When it’s time for a customer to buy a new appliance, we frequently get asked for a recommendation of which brand or model to buy. We wish we had a short answer for that! In fact, whenever we are faced with buying new, we don’t even have an automatic “go-to” for ourselves.
First of all, you need to know these things:
1. Appliances need repairs and are being replaced much younger than in the past.
This is due to many factors, including increasingly strict energy requirements, which results in more complicated and finicky technologies being used compared to older styles. This is especially true with washers and dishwashers. Additionally, manufacturers have catered to consumer demand to keep prices low, which often means quality is lower. For example, today’s basic Whirlpool top-load washer is only $30 more than it was in 1987. It is not going to last as long.
2. The majority of our experience with appliances is based on models that are several years (or more) old, which may or may not have any bearing on the models being sold today.
3. We can’t evaluate reliability in any kind of statistical way because we don’t know the exact distribution of brands and models in our area. For example, we get a lot of calls on Whirlpool washers, but that may just be because they are a popular brand in our area, not that they break any more often than others.
4. A current industry average is that appliances will need some kind of repair within the first 5 years.
5. The average cost of an in-home professional appliance repair is only $100-$200 less then the average cost of many low-end appliances out there. In other words, some low-end appliances are becoming “disposable” in the same way counter-top microwaves did. Learning to do some basic DIY repairs on these types of machines is the best way to keep them going. Enter your model number in the parts search box in the right-hand column of this site to see what is available for the DIYer.
6. Each mainstream brand offers a number of different models at any given time, and these change every few years. There is a lot of variability with quality among the models, so no one brand can be said to be “the best” at any given time.
Repair vs. Replace
The repair vs. replace decision is very individual. It’s not just the cost of the repair vs. the cost of a new one – there are other factors as well, including how much you like your existing appliance, what kind of shape it’s in otherwise, whether or not it has unique features that are hard to replace, and how inconvenient it is for you to shop and arrange delivery and installation.
For those on a tight budget, the financing deals available on new ones (paying it off over time) may be easier to handle than a $300 repair ticket.
When folks give us their appliance’s model number, age, and problem description, we can often give feedback on the factors for them to consider based on our knowledge and experience.
Given all of the above info, we can give some general advice on brands based on repairability – things like parts costs and availability of technical info that allows us to perform the inevitable repairs cost-effectively and efficiently.
– Avoid Kenmore-labelled appliances (Kenmore doesn’t manufacture appliances–it’s just private labelling, which makes service documentation harder to acquire for independent repairmen.)
– GE replacement parts tend to be more expensive than other mainstream brands.
– LG has made service information very hard to come by for independent repairmen, so we currently don’t recommend them unless your repairman is an LG-authorized servicer and you’ve confirmed they will work on what you are planning to buy. (Note: LG is not one of the companies that The Appliance Guru has chosen to do warranty service for.)
– The availability of Samsung parts has been varying wildly. We can get some in right away, but others take a month or more to come in. While we like the fit and finish of their appliances, this parts issue gives us pause.
What about high end brands?
They are not all created equal, so it’s even more important that you do your research before investing in a high-end brand. If you are seriously considering one of these brands, check with your servicer beforehand to see if they work on them and what they think.
Some high-end brands we have worked on may have a certain look and some performance features that are desirable, but when we look inside them there aren’t any significant differences that would lead to a longer life.
Repairs on high-end appliances are usually more expensive than on mainstream brands because their parts are much more expensive. (Mostly because they are manufactured in much smaller quantities than the mainstream brands.)
Speaking of parts – one thing we have noticed is that Thermador “orphans” their product at an earlier age than most manufacturers. In other words, they stop manufacturing replacement parts for particular models, even though there are still quite a few of those models out there that are still young enough to be worth repairing.
Many high-end brands of appliances are like designer clothes – you are paying a lot for the label. Before taking the plunge, do your research. And consider the high-end models made by mainstream manufacturers.
Make sure that you really want all the extra features that are offered on some appliances. Anything extra is just one more thing that could break! Ice and water dispensers are a good example of this. Repairs can be pricey on these, and they are just a convenience. We’ve seen people struggle with the decision to pay a significant repair bill just because their otherwise functioning refrigerator won’t dispense ice. And we are currently not big fans of the ice maker/dispenser being located up in the refrigerator compartment. Its not as robust a design as being in the freezer.
Spend some time reading online reviews in several locations, such as appliance dealer and manufacturer websites, Home Depot, etc. Don’t just rely on one source, such as Consumer Reports. Our experience has often differed from reviews in CR.
When you are considering replacing a gas appliance and live in an area that uses propane, keep in mind that you will need to pay for the appliance to be converted, unless you are able to do it yourself. All gas appliances are manufactured to run on natural gas. If you use propane, then you’ll need to make sure you get a conversion kit and make arrangements for someone to install it. (Failure to convert the appliances properly can lead to poor flame quality and sooting in the appliance.)
Front-load vs. Top-load washers
We are fans of the front-loader. Front-loading washer technology is perfectly designed for optimizing washing performance while minimizing water and energy usage. And, no – they don’t always smell. There are several easy steps to follow to prevent odors.
- Use only HE detergent (don’t go cheap on this)
- Use small quantities of the detergent (less than the bottle says)
- Leave the door open in between washes
- Include a small amount of germicide in your loads, or a little bleach when you wash whites
If you’ve looked under the hood of top-loaders recently, then you can see that the old days of dumping in a huge amount of water and swishing the clothes around with a big agitator are gone. We have heard a lot of mixed reviews from our customers with these machines. The performance is iffy, and their life-spans are short. However, top-loaders have always sold more than front-loaders, and the manufacturers are scrambling to improve the technology and performance. It is definitely in flux.
Dishwashers have arguably suffered the most from the energy requirements. It now takes two to three times longer to complete the wash and dry cycles. And repairs happen much sooner, and their lifespan is considered to be 10-12 years if you’re lucky. Since you have to pay to have a dishwasher installed, that’s an unfortunate circumstance.
Dryers are (or should be) simple. Tumble the clothes and remove the hot moist air from the drum. The most important thing about your dryer is not the appliance itself – it’s having good ventilation! It will improve your drying time and lengthen the life of your dryer. Keep it clean, unobstructed, un-pinched. Use smooth-walled ductwork as much as possible. (See our Guru Guides for more info on this.) There are services that can replace the ductwork if it is not something you can do yourself. (Handyman services, or Dryer Vent Wizard.)
(Note: the following articles are not written by us, so The Appliance Guru doesn’t necessarily agree with or endorse everything they say.)