My wife and I were lying in bed the other night, and suddenly we began hearing a loud knocking noise coming from the kitchen — more specifically, from the freezer compartment of our 14-year-old refrigerator.
The end was near.
It’s not like I didn’t see it coming. I’ve personally replaced the ice-maker in this refrigerator twice — thanks, YouTube! — and had an appliance repairman fix it twice, at a couple of hundred bucks a pop. This refrigerator even starred in the following Money Talks News story back in 2013:
I’d finally had enough. I needed to replace it, and fast, since it could give up the ghost at any minute and spoil everything — literally. I honestly wasn’t sure it would make it through the day.
Thank God for emergency funds.
Here’s how I went about shopping for and buying a new refrigerator, step by step:
Step 1: Measure
As you can see in the above video, my refrigerator is surrounded by cabinets, so there’s no margin for error. It’s also “cabinet depth,” so it doesn’t stick out into the kitchen. That severely limits my replacement choices.
I took a tape measure and measured all the dimensions — height, depth and width — twice.
Step 2: A text to Howie
My friend and father-in-law, Howard Steinman, has managed an appliance store in Queens, New York, for decades. My next step was to text him and get his recommendations. He asked for the model number of my current GE refrigerator and said he’d scope out options for me.
While you may not have a Howie, you might have friends who have recently purchased a refrigerator. Maybe they did some footwork that would lessen yours.
There’s also no law against calling an appliance repair person and asking for their recommendations concerning reliability. After all, if anyone knows bad brands, it’s the folks who fix them.
This I had already done when I did the above story. My repair guy’s answer was basically this:
“I don’t care if you buy a $700 Whirlpool or a $12,000 KitchenAid. All refrigerators these days use circuit boards — sensitive electronics that don’t do well in a damp, dusty environment. And most are made in China. So, an appliance that used to routinely last 20-plus years now breaks down in under 10. In short, they’re all crap.”
Hopefully, an expert you consult will have more optimistic news, but I doubt it. See “Why Modern Appliances Don’t Last.”
While waiting to hear back from Howie, I continued my search.
Step 3: Consumer Reports
I’m a big believer in Consumer Reports. The staff of this nonprofit publication go out and buy products, then rigorously test them in their own laboratories.
With refrigerators, for example, they test for predicted reliability, thermostat control, temperature uniformity, energy efficiency, noise, ease of use and last, but definitely not least, owner satisfaction. Then they combine all this stuff and assign an overall rating to each model, which makes the shopping process easy.
I visited CR headquarters a few years back: It’s impressive. So, this is the source I turn to for information and recommendations on everything from appliances to cars.
I get Consumer Reports free as a member of the media. The typical price is $35 a year for a digital membership and $55 for both digital and print. Not cheap, especially since you probably won’t use it often.
There may, however, be a workaround. Check your local library. Odds are your library has a membership to Consumer Reports. If so, you might be able to peruse product ratings online for free from the comfort of your home.
Consumer Reports’ refrigerator buying guide (available without a membership) helped me decide to go with a French-door configuration, as well as helping me decide on other features I wanted. Then, I went to CR’s ratings for French-door refrigerators (membership required) to see their top picks.
Here’s what that looked like:
As you can see, the LG LFXC24726S was the top-ranked model, although there wasn’t much difference among the top five.
However, three of the top five models were made by GE, the brand that destroyed my Zen and sent me on this quest in the first place. And I’m apparently not alone: All three of the GE models in this lineup had a “fair” rating for both owner satisfaction and reliability.
Both LG models had a “very good” rating for owner satisfaction and “good” for reliability.
So long, GE.
The only other LG in the list had a comparable overall rating and cost a bit less, but it didn’t hold quite as much, which was also important to me.
Step 4: Check in with Howie
A couple of hours had gone by since I’d texted Howie, so I sent him a new text telling him the model I’d tentatively selected. He responded that it was a good pick. He also suggested a couple of GE refrigerators as additional options, but that’s ground we’ve already covered. I don’t reward brands that mess with my Zen.
That settled that. It was LG for me. Now all I had to do was see if I could find and get a deal on the LFXC24726S.
Step 5: Find it
My refrigerator was threatening to die at any minute, so I needed to find its replacement yesterday.
My next move was a trip to Amazon, where I tend to make 90 percent of my purchases. Alas, no luck. They didn’t have that model. Next: Home Depot’s site. They sold my model but said it couldn’t be delivered for two weeks. Finally, I checked Lowe’s site: Eureka! They had one in stock at a nearby store.
Step 6: A trip to Lowe’s
Since this refrigerator cost as much as a decent used car, I wasn’t about to buy it without seeing it in person. So, even had I bought it online, I wouldn’t have done so without first seeing it somewhere locally.
Nor am I stupid enough to buy the centerpiece of our kitchen without consulting my wife, Sara.
I made a date with Sara to meet at the local Lowe’s on her way home from work.
Before going to Lowe’s, I called to make sure they actually had this model in stock. The phone rang for 15 minutes. Nobody ever picked up. Since the wife was already en route, I took a chance and went to the store.
Step 7: The purchase
When I got to Lowe’s, I found my wife and together we found the LG LFXC24726S. What we couldn’t find was anyone who worked in the appliance department. Much to my wife’s chagrin, after a few minutes, I yelled, “Does anybody work here?”
That produced results. An employee from another department came over, followed shortly thereafter by a manager, who explained the appliance person was at dinner. I calmly replied that I wanted to buy an LG LFXC24726S, but because of the massive mess they’d made of my Zen, I expected a massive discount as reparations.
Lowe’s had the LG LFXC24726S on sale for $2,600. They sold me the floor model — the only one they had — for a little more than $2,000, including free delivery.
It was in my kitchen 48 hours later.
Shopping for appliances sucks. But it’s easier if you can create a “buyer’s funnel” to follow, much like the one I described above.
My funnel began with all the refrigerators in the world. I eliminated many by checking out a buying guide and deciding on the features I needed. I eliminated many more by focusing only on the top-ranked models. Since I was in a hurry, finding my pick locally ultimately eliminated all but one.
This entire process, from initial search to switching food from the old refrigerator to new, took about five hours of effort spread over three days.
But it was time well spent. My Zen has been restored.
At least, until the next thing breaks down.
Would you add any fridge-shopping tips based on your experiences? Let us know by commenting below or on our Facebook page.
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