally doesn’t matter? If you pay for the repair, it’s the same thing as buying a refurbished model for the price of the repair. What it costs initially means absolutely nothing!

In this case, most people would buy the $200 machine. But what if the repair costs $800? Would anyone buy a ten-year-old, refurbished anything for $800? Most folks are a hard no on that one!

But if you think about that first $1500 you spent on the machine to buy it, you might easily make the wrong decision and spend $800 on a repair when you should buy new instead.

This not only works with cardio gear, but it works with any significant item in your life!

So, to recap…

Would you buy a W-year-old, refurbished X for repair cost Y if it will only last another Z years?

W = your machine’s age
X = how old it is
Y = repair cost
Z = expected remaining life

Conclusion

All of us will find ourselves in situations like this many times over our lives. And every time, it seems like a hard decision. I mean, who is ever happy to spend money they weren’t expecting to have to spend, right?

If you can keep this example in mind, you’ll make the right decision every time. Sure, it can sometimes be upsetting to know you need to buy new when a repair is less expensive, but in the long term, it’ll be clear you did the right thing!

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AUTHOR

Tim Steward has been training at home since he got his first weight set from Sears in junior high. Over 30 years later, Tim has helped thousands of people build home and garage gyms that they love and use regularly. He also holds a CPT certification with the ISSA and is an NCCPT nationally accredited trainer. When Tim is not training or writing about home gyms, you can find him at the dog park with his two Australian cattle dogs, Anny and Beans.

11 thoughts on “Repair or Replace? What To Do With Broken Cardio Equipment.”

    • If this was the 1950’s, you could for sure fix it yourself. Unfortunately, the days of self-repair are pretty much at an end. Honestly, I think the companies intentionally make it impossible so you have to buy new a lot more often.

      Reply
  1. If you get good at fixing these, you can pick them up broken at garage sales for almost nothing and then flip them for a great profit.

    Reply
    • Unfortunately, no. Once it’s bent it no longer has the structural integrity to be safe. Also, what it would cost for a metal shop to fix it would probably buy you a new barbell.

      Reply
  2. I bought some nuobells and they are both now broken (I guess you’re not supposed to drop them?). Do you know if those are repairable, or am I out $600?

    Reply
    • Oh no, I’m very sorry to hear about that. Yeah, those can’t be dropped, or even knocked into one another. I wish they did a better job of telling people that BEFORE they bought! Unfortunately, I think NuoBells is gonna charge you quite a bit for repair if it’s even available. Sorry I don’t have a better answer for you.

      Reply

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