I have this love-hate thing with my refrigerator: My butt-ugly, sweat-stain beige Whirlpool Mark I refrigerator from the pre-Internet era. It doesn't have an ice maker, half of its shelf retainers are slopped together with duct tape, and the bottom grate hangs loose like a flat shoe on an old fogey's foot.
But the dang mule won't stop kicking. When a repairman came by to service it a few years back, he said, "Are you planning on getting rid of this thing?" Before I could sing the praises of a brand-new chrome fridge (with an ice maker, naturally), he said: "This fridge is built way better than most of what's out there today. I'll bet you could get another 10 years out of it, no problem."
I may hate how it looks, but I love how it runs.
So this week, Green Dad takes a look at how to buy used appliances. Because, if you know how to spot the difference between a used deal and a dud, you can save money on a purchase that may last just as long as its new counterpart, and you'll avoid contributing to the pollutants that are created with the manufacture of a new item.
Today, we'll focus on large appliances. And for help, we turned to Chris Hall, president and co-founder of RepairClinic. A former appliance repairman himself, Hall's site has more than 1 million parts for used appliances, from air conditioner knobs to oven door seals (all of which may come in handy if you want to spruce up a used item).
So, without further ado, here are some tips for spotting an excellent used deal.
1) Start by Investigating the Model
Consumer Reports is commonly referenced to check out recommendations for new appliances, and Hall says it's great to investigate older ones too. First, look at back issues to see how the appliance was originally rated. Then, see how Consumer Reports rates a brand for overall reliability. "They have great tips for model families and brands that have proven to be durable in the past," Hall says.
2) Avoid Anything That's Too Old
There's a difference between used and old, the latter meaning obsolete or well past its prime. Avoid freezers, for example, that can't hit 0 to 5 degrees Celsius, gas appliances more than 20 years old, or washers that rumble or grind when they spin.
And as it turns out, it may be time for me to consider getting a new fridge after all, because as Hall puts it, "Refrigerators that are older use a lot more energy and you'll quickly use up any savings over the cost of a new refrigerator." (This is, however, a problem specific to refrigerators.)
3) Can You Find Replacement Parts? Then You May Have a Gem!
If an appliance has parts available online or commonly in stores, then it follows that it'll be easier to maintain. If you're wondering how to check on that, Hall recommends taking the model number for the appliance you're considering and searching for it at RepairClinic. If the parts are readily available, great! If not, then Hall advises against buying the appliance.
4) Check for Pests in Idle Appliances
File this under "appliance quirk": Spiders love to build nests inside the lines of gas appliances that have been sitting for a long time. That's a hard problem to tackle, along with mice that seek out the insulation of appliances stored mainly in rural areas. "It's very hard to figure out they're there until you start smelling the dead ones," Hall says.
5) Roadside Appliances May Be More Than Just Clunkers
If someone puts an appliance by the side of the road, and it's there for the taking, don't assume it's a lemon. Rather, it could be a peach.
"Many, many people throw away appliances for minor problems because they assume the problem is bigger and they don't want to spend money on a technician," Hall explains. You'll also help keep a big piece of waste out of a landfill.
6) Never Transport a Refrigerator or Freezer by Laying it Down
These appliances definitely don't take well to being tipped over. You may think the person who sold it to you ripped you off, but blame yourself if you loaded it horizontal into a truck or van.
"Oil from the compressor can get into the refrigerant lines when they are laid down, which can cause the compressor to fail at startup," Hall says.
7) If Color's An Issue, Think Spray Paint
If you pass on an item because you think you can't fix the intolerable color, guess again. Hall points out that, "most appliances accept spray paint very nicely, so a beige appliance can be painted white, or a white appliance painted black."
Consult your local hardware dealer or superstore for advice on how to paint it right, but make sure to start by protecting any handles, chrome trim, or panels with masking tape.
8) Remember Brands with Reliable Reputations.
Hall's A-list includes Whirlpool direct-drive and older Maytag washers; Whirlpool-made dryers with the lint filter on top; Kitchen-Aid and Bosch dishwashers; and GE and Frigidaire ranges, stoves, and ovens.
Still not convinced you'll be able to spot the deal among the duds? You could always opt for a refurbished appliance; models that are factory-refurbished with a manufacturer warranty are especially desirable, particularly if they come with a warranty that's comparable to a new unit.
And, whether you get a used, refurbished, or new appliance, keep in mind that you should properly dispose of the one that's being replaced. While leaving it on the street may give passers-by the chance to claim it (see tip #5), it's best to avoid the landfill if possible. Some electric utilities, such as ComEd in Illinois, will pick up and recycle your obsolete appliances when you replace them — and give you cash to boot. (They offer $35 for a refrigerator, for example.)
Stay tuned for next week, when Green Dad tackles small appliances!
Image credit: G & A Sattler via Flickr