One of the routine questions we get here in the shop is whether or not old equipment is worth fixing or just replacing? The answer to that age old question is "it depends". Very helpful, I know. But, here are some things you can use to determine on your own to make that decision. For the sake of simplicity, I am going to refer to everything as a lawn tractor. These suggestions apply to most, if not all equipment. So when you read "lawn tractor" just envision whatever piece of equipment you are contemplating replacing.
The first, and maybe the most important, question is why are you thinking of replacing your "lawn tractor"? Even though this seems like a pretty simple question it is actually more involved than you might think. If you are considering a replacement because something is not working then read on. But, if you are considering replacing simply because you are ready for something new and you really have your heart set on a particular something or other then you should probably pull the trigger. No matter what you do to your old machine, chances are you won't be happy with it, and you may spend the rest of the season regretting having put money into it.
Now that we have that out of the way, it's time to start assessing what you have going on. One of the big misconceptions is that newer is better. Unlike your car, truck or motorcycle, most equipment hasn't significantly changed in the last 20 years or so. New equipment tends to look sleeker, but that's about it. So when a customer asks me if I think something is worth fixing I generally start with asking them about the engine. Does your engine start? Is it blowing blue smoke out the exhaust? Does it sound like someone is banging metal garbage cans together when it's running? If your answers to those three questions goes something like "yes, no and no" then most likely your engine is worth fixing.
The next question is about the transmission (assuming it has one). Does it move under it's own power? This one is little trickier because yes or no doesn't actually mean as much as you might think. Something as simple as a worn or broken drive belt can make your transmission seem to be failing, when in reality it could just be a $40.00 belt that has gone bad. In this case you have to take a leap of faith and replace the belt to know for sure if that is your problem.
Finally, the cutting deck; at least on things that have a cutting deck. If the cutting deck has rust holes in it, or holes of any sort you should not use it. The possibility of something coming through one of those holes and taking you out, or worse someone else, is enough to not take the chance. Depending on the machine, replacing the cutting deck is not always a death sentence, but it is costly enough that you should find out the price to replace it and then go from there. Blades, mandrels, pulleys, etc. aren't particularly cheap, but may not be as expensive as you think.
At the end of the day the cost of repairing an older piece of equipment is generally much less than buying new. As always, it usually comes down to what you actually want. And how much you want to spend. So before you make a decision take some time and price out a replacement, then you at least have an idea of what you might be willing to spend for a repair. Paying a shop $150.00 to fix an old push-mower doesn't make much sense if you can buy a new one for $160. But paying $400 to fix a lawn tractor does make sense it a replacement is $2000.00.
One final thought, when you are comparing the price of a replacement verse repair; make sure you are comparing apples to apples. If you have a lawn tractor with a 54" cutting deck with a 24 HP engine, don't look at the tractor with a 12 HP engine and 42" cutting deck for comparison, unless of course you are thinking of down-sizing.
Taking a little time to know your own mind will make the trip to the repair shop or the store a little less painful. Always keep in mind, you are the one that will have to live with your decision. The person behind the counter at the store or the repair shop has their own reasons for recommending new or a replacement.