With no warning, your washing machine has become violently mutinous. As you watch in horror, its typical spin cycle goes psycho. The entire possessed unit vibrates across the floor toward you, with the lid flung open and untold gallons of water spewing, soaking your basement and sinking your savings account. It's probably time to buy another one.
Whether your older appliances have gone berserk or just really need updating, the used-appliance market is always an option. But it's best to understand the pros and cons of used equipment before you spring for the first refrigerator you find on a classified ad Web site.
For starters, understand that the higher prices you pay at a retail store come with a couple of advantages, like product warranties and for larger appliances, free or discounted delivery.
What's more, there's a certain element of risk that comes into play every time you buy a used product, whether it's a car, camera or dryer. We'd love to vouch for specific product categories and their general reliability on the used market. However, product quality varies so much from manufacturer to manufacturer (and even within products made by one company), that it's difficult, if not impossible, to say that ovens, for example, are always a great deal when you find them used. That's why you have to shop smart, be observant and always, always do your homework before you buy.
We have vital pointers to share for when you go shopping for these necessary appliances. Keep reading, and you'll see how to replace your demonic washer with one that doesn't leave you all wet.
Consider the Big Ones
Major appliances such as refrigerators, gas ranges and freezers generally need little in the way of maintenance and repairs. Another key point: They are often the most expensive to purchase in squeaky-clean, brand-new condition.
Those large appliances are the most costly, but they also have the longest lives. A full-size refrigerator can last around two decades with almost no maintenance. A stand-alone freezer has roughly the same life expectancy [source: Mr. Appliance].
Yet people regularly cut loose their big appliances, even if those products have years of life left. Perhaps they remodeled their kitchen and the old fridge looks horribly out of place. Or maybe an elderly gentleman with a bad back just can't stoop to use a side-loading washing machine anymore.
These cast-off products are in great working condition, and you can nab them for a fraction of the new purchase price. Even if your bargain buy conks out after just a few years of use, there's a very good chance you'll still have saved money in the long run.
A couple of exceptions might be built-in refrigerators and gas cooktops. Consumer Reports indicates that these particular products are often more trouble than they're worth, especially if they ever need any sort of repairs [source: Consumer Reports]. Similarly, if you're trying to decide between repairing a broken appliance or buying another one, the Consumer Reports advice is simple -- if the cost of the repair is more than half of the price of a new (or great, used) product, don't even consider the repair.
Floored by Floor Models
Your local appliance store can be a bonanza for bargain shopping if you know where to look and which questions to ask. You just have to do a bit of investigating.
Although they don't technically count as used, the scratch-and-dent sections of appliance, hardware and home furnishing stores often have unbelievable deals. You might find a top-end refrigerator with an unfortunate but superficial dent on the side, and at a price hundreds of dollars lower than models in mint condition. For those kinds of savings, you can find plenty of ways to disguise that flaw.
Holidays are an especially good time to find deals on items with surface damage. And if your store doesn't seem to have any, you can always inquire about floor models. Many outlets will part with these demonstration models (which have been pawed at and caressed by hundreds of potential buyers) at a steeply discounted price.
With floor and scratch-and-dent deals, you may not get a full warranty, but you might well receive what's left of the active warranty, which you probably won't find from a private seller. A warranty (albeit a shorter and more limited one) is even more likely if you choose a refurbished or remanufactured model sold at a retail outlet. You'll save a lot of money and have the added benefit of peace of mind.
And here's another pointer: When it comes to damaged or discolored appliances, there are two miraculous words that can change everything: spray paint. Many appliances have surfaces that look wonderful with a fresh layer of aerosol paint. Just be sure to ask paint experts at your hardware store to ensure that you're buying the kind of paint that will stick best. With the tiniest bit of effort, your scratched-up bargain can look almost new.
Opt for Trusted Models
In these days of constant Internet connectedness and smartphones, you have no excuses for buying a product with a proven history of putrid performance. A few quick Web searches can save you a lot of money and, perhaps most importantly, a lot of unnecessary frustration.
After all, it's a bit exasperating to realize you just blew $200 on a barely-used dishwasher only to learn later that it was barely used because it hardly washes dishes. Web sites such as Amazon.com and Epinions.com have thousands of products with detailed reviews from unbiased consumers.
When it comes to in-depth details on specific appliances, Consumer Reports is one of the most thorough resources you'll find. You can sift through the Web archive for test and reliability results on hundreds of appliances for $6 per month; you can even pay for just one month's worth of access.
Don't just research brands. Instead, investigate particular models within various brands. With Consumer Reports, you can find out about specific products that are fabulous or perhaps destined to fail. And remember that certain brands might make beautiful blenders but downright beastly bread makers.
When you're shopping for used products, it's important to understand depreciation. Here's one common standard you can apply to any situation: If the appliance's new price was $400, and the anticipated repair-free life was about 10 years, then you can simply divide $400 by 10 years, which is $40 of depreciation per year. After five years, the machine still has $200 of repair-free value remaining, so if you can negotiate the price to below $200, you're likely getting a very good deal. Of course, you're picking a proven product, which increases the chances your purchase is better than average.
Purchase Products With Common Parts
Dependable appliances are popular appliances. The more popular a particular model, the more likely it is that replacement parts will be available when the time comes for a repair. And the more common those parts are, the greater the chance that you can buy them quickly and affordably when you need them.
Consider the alternative. When it comes time to replace a belt on the weird, oval-shaped dishwasher that you had imported from a no-name company in the South Pacific? Good luck.
One key point is to make sure you know the exact model number of the appliance you're considering. From there, you can search a site such as RepairClinic.com to see how easy (or how hard) it is to find various components for that dehumidifier. If it looks like parts are scarce, think again about buying that particular model.
You can also take your parts smarts to a higher level by being observant. Take note of the construction materials of the parts in highly-rated products, and keep track of how those parts are assembled. Are you looking at a dishwasher made of nothing but plastic pieces permanently glued in place? Or is it made with more rugged metal parts that can be unscrewed and replaced when necessary?
Those kinds of details are often telling, and they can help you veer away from a disposable product and toward one that's really worth your investment.
Buy Your Friend's, or Be Careful
Your hot water heater just exploded. You have 72 hours to find a replacement before out-of-state family arrives for the holidays. It's not time to panic; it's time to get connected.
Start by posting wanted ads on free, classified ads sites such as Craigslist. Call your friends and family and let them know that you need a water heater, pronto. With any luck, they might have a friend who's looking to offload that product for cheap. The people you know best are your primary resource for locating quality used appliances.
But don't wait on your friends. Search the classified ads on Craigslist, your local newspaper and eBay, too. Call local appliance and hardware stores to see if they're running any specials or have gently used or slightly damaged products for sale.
If possible, arrange to see several similar products in a short amount of time. That way, you can compare them by price and by condition. Ask to see them plugged in and working. If a seller balks at that request, move on. Press buttons and play with the knobs to make sure they're functional.
Listen for weird sounds or other telltale signs that an appliance is on its last legs. Look for signs of abuse or neglect; if you're buying from private sellers, observe the condition of their home. This can tell you a lot about how they treat their belongings.
If it's a truly major purchase and you aren't sure about an item, you can always call a professional repair person to accompany you and perform an inspection. This will cost you some cash, but a pro can almost always identify major problems.
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More Great Links
- Carlozo, Lou. "8 Tips for Getting the Best Deal on a Used Small Appliance." Dealnews.com. July 22, 2011. (Oct. 27, 2011) http://dealnews.com/features/8-Tips-For-Getting-the-Best-Deal-on-a-Used-Small-Appliance/482924.html
- Carlozo, Lou. "8 Expert Tips for Finding a Good Deal on a Used Large Appliance." Dealnews.com. July 15, 2011. (Oct. 27, 2011) http://dealnews.com/features/8-Expert-Tips-For-Finding-a-Good-Deal-On-a-Used-Large-Appliance/480820.html
- Consumer Reports. "Buying Appliances." August 2009. (Oct. 27, 2011) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/august-2009/appliances/where-to-buy-appliances/overview/buying-appliances-ov.htm
- Farrell, Mary H. J. "Fix It or Nix It: A Broken Product Can Bust Your Budget." News.consumerreports.org. Oct. 20, 2011. (Oct. 27, 2011) http://news.consumerreports.org/appliances/2011/10/should-you-repair-or-replace-that-appliance-or-home-product.html
- Gibson, Scott. "How Long Stuff Lasts." Thisoldhouse.com. (Oct. 27, 2011) http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/article/0,,216991-4,00.html
- Goff, Lisa. "How to Buy Anything Secondhand." Goodhousekeeping.com. (Oct. 27, 2011) http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/family/budget/second-hand-0304
- Gorman, Dr. Charlotte. "Ways to Save on Purchasing Household Appliances." Thefrugallife.com. (Oct. 27, 2011) http://www.thefrugallife.com/frugalappliances.html
- Money, Darwins. "8 Ways to Save Big on Appliances." Wisebread.com. March 3, 2011. (Oct. 27, 2011) http://www.wisebread.com/8-ways-to-save-big-on-appliances
- Mr. Appliance. "Appliance Life Expectancy." (Oct. 27, 2011) http://www.mrappliance.com/expert/life-guide/
- Ronan, Courtney. "Appliances: When to Buy Used and What to Know Before Buying New." Realtytimes.com. March 2, 2000. (Oct. 27, 2011) http://realtytimes.com/rtpages/20000302_appliances.htm
- Ronan, Courtney. "How Much Mileage Will Those Appliances Give You?" Realtytimes.com. Feb. 23, 2000. (Oct. 27, 2011) http://realtytimes.com/rtpages/20000223_appliances.htm
- Roth, J. D. "Cashing in on Craigslist: How I've Saved Thousands of Dollars Buying Used." Forbes.com. Oct. 20, 2011. (Oct. 27, 2011) http://www.forbes.com/sites/moneybuilder/2011/10/20/cashing-in-on-craigslist-how-ive-saved-thousands-of-dollars-buying-used/
- Sperry, Carolyn. "Go Green: Cut Spending the Eco-Friendly Way." Pontiacdailyleader.com. Oct. 21, 2011. (Oct. 27, 2011) http://www.pontiacdailyleader.com/mysource/go_green/x888172829/Go-Green-Cut-spending-the-eco-friendly-way
- University of Illinois Extension. "Buying a Used Refrigerator." (Oct. 27, 2011) http://urbanext.illinois.edu/thriftyliving/tl-refrigerator.html