Is There a Difference between Repair and Maintenance?

Regardless of the industry, every maintenance department’s goal is the same: to keep facility assets working! Avoid following the manufacturer’s recommendations, and you’re more likely to experience faster equipment depreciation, increased mechanical failures, and more emergency repair costs within your facilities.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the difference between the terms “repair” and “maintenance.”

“Unplanned downtime in manufacturing is one of the largest causes of lost productivity, causing delays, unhappy customers and lost revenue. In fact, the problem costs industrial manufacturers an estimated $50 billion each year, according to recent studies.”

What's the Difference between Repair and Maintenance?

The more complex the machinery under your care, the more you will find yourself working with outsourced technicians from time to time. Why? It’s rare for maintenance departments to have workers on staff who know how to fix every possible scenario. We know that asset failure is inevitable. Some repairs are straightforward, while others require significant problem-solving.

Furthermore, the more complex the piece of equipment, the more essential preventive maintenance (PM) becomes. The more complex the machinery under your care, the more you will find yourself working with outsourced technicians from time to time. Why? It’s rare for maintenance departments to have workers on staff who know how to fix every possible scenario.

Unfortunately, contractors sometimes perform work that in-house technicians could have completed were it not for one missing piece of the puzzle. For this reason, it’s essential to know the difference between asset repair and maintenance.

To properly supervise repair services, maintenance managers must understand the difference between which tasks fall into “necessary” vs. “we can do it ourselves.” Repairs and maintenance are both essential for the optimal functioning of assets.

Anyone who has worked as a maintenance technician for any time has undoubtedly heard their peers use the terms “maintenance” and “repair” interchangeably. Understanding the difference between the terms is crucial to running a successful asset management program, maintenance team, and business. So how do we define our two terms?

What Are Repairs?

Repairs refer to actions taken to restore the proper functionality of an asset. Essentially, it’s returning something broken back to optimal working conditions. The level of repairs required depends on the type of asset failure. There are two primary types of failure. They are:

  • Complete Failure: This refers to failures that make assets unavailable for use. The asset cannot fulfill its purpose until someone attends to it. For example, an engine failure will stall your car, rendering it undrivable until you take it to the mechanic. Asset failure most often leads to unplanned downtime, which is usually costly and requires emergency maintenance.
  • Partial Failure: In this instance, the asset still works to some degree despite the failure. You can still use the equipment, but it is either unsafe or minimally effective. For example, a driver can choose to operate a vehicle with a dirty air filter. But he may notice the AC isn’t as cold as it once was, or he may find himself sneezing because of poor air quality. Generally, you want to resolve partial failures as quickly as possible, so they don’t lead to complete breakdowns at inconvenient times.

Obviously, some repairs are more expensive than others. How much money you spend on repairs will depend on the root cause of the failure.

Asset failure and subsequent repairs can be costly. According to the 2020 Plant Engineering industrial maintenance study, some of the leading causes of asset failure include aging equipment, mechanical failure, and operator error.

While failure is inevitable, most asset failures are preventable. This is where maintenance comes in. Proactive maintenance can help you avoid major, costly repairs. Let’s look at what maintenance means.

What Is Maintenance?

Maintenance refers to keeping assets in good working condition. It’s work done to preserve functionality, performance, and safety over a machine’s lifespan—the primary goal of proactive maintenance is to avoid major or unplanned repairs.

Experts sometimes disagree about how many types of maintenance there are. But, at its simplest, you can categorize upkeep into four types: preventive maintenance, corrective maintenance, predictive maintenance, and reliability-centered maintenance.

Common maintenance activities include:

  • Installing condition-monitoring sensors and devices
  • Installing new lighting and air conditioning systems
  • Upgrading existing assets and systems
  • Installing new assets and systems
  • Performing safety inspections
  • Replacing asset components

Technically, repairs can also be considered maintenance work (corrective maintenance). However, the difference between repair and maintenance work is that repairs aim to restore functionality while maintenance looks to preserve functionality.

Put simply, repairs are done after downtime to minimize losses, while maintenance is done to prevent unexpected asset downtime.

Both repair and maintenance have the same end goal: to enable you to get the most out of your assets. It’s their approach to achieving this goal that differs. As expected, maintenance costs can vary substantially based on the complexity of the machinery and the parts involved.

Repair and Maintenance Expense Examples

Common repair and maintenance expenses include costs incurred for:

  • Replacing broken or worn-out parts with comparable parts
  • Repairing HVAC units, toilets, and faucets
  • Cleaning building structures and systems
  • Pool cleaning (residential properties)
  • Routine inspections and checks
  • Changing fleet engine oils
  • Basic electrical repairs
  • Bulb replacements
  • Landscaping
  • Paint touch-ups

Now that you understand the technical differences between repair and maintenance, you may be wondering: how does that difference impact asset management for tax purposes?

MRO vs. Capital Expenses

On average, businesses allocate up to 9.2 percent of their operating budgets to MRO (Maintenance, Repair, and Operations).

Despite this small portion, MRO products are critical to overall business performance, profitability, and longevity. As previously mentioned, both maintenance and repairs reduce equipment failures, ensure uptime, and extend useful life.

Businesses can make tax deductions for routine maintenance and repairs. However, they can’t deduct expenses spent on improving asset design (betterments), restoring assets to normal conditions (restorations), and adapting them for different usage (adaptations). Instead, the IRS encourages businesses to “capitalize” these costs.

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations, these expenses help keep your assets in good working conditions without necessarily increasing their life cycles. In other words, they’re intended to keep assets in normal operating states.

You can read more on MRO vs. capitalizing expense deductions here.

Simplify Preventative Maintenance with MaintainX

Remember: you can’t run away from repairs, but you can minimize them substantially. Maintenance experts recommend dedicating 80 percent of your resources to proactive maintenance and 20 percent to corrective repairs.

Aim for this ratio to support cost-effective spending, reliable operating conditions, and a reduction in major repairs. Cloud-based maintenance tools like MaintainX CMMS help organize, automate, and streamline maintenance management, so you have more control over your department.

The platform has everything you need to automate spare parts inventory, track asset activity, assign work orders, and monitor maintenance operations in real time. Ready to overhaul your maintenance department?

Try MaintainX CMMS for free today!


How long does it take to implement MaintainX?

For the average customer, it takes three weeks to implement one site. For customers on our Premium & Enterprise plans, our team ensures a smooth transition to MaintainX within your organization. Partner with a dedicated implementation specialist through our structured three-week onboarding process. Learn more about our Implementation services here.

Is MaintainX secure?

MaintainX is compliant with security standards, including SOC 2, ISO 27001 & GDPR. It also supports Single Sign-On (SSO), multi-factor authentication (MFA) and custom permissions and roles. For more information, visit our Trust Center page.

Does MaintainX support multiple sites?

Yes, MaintainX Enterprise allows you to manage multiple plants or facilities within the same platform. You can also create customized reporting dashboards to track KPIs across multiple sites on the same screen.

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Caroline Eisner

Caroline Eisner is a writer and editor with experience across the profit and nonprofit sectors, government, education, and financial organizations. She has held leadership positions in K16 institutions and has led large-scale digital projects, interactive websites, and a business writing consultancy.

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