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Appliance Stores (From CHECKBOOK, Fall 2015/Winter 2016)
Go to Updated Ratings of 75 Bay Area Appliance Stores


Appliance Stores

Unlike most other big-ticket transactions, a lot can go wrong with appliance purchases. Many local stores, particularly the big chains, were rated quite low for the advice provided by their salespeople. And according to the ratings by local consumers, the problems persist, with frequent delivery delays and improper and sloppy installation work. Fortunately, several area retailers do well by their customers the vast majority of the time. 

Don’t assume that a sale price—even a heavily discounted sale price—is a good price. The sale prices offered by many local stores and on most websites probably aren’t special prices at all. Unfortunately, at most stores these sales never end. A nine-month-long investigation by CHECKBOOK’s mystery shoppers (see our “Sale Fail” article) found that many stores use deceptive practices, especially when selling appliances. Even if the sign says “Save 60%,” it’s probably meaningless and probably not a good deal. 

The only way to get the best price is to shop around. Fortunately, for appliances it’s very easy to compare prices from salespeople at appliance stores. To get the best prices you should call or email and at least mention that you’re price-shopping several stores. By initiating a competitive bidding process, you’ll make sure you get the best possible price. 

By asking stores to bid for their business, our mystery shoppers found big savings. For example, the highest price quoted by local retailers for a Frigidaire refrigerator (model FGHB2866PF) was $2,684; the lowest price was $1,875—a tidy savings of $809. For a GE dishwasher (model ADT521PGFBS), prices ranged from $515 to $1,289, a difference of $774. Table 2 shows the range of prices you can expect when you shop around. 

When comparing prices, take into account fees for delivery, hauling away old appliances, and installation. If you know your installation will be complicated or unusual, hire a top-rated plumber for the job. 

You don’t have to pay more to get good service. Highly rated stores were just as likely to quote low prices as their low-rated competitors. And don’t assume you’ll get low prices by buying from the big chains or even online: We often found lower prices elsewhere. 

Pay by credit card. If you have a problem, you can protest the charge with your card issuer. 

Skip the extended warranties pushed by most stores. These offers are great deals for the stores that sell them but awful deals for the customers who buy them. 

Our article on appliance repair explains why you might want to repair rather than replace an old appliance. But once you decide it’s time to buy a new refrigerator, washer, dryer, dishwasher, or other large appliance, get ready. Unfortunately, many buyers find selecting the right appliance, plus getting it delivered and properly installed, to be a time-consuming, aggravating experience. Equally unfortunate, many stores use fake sale prices to mislead their customers into believing they’re getting special deals when, in fact, they’re actually paying too much. Fortunately, some area stores usually serve their customers well, and by using our simple shopping tips you’ll pay the lowest prices. 

Getting Good Advice 

We won’t offer advice on appliance brands and models and their almost endless array of features. A few excellent sources provide that type of buying advice. 

Consumer Reports regularly evaluates appliances on a range of quality issues, including reliability, and offers sage advice on the pros and cons of configurations, designs, features, and options. 

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Star program ( ) provides lists and energy-usage data on certified appliances (see below for a discussion of choosing appliances based on energy-cost savings). 

Salespeople can also be fantastic sources of buying advice—but only at stores that employ knowledgeable, helpful staff. Unfortunately, as our Ratings Tables report, this is an aspect of service for which many stores—particularly big national and local chains—rated low on our consumer surveys. (Our surveys of area consumers—who are primarily CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers—and other research methods are described here.) At the time of our last full, published article, Costco was rated “superior” for “advice” by only 26 percent of its surveyed customers; Fry’s Electronics by only 31 percent; Home Depot by 34 percent; Best Buy by 36 percent; Lowe’s by 41 percent; and Sears by 45 percent. But our Ratings Tables also reveal local stores with personnel who offer fantastic buying advice: some of the listed retailers were rated “superior” for advice by at least 80 percent of their surveyed customers. 

Finding Dependable Stores 

Finding a store that provides helpful advice is only half the battle. You also want a store that makes sure the entire transaction is seamless, from selection to delivery and installation. 

Unlike buying most other big-ticket items, a lot can go wrong with appliance purchases. If your fancy new camera doesn’t work, you can just return it and get a replacement. But you can’t easily tote your new defective refrigerator back to the store, plus most consumers need help with delivery and installation. Unfortunately, the customer reviews we receive from surveyed appliance purchasers indicate that delivery and installation are the most problematic parts of many transactions. Delivery crews too often damage floors and doorways, and workers frequently cause water damage and even floods by improperly installing dishwashers and clothes washers. Screw-ups in the installation of gas appliances are common and nerve-wracking. 

Fortunately, some area stores do have competent installers. And aside from relying on a store’s employees—or, more commonly, its subcontractors—for installation, you have other options for getting the work done. 

If you need to buy appliances as part of a larger remodeling job, your contractor can (and probably should) arrange for delivery and handle the installation. If your contractor is responsible for these tasks, you can hold a single company accountable for making sure appliances arrive on time, get delivered without damaging your home, fit the allotted space, are installed correctly, and operate properly. This arrangement lets you focus on getting the best price (see below), rather than worrying about the kind of service the store will provide. Keep in mind, however, that asking a remodeling company to manage delivery and installation is different from letting it buy the appliance, too. Nearly all remodelers will provide that service; in fact, some insist on purchasing it themselves. But they won’t necessarily look for and find the best price; and even when they do, many will mark it up. 

Another option is to install the appliance yourself. While some stores fold installation costs into their listed appliance prices or delivery fees, most charge extra. And even stores that charge a single package price normally offer a discount if they handle installation. 

If you’re thinking about going it alone, be aware that not all appliances are created equal. For some, there’s very little to do. After you’ve wrestled in a several-hundred-pound refrigerator, it’s easy enough to plug it in and connect a water supply line for the icemaker. Ditto for an electric clothes dryer connected to a functioning circuit; connect the cord and it’s ready to roll. But installing a dishwasher or a washing machine can be fairly complicated, even if you’re reasonably handy. 

Most consumers do opt to pay appliance stores to take care of delivery and installation. If you go this route, make sure you understand exactly what stores will and won’t do. Some won’t touch gas lines; others won’t hook up water supply or discharge lines, meaning you’ll have to hire a plumber to perform those tasks. 

If you aren’t relying on a remodeling contractor to manage delivery and install the appliance, you’re better off finding a store that employs reliable installers and have it do the installation, rather than separately hiring a plumber to do the job. That way you get to deal with a single company responsible for providing the appliance, delivering it, installing it, and hauling away your old unit. You save time (by not waiting around for a store to deliver and then for a plumber to show up), and if something goes wrong you won’t have to referee a store-vs.-plumber dispute over who screwed up. 

The ratings shown on our Ratings Tables for our survey questions on promptness, reliability, and overall quality will help you identify stores that deliver on time and make things right when there’s a problem. 

Getting the Lowest Price 

You want sound buying advice, careful and prompt delivery, and a trouble-free installation—but you don’t want to pay a steep price for them. Fortunately, you don’t have to. We find that highly rated stores often quote prices as low as, or even lower than, their low-rated competitors. 

To compare prices, our researchers—without revealing their affiliation with CHECKBOOK—called the retailers listed on our Ratings Tables for price quotes for 26 appliance models. We used these prices to calculate the price comparison scores reported on Table 1. These scores show how each retailer’s prices compare to the average price for all surveyed companies. The scores are adjusted so that the average price comparison score is $100. Prices for a retailer with a score of $105, then, were five percent higher than the average; prices for a retailer with a score of $95 were five percent lower than the average. 

Table 1—How Local Stores Compare for Appliance Prices

How Local Stores Compare for Appliance Prices1 Price comparison score ($100=average)
Atom Appliance $92
Costco $92
Best Buy $94
Home Depot $94
Lowe's $94
Martin & Harris Appliances $94
Pacific Sales $94
Millbrae Furniture & Appliance $96
University Electric Home Appliance Ctr $96
Friedmans Appliance $97
Sears $97
Western Appliance TV & Stereo $97
C G Appliance Express $98
Davies Appliance $98
Czyz's Direct Appliance $99
Mike's Appliances $100
Tee Vax Home Appliance Center $100
Monark Premium Appliance $101
Fry's Electronics $102
Airport Home Appliance $104
Bay Appliance & Service $104
Cherin's Appliance $106
Meyer Appliance $106
Galvin Appliance $109
Contra Costa Appliance & Kitchen Center $110
Atherton Appliance & Kitchens $113
BSC Culinary Resource $113
1 See text for description of our price comparison score and research methods. For each company, the price comparison score is intended to suggest the price a customer might expect to pay for appliances that would cost $100 at the "average" company. The score is based on prices quoted to CHECKBOOK telephone shoppers who shopped for 26 appliances, including delivery, haul-away of old appliances, installation, and any needed installation kits.

Note that we included stores’ quoted fees to deliver and install each appliance we shopped, to haul away an old appliance, and for any needed parts or installation kits. If a store told our shoppers it does not provide installation services for the type of appliance we shopped, we added our estimate of the average price charged by reasonably priced local plumbers to do the work. 

Table 2 lists the lowest and highest prices quoted by local stores (including national chains) for each appliance model (again, including costs for delivery, haul-away, and installation) and the prices of several large chains. We also list the lowest price we could find at online-only stores. 

Table 2—Low, Average, and High Prices Quoted by Stores for Appliances

Low, Average, and High Prices Quoted by Stores for Appliances1 Lowest price at local stores (including chains) Average price at local stores (including chains) Highest price at local stores (including chains) Lowest price found online Prices quoted by chains
Best Buy Costco Home Depot Lowe's Pacific Sales Sears
LG LMXS30776S refrigerator in stainless steel $3,584 $3,651 $3,799 $2,749 $3,629   $3,624   $3,600 $3,625
LG LRG3085ST gas range in stainless steel $1,179 $1,446 $1,614 $1,329 $1,383 $1,330 $1,409 $1,179 $1,380 $1,392
LG LDF7774ST dishwasher in stainless steel $952 $1,012 $1,159 $963 $980 $963 $953 $953 $975 $1,085
Maytag MFT2776DEM refrigerator in stainless steel $2,185 $2,466 $2,799 $2,046   $2,300 $2,474 $2,440 $2,430 $2,726
Maytag MGR8850DS gas range in stainless steel $1,019 $1,134 $1,304 $1,152   $1,050 $1,109 $1,019 $1,061 $1,132
Maytag MDB8969SDM dishwasher in stainless steel $750 $869 $1,059 $871   $750 $772 $773 $885 $803
Frigidaire FGHB2866PF refrigerator in stainless steel $1,875 $2,143 $2,684 $1,639 $1,929   $1,943   $1,900 $1,915
Frigidaire FGGF3054MF gas range in stainless steel $908 $1,029 $1,199 $929 $908   $1,009     $931
Frigidaire FGID2474QF dishwasher in stainless steel $748 $818 $979 $763 $780   $777 $773 $765 $795
GE GFWR2705HMC clothes washer in metallic carbon $994 $1,125 $1,333 $1,059 $1,110   $1,110 $1,095 $1,080 $1,111
GE GFDR275EHMC clothes dryer in metallic carbon $985 $1,131 $1,343 $939 $1,137     $1,121 $1,118 $1,149
Whirlpool Duet WFW81HEDW clothes washer in white $810 $913 $1,024 $971 $840   $840 $836 $810 $841
Whirlpool Duet WFW81HEDW clothes dryer in white $810 $920 $1,054 $868 $867   $870 $851 $810 $879
Samsung WA48H7400AW clothes washer in white $655 $791 $929 $798 $750   $750   $655 $751
Samsung DV48H7400EW clothes dryer in white $630 $794 $929 $689 $777   $780 $761 $630 $789
Maytag Maxima MHW7100DW clothes washer in white $999 $1,078 $1,329 $1,049     $1,020 $1,016   $1,021
Maytag Maxima MED7100DW clothes dryer in white $999 $1,081 $1,329 $929     $1,059 $1,031   $1,059
GE GSS25GGHBB refrigerator in black $1,089 $1,198 $1,399 $1,110 $1,110   $1,104 $1,091 $1,100 $1,105
GE JB650DFBB electric range in black $575 $705 $924 $589 $658   $575 $651 $730 $674
GE ADT521PGFBS dishwasher in black $515 $648 $1,289 $662 $620   $583 $594 $635 $695
Whirlpool WRS576FIDB refrigerator in black $1,269 $1,380 $1,599 $1,240 $1,290   $1,284 $1,271 $1,420 $1,285
Whirlpool WFE540H0EB electric range in black $807 $908 $1,124 $819 $838   $846 $831 $840  
Whirlpool WDF760SADB dishwasher in black $589 $699 $826 $702 $710 $648 $673 $684 $735 $734
Frigidaire FGHS2631PE refrigerator in black $1,089 $1,230 $1,437 $1,069 $1,110   $1,104 $1,211 $1,100 $1,105
Frigidaire FFEF3018LB electric range in black $503 $639 $824 $558 $503   $576 $621 $570 $566
Frigidaire FGID2466QB dishwasher in black $545 $657 $769 $612 $620   $583 $644 $635 $644
1 Some prices rounded to the nearest whole dollar. Refrigerator prices include icemakers. All prices include delivery, haul-away of old appliance, installation, and required parts for installation. If a store told our shoppers it does not provide installation services for the type of appliance we shopped, we added our estimate of the average price charged by reasonably priced local plumbers to do the work. See article text for additional details on how our shoppers collected these prices.

Here is a rundown of what we found: 

Don’t assume sale prices are low prices. 

The sale prices you’ll find at many local stores and on most websites probably aren’t special prices at all. Unfortunately, at most stores these sales never end. 

A nine-month-long investigation by CHECKBOOK’s mystery shoppers (see our Sale Fail article) found that many stores use deceptive practices, especially when selling appliances. We found that the sale prices at many well-known stores—even heavily discounted sale prices—are more often than not the usual prices. Sadly, even if the sign says “Save 60%,” it’s probably meaningless and probably not a good deal. 

Although general price competition for appliances is less pronounced than for many other products, it’s still worth your time to shop around. 

The price comparison scores reported on Table 1 range from $92 to $113, which indicate far less variation among stores’ average prices than for other types of local service providers we cover. 

But, as Table 2 reveals, when looking at price differences for individual models, considerable savings are possible. For example, the highest price quoted by local retailers for a Frigidaire refrigerator (model FGHB2866PF) was $2,684; the lowest price was $1,875—a tidy savings of $809. For a GE dishwasher (model ADT521PGFBS), prices ranged from $515 to $1,289, a difference of $774. 

Because it is easy to obtain price quotes from salespeople at appliance stores and company websites, consumers willing to make four or five phone calls could save several hundred dollars. And if you are replacing all the appliances in your kitchen, it’s well worth the time to shop around. 

You don’t have to pay more for superior service. 

Begin shopping with stores that receive high scores from area consumers. For each appliance model we priced, we received at least one low price quote from a top-rated store. In fact, stores that rate high on service were as likely to quote low prices as stores that rate low for service. 

Don’t assume online-only retailers are less expensive than local stores. 

Table 2 reports the lowest prices we could find at online-only stores for the appliance models we shopped (plus delivery fees and estimated installation costs). 

Although we often found low prices online, you can’t count on the Internet to deliver the best appliance deals. Our shoppers often found better deals—sometimes much better deals—at local retailers. 

Even if you don’t want to buy online, make sure you’re paying a low price by comparing the prices at local stores to prices from online sellers—but don’t bother checking prices at Our shoppers attempted to use Amazon to shop for appliances but gave up in frustration after sifting through page after page of separate listings for the same appliance models. Among online-only stores we shopped, we found that most often offered low prices. 

If you’re considering an online appliance purchase, see the next section of this article for additional advice. 

Big chains don’t necessarily offer the lowest prices. 

Among local stores and chains, Atom Appliance and Costco’s price comparison scores ($92) are the lowest—but just barely. Several other retailers—Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Martin & Harris Appliances, Pacific Sales, Millbrae Furniture & Appliance, and University Electric Home Appliance Center—achieved price comparison scores of $96 or lower. 

Call or email stores to get price quotes. 

A bad-for-consumers policy of appliance manufacturers (and manufacturers of many other big-ticket items) is the use of “minimum advertised prices,” or MAP. Designed to boost profits for both manufacturers and large retailers by squelching price competition, these policies require retailers to advertise product prices at or above preset minimums. Because of MAP, you won’t obtain the best prices on most major brands of appliances from sales circulars and websites. 

But MAP policies don’t apply to prices quoted to customers in person, over the phone, or via email, and stores—particularly independent stores—often quote appliance prices less than MAP to close a deal. 

When calling or emailing stores, mention that you’re contacting multiple stores for price quotes. The best strategy is to initiate a competitive bidding process. 

The only way to get the lowest possible price is to make salespeople offer their best prices upfront—which they do only if they know you will buy elsewhere for a better price. At independent stores, our shoppers found that informing sales staff that they were getting price quotes from multiple stores often spurred discounts, waivers of delivery and installation fees, or both. Getting big chains to be flexible took considerably more effort, but when our shoppers waited and waited and waited on hold to speak with appliance-department sales managers, they sometimes secured better deals. 

Our view is that the best approach is to solicit competitive bids. To do this, call four or five of the retailers listed on our Ratings Tables (starting with those highly rated for quality) and ask to speak to someone with authority to provide discounted pricing. Tell that person the makes and model numbers of the appliances you want, explain that you are calling multiple companies to solicit bids, make it clear that you will ask each store only once for its best price—and will buy from the store that offers the best deal. 

Don’t be shy about using this method. Be polite, businesslike, and let stores know that you get competitive bids whenever you make major purchases. Most appliance salespeople are accustomed to providing discounted pricing when asked. 

As we stress below, if you need delivery and installation services, nail down prices for that work along with prices for the appliances. 

If the store with the lowest price isn’t the one you prefer, because of convenience or service quality, call the store you prefer and ask it to match the low price. 

When comparing prices, take into account fees for delivery, haul-away, and installation. 

Some stores include fees for delivery, hauling away old appliances, and installation in the price of the appliance; some charge a flat fee for delivery and installation; and some charge separate fees for each service. Some retailers charge considerably steep fees for these services, quickly turning a seemingly good deal into a not-so-good one. For example, some stores quoted our shoppers prices of $250 or more to install dishwashers and $200 or more to install gas ranges. 

To avoid add-on-fee surprises, ask for separate prices for each of the services you need—then you’ll know whether it could cost less to have an independent pro do the work instead. And if you don’t need delivery or installation mention it, so the store can adjust its prices accordingly. 

Determine what the store will and won’t do when installing appliances. 

Some appliance stores have employees (or, more commonly, subcontractors) who can perform any type of appliance installation; but some companies won’t install dishwashers, and others won’t connect appliances to gas lines. Some delivery personnel won’t do anything but move appliances into place and plug them in. 

If you buy from a store that doesn’t provide full installation services, and you aren’t comfortable with doing it yourself or with the help of a friend, you’ll have to hire a plumber or appliance repair service. Most reasonably priced plumbers charge around $100 to $150 to hook up clothes washers, gas stoves, or dishwashers. When comparing appliance prices, take these expenses into account. 

Many consumers prefer to deal with stores that offer complete installation services, and with good reason. Our view is that it’s better to have a single vendor responsible for making sure the appliance arrives in good condition and is properly installed. If something goes wrong, this arrangement eliminates disputes between store and plumber over who is at fault. 

If you know your installation will be difficult or unusual, hire a trusted plumber to do the work. 

Some installations are complicated. To replace dishwashers, countertops may have to be removed. If you’re replacing an electric appliance with a gas model, or vice-versa, gas lines must be run or removed. If you are replacing very old appliances, you may need to install new pipe and connections. Most plumbers can handle all these jobs. And if you’re adding an electric clothes dryer to a new space or to an old room that isn’t wired adequately, an electrician will be able to install a new circuit and connect the appliance to it. 

Ask about installation kits. 

Extra parts must be purchased to install many appliances. When shopping for the appliance, ask stores about prices for any additional parts needed to install the unit (often called “installation kits”). 

If a contractor is handling your appliance purchases, make sure you are getting a good deal. 

When pricing remodeling jobs, general contractors usually work out an appliance budget (often called an allowance) with their customers, and then use that allowance to select models to purchase and install. We have no problem with an arrangement like this, but check prices yourself to make sure you can’t do significantly better. If you do find opportunities for big savings, ask the contractor to buy from the low-priced retailer—and adjust your contract price accordingly. You may, in fact, discover that you are indeed able to find substantially lower prices on many appliances, in part because, when calculating budgets and bids for customers, some remodelers mark up the prices they pay their retail and wholesale sources, often by a lot. 

Tips for Buying Appliances Online 

As noted above, buying appliances online often doesn’t produce savings, particularly when you add installation fees. Buying appliances online presents several other disadvantages, as well. 

  • Longer delivery times. Even though local stores might take several days to deliver appliances, many deliver faster than online vendors. 
  • Rejecting defective products can be more difficult when dealing with out-of-town Web-based retailers. Delivery personnel for online stores likely aren’t trained to spot problems—and probably won’t be able to seek a remedy directly from the retailer. If you discover a problem after you’ve accepted delivery, it could be difficult to arrange for pickup of the defective product and delivery of a replacement. Worse, if you don’t discover a problem until you’ve hired someone to install the appliance, you’ll have to pay the independent pro a second time to come out to install the replacement unit. 
  • Similarly, if a freight carrier has delivered an item that arrives damaged, you won’t know whether the carrier caused the damage or if it happened before the carrier received the item. If neither the store nor the delivery company accepts responsibility, you’ll have to try forcing one or the other to make amends. 
  • In a worst-case scenario, you’ll have to file the lawsuit in—and possibly travel to—the location of the Web-based store. 

If you do buy online anyway, keep the following suggestions in mind: 

  • Check appliances for visible damage before you accept delivery. 
  • Pay by credit card. If there is a problem, you can dispute the transaction with your credit card issuer. 
  • Check retailers’ online reviews. Although we have concerns over the reliability of the ratings for online stores posted on Google and other comparison-pricing websites, with this much money at stake some information is better than none. 

Sidestepping Common Problems 

No matter where you buy an appliance, the following tips will help you avoid the most common appliance-buying pitfalls: 

  • Get all terms in writing. You should receive an invoice or contract that lists the store’s name, address, and phone number; salesperson’s name; your name and address; appliance brand and model number; price for each appliance; itemized prices for delivery, hauling away old appliances, and installation, including a detailed description of what work the store’s installers will do; deposit paid; terms for refunds and exchanges; and expected delivery date. 
  • Avoid leaving a large deposit. It’s reasonable for a store to require a small upfront deposit as compensation in case you cancel the order. But making a large deposit deprives you of the leverage you may need to make sure all goes as planned. 
  • Pay by credit card. If you have a problem, you can protest the charge with your credit card issuer. 
  • Measure. Twice. Don’t wait until your new appliance arrives to find that it won’t fit through any of your doors, up a stairwell, or in the allotted space. 
  • Check right away for visible defects. Reject delivery of an appliance that arrives with scratches, dents, and other damage. If the problem is limited to cosmetic damage, and you need a working appliance while you await a defect-free replacement, call the store manager and ask if you can keep the damaged unit while you wait for a replacement. If you do receive a replacement unit, get the terms of the arrangement in writing—including expected delivery date—before the store’s installers leave. 
  • After installation, check that the appliance works. Before the installers leave, make sure burners burn, the oven bakes and broils, the fridge cools, the icemaker makes ice, the washer washes, and the dryer dries. Check carefully for water leaks. If anything is amiss, demand a replacement or remedy. If you notice a problem after the store’s installers leave, inform the store as soon as possible—and push it to provide a replacement unit, rather than forcing you to seek repairs under the manufacturer’s warranty. 
  • Check that washing machines are level. Leveling a washer is one detail some delivery personnel don’t bother to do well. An improperly leveled clothes washer can have a shorter operating life and, worse, cause a flood if the unit pulls too far away from the water supply or drainage hoses. The best way to check is to throw in a blanket or a few towels to create a slightly unbalanced load. Start the washer, letting it fill about halfway with water to get the load wet, and then switch it to its spin cycle. If it does a two-step across the floor, it needs to be re-leveled. 
  • Check gas appliances for leaks. Ask store installers to show you how they test for leaks, and then watch them do it. Even if you don’t know how to check to make sure the work is done right, the installers won’t know you don’t know. 
  • Confirm that anti-tipping devices for ovens are installed. This precaution is especially important if you have small children. 
  • Replace flimsy hoses with more reliable options. The rubber water-supply hoses that typically come with clothes washers and dishwashers can fail. Replace them with stainless steel hoses—either when the appliance is installed or the next time you need repairs or plumbing work. It’s an easy job you can do yourself. Also, if your refrigerator’s icemaker uses a rubber or plastic water-supply line, replace it with a copper version. 
  • Read the instruction manual. You never know—you might learn something useful.

Extra Advice:
Pass on the Extended Warranty 

If you’re a regular CHECKBOOK reader, you already know where we stand on extended warranties (also referred to as “protection plans” or “extended service agreements”). 

The key point is that extended warranties are insurance policies. But unlike auto, homeowners, health, and life insurance, they insure against relatively small losses—potential repair or replacement costs—and pay out in claims only a small portion of what they take in. Most new appliances are very reliable, and those that do break down are likely to do so right away, while still covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. And keep in mind that many credit cards double the length of manufacturers’ warranties when you charge the purchase. 

Extended warranties are a good deal for the stores that sell them, and the companies that administer them and pay the claims—but a bad deal for consumers. On average, more than half the price of extended warranties goes to the retailers, much of the rest stays with the companies that back and administer them, and less than 20 cents of every dollar taken in actually gets paid out in claims. 

Because retailers make so little on the sale of appliances themselves, it’s hardly surprising that appliance buyers have to virtually fight their way out of the store to avoid buying an extended warranty. Many retailers count on the sale of extended warranties for most—or even all—of their profits. 

If you are still thinking about buying an extended warranty, shop around. You don’t have to buy one at the time you purchase the appliance, nor do you have to buy it from the store that sells you the appliance. 

Extra Advice:
Does It Pay to Go Green? 

“Is your refrigerator running?” is no longer the question. Instead, it’s “How much energy is it using?” 

Old appliances, particularly refrigerators and freezers, suck so much power off the grid that states and utility companies often offer consumers incentives to replace them. For example, at the time of this writing PG&E was offering customers $50 for each old refrigerator and freezer they recycle plus rebates to customers who purchase eligible Energy Star-certified refrigerators ($75 rebate) and clothes washers ($50 to $150 rebate). 

But even after adding up any rebates you can get, from a pragmatic money-saving perspective the expense of exchanging old appliances for new ones is seldom covered by the energy savings you get. If you replace an old, inefficient clothes washer with an Energy Star-certified model, you could save $40 to $50 per year in energy and water savings—which means a new model that cost $750 would have to be used a long time for utility-bill savings to cover its cost. And Energy Star-certified dishwashers tend to save only about $10 to $20 a year more on electricity and water than non-certified models. But if your current refrigerator was manufactured more than 15 years ago, investing in a new model makes sense. According to Energy Star estimates, here are the annual energy savings from upgrading a top-freezer-model refrigerator to a new certified unit: 

Made before 1980    $277 

Made 1980—1989    $200 

Made 1990—1992    $135 

Made 1993—2000    $69 

Made 2001—2008    $20 

On the other hand, if your existing appliance needs repair, determine the cost of replacement minus expected energy savings versus the cost of the repair. Calculations on the Energy Star website ( ) let you compare annual operating costs of efficient and inefficient appliances according to how much you use them and how long you expect the new unit to last, among other variables. 

Of course, many consumers might want to switch to energy-efficient appliances to minimize the amount of energy their homes use and reduce their contribution to pollution. 

The following tips from Energy Star will minimize electricity usage, regardless of your refrigerator’s age: 

  • Set the temperature of your refrigerator at 35° F and freezer at 0° F. 
  • If possible, position your refrigerator in a cool place, away from your oven and dishwasher, and out of the sunlight. 
  • To allow air circulation, leave a two- or three-inch space between the back of your refrigerator and the wall. 
  • Make sure to maintain an airtight seal when you close refrigerator and freezer doors. When seals wear out, replace them. 
  • Minimize the amount of time the refrigerator door is open. 

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