If you want to save money on appliances, I have some unconventional advice: Buy used. Yes, really. Here’s how to buy used (or refurbished) appliances and save big money without getting ripped off.
I’ve had a number of friends get hit recently with appliance breakdowns they couldn’t afford, and since I’m a landlord, I’ve probably bought a lifetime’s worth of appliances in the last seven years. A dead appliance doesn’t have to turn into a financial catastrophe.
There is a misconception that it costs more to repair an appliance than it’s worth. That’s sometimes true, but sometimes doesn’t mean always. Dryers in particular often conk out and stop heating over a cheap fuse. It’s a shame to ruin a $300 dryer over a $2 part, but that part is designed to keep you from burning your house down, which would be even worse. The good news is you can replace that part many times over a dryer’s lifespan, which could be decades.
But here’s an idea if you don’t like $70 service calls: Contact a used appliance dealer and ask about swapping out your old appliance. Odds are they’ll haul off your old one (probably to fix it and resell it), and they may give a discount on the replacement for that precise reason. Then you get a unit that’s been looked over and had its consumable pars replaced.
Buy basic models
Low-end appliances are simple, proven, reliable machines with little that can go wrong with them. They aren’t fancy but they last essentially forever with simple repairs involving cheap, commodity parts.
Fancy, costly models have a lot more that can go wrong. Diagnostics are harder, the parts are costlier and more numerous, and repairs are likely to be more frequent. A $750 dryer will have a higher cost of ownership than a $250 model.
If you don’t like service calls, you want the top-load washer, the range whose only features are a timer and a clock (and the clock is optional). You want the model that originally sold for $350-$400 at its regular price, and ideally you should pay a discount off that price.
Off brands are OK
Only a handful of companies actually make appliances, so off brands are most likely made by GE, Whirlpool, or Electrolux (Frigidaire’s parent), especially if they’re sold in dealers that deal mainly in one of those three major brands. The off-brand models tend to be more basic, with fewer frills, and therefore, fewer breakdowns. That’s why Consumer Reports rates Hotpoint appliances higher than GE even though they’re made in the same factory–the high-end GE-branded models drag the GE brand down a bit.
What about scratch and dent?
You can save some money by buying from an outlet or a store that specializes in scratch and dent appliances. Selection will be better, especially if you need an 18-inch-wide dishwasher for a small kitchen. But expect slim pickings at the low end, and the discounts will be smaller–perhaps you’ll get a $300 appliance for $250, where a used dealer will sell something comparable for $150-$200.
But the outlet model will last longer before that first repair, right? Not necessarily, in my experience. At least not enough to be worth the price difference, if you have a choice.
Off-brand major appliances for $250 are a common Black Friday special at stores like Sears, Home Depot and Lowe’s. There’s nothing at all wrong with them. If you don’t mind fighting a crowd and dealing with limited quantities and likely backorders, this is a way to get a good deal. But it doesn’t help you the other 364 days of the year.
Appliances often go on sale in the spring, in hopes of luring in people looking to spend their tax refunds. You can get a slight discount on new, name-brand appliances at the big-box stores this way. Selection at the outlets and used appliance stores tends to be lower during this time because people spend their tax refunds there too.
Unless it’s an emergency, or your heart is set on a brand-new, name-brand appliance, I suggest avoiding tax season. Selection will be a little bit better in the summer or fall.
Brands to look for
Generally speaking, I like Whirlpool washers and dryers and dishwashers; GE ranges; and Frigidaire or GE refrigerators. I don’t care whose label is on it, I care about who originally made it.
But if I need a $100 appliance and I can’t get my preferred brand at the moment, I’ll go ahead and buy it. When the time comes for a repair, I might pay $5-$10 more for parts for a non-preferred brand. I can live with that.
Do-it yourself repairs
Yes, you can do many repairs yourself. Before you have an emergency, search Youtube for your particular model of appliance. Take note of any parts they use, then search Ebay to get an idea of the going rate for the parts. Consider buying the parts ahead of time so you’ll have them when failure occurs.
The fuse and thermostat in a Whirlpool dryer cost about $15, and it takes me about 30 minutes to swap them. The hardest part is taking the back off the dryer and getting it back on.
To make your appliances last longer between repairs, do some simple maintenance:
- Vacuum the coils underneath your refrigerator (yearly)
- Run some plain white vinegar through your dishwasher’s rinse agent compartment (monthly)
- Disconnect your dryer from the dryer vent and vacuum it out (yearly)
- If your dryer vent clogs on the outside, replace the vent cap with one that opens and closes automatically
- Clean the dryer vent any time it starts taking more than one cycle to dry clothes