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.