Unless you're an expert in spin cycles, buying an appliance could leave you dizzy.
To make the process easier, here are answers to the appliance-buying questions you'll probably ponder, from "When should I buy?" to "Do I really need a warranty?"
Repair or replace?
People with existing appliances have two options: repair or replace.
You can count on major appliances to last about a year for every $100 spent, says Doug Rogers, president of Mr. Appliance, a national appliance-repair company.
"If I bought a $100 microwave, I'm probably not going to call anyone to fix it if it's over a year old," Rogers says. "I'm probably just going to go buy a new one. But if I buy a $1,000 refrigerator, it's probably worth fixing up to 10 years."
Also consider your existing appliance's energy efficiency — you could get an Energy Star rebate for a more efficient model — and its appearance, because replacing one appliance may leave you with others that no longer match.
Refurbished or reconditioned appliances offer a cost-effective alternative to buying new, but look into the warranty and the return policy in case something goes wrong.
Which one to buy?
Once you're in the market for something new, don't fixate on brands, unless you care about top-of-the-line prestige.
"It can matter when you're looking to buy a luxury appliance, but if you're buying a low- to midrange appliance, I wouldn't get caught up too much in the brand name," Rogers says, noting that he uses some of the same parts to fix appliances from different brands.
No one appliance brand masters everything all the time, says Paul Hope, a senior home and appliance editor at Consumer Reports, a nonprofit that tests and rates products. And contrary to popular belief, a more expensive model isn't inherently better. Hope says professional-style appliances are pricey but frequently lack features of their less expensive counterparts.
To educate yourself, consult a salesperson and check reviews from sites like CNET and Consumer Reports. Then weigh your options.
A "smart" appliance that works with voice-activated services like Alexa is convenient but likely costly. A counter-depth refrigerator won't stick out as far past your countertop, but it's shallower than a standard-depth fridge. Cross-check features to see why one appliance is more expensive than the other and which aspects you can do without.
Online or in store?
When you find something you like, go see it at a store . Online resources are helpful but shouldn't be the last word. "This is one of the few industries where the online marketplace doesn't work as well as the local marketplace does," says Kevin Brasler, executive editor at the nonprofit Consumers' Checkbook.
Aside from being able to see and touch the appliance, you might also avoid delivery fees by going local.
Will it fit?
Before you swipe your card, make sure your appliance fits — in your home and your budget.
Measure the space where it'll go. Rogers recommends a close fit; for a 32-inch opening, get an appliance no wider than 31.5 inches.
As for price, get the model number and call five local, independent stores, Brasler says. Tell them you're shopping around and looking for the best deal. They'll often give you a quote below the advertised price, he says. Consumers' Checkbook conducted a price experiment to test this.
"It was common for us to find that for a dishwasher, the lowest price we were quoted was $250 less than the highest price," Brasler says. "For some of the refrigerators we shopped, we found price differences of $600, $700 or even $800 between the lowest and the highest price."
When comparing by model number, be specific. "If you look at these model numbers, they're just a mass of letters and numbers, and one digit off makes it a different appliance," Brasler says.
What about warranties?
You're not finished yet. The salesperson may try to sell you extra protection, called a service contract, in case something goes wrong.
"An appliance comes with a warranty," Rogers says. "Maybe you get a one-year warranty on your parts and labor on your refrigerator and a five-year extended warranty on the sealed system." Service contracts might cover items that are included in your standard warranty, he says, so read the fine print to ensure you're not doubling up.
Another consideration: Products don't usually break within the service plan window, according to Consumer Reports .
Brasler puts it bluntly. "Don't buy those," he says. "They're totally worthless."
He recommends checking the terms of your credit card. Some extend the length of a standard warranty if you put the purchase on your card. Warehouse clubs like Costco extend manufacturer warranties as well.