Two years ago I purchased a lawn mower for $200 from the local hardware store. Though I’ve hardly abused the machine, gas mowers are extremely sensitive to ethanol blend fuels. Sure enough, when I went to start the machine this spring it wouldn’t start. Ethanol practically ruins these engines so if you’re using pump gas, be sure to burn it all out of the tank at the end of the year. Or buy pure gasoline from a station that sells it. Sites keep a list of such stations like this.

I’ve been faced with a difficult situation in terms of what to do about fixing my mower. The local repair place charges a $40 deposit just to look at the thing (mistake 2 if you’re keeping track). I checked most of the things I could in order to try and fix the mower but the problem has come down to the carburetor, which is beyond my skill (and tool) set to fix. After the sunk cost of $40, it will be as much as $150 more to replace it.

Ignoring the fact I think they’re full of it and a simple cleaning will probably do fine, I’ve run out of time.

So now I’m faced with a decision. Pay $150 to fix it, or buy the same machine that’s still for sale for $200 again. I’ve been leaning towards buying the machine again, if only because now I get a fresh 2 year warranty. But $50 is $50, and it’s wasteful environmentally to buy a brand new mower.

At this point I’m close to indifferent. Buying a new mower is more expensive, and I still have to figure out what to do with the old one (likely try to sell it). But I can have a new mower today and be cutting grass tonight (it’s getting long). On the other side, while fixing the broken mower is cheaper, it won’t be ready until next week and I’ll have to send someone to pick it up for me.

The economics are quite simple if you just look at cost. If I can sell the broken machine for $50 or more, I’m better off buying a new one. But there’s also a cost in time to sell the mower. If I fix the broken mower, there’s cost for sending someone to pick it up for me mid-week. And there’s environmental costs on the new one which I mentioned before. Some of these are tough to quantify.

This isn’t unlike many problems countries have to figure out. How much cost should go into fixing something that’s broken, or replacing it? What are the environmental impacts of decisions? Can we quantify them and weigh the costs/benefits? How much time do we waste just trying to make a decision? In my case, way too much at this point.

A decision will get made today. But I’m still unsure which way I’ll go.

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categories: economics, environment, personal, personal finance