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Why is buying a refrigerator so hard?

Why is it more difficult to buy a refrigerator than a computer? Buying a computer has become pretty simple. You choose a Windows or Mac operating system, compare the specs of the various models, read the reviews and make your selection. Most of the reviews tend to agree with one another. It’s pretty straight forward, and you usually end up with a reliable product that will work for years.

But when our 11-year old refrigerator reached its end of life, researching a replacement left my wife and I confused, befuddled and trying to make sense of so much conflicting information. We had spent $450 to replace a faulty ice maker in our LG, but shortly after that, the refrigerator and freezer stopped cooling. After defrosting and doing a complete reset, it still would not cool. I asked my appliance repair person for advice and he said he could probably fix it, but it was probably more economical to replace it, because I’ve already gotten more years of use than some.

I asked him for advice on which brand was best, and he said to spend the least amount you can, because all of the major brands are unreliable, and it will be less painful to replace it. He had no favorites and said as long as it was a name brand, parts were readily available. But he did advise to avoid model with an ice maker in the refrigerator door, because all makes have issues with that feature. And he noted French door models tend to be less reliable. Of course, that’s exactly what my wife preferred.

I began my research by checking the on-line ratings and bought a one-month subscription to Consumer Report online, specifically to access their recent refrigerator reviews. They were extensive and detailed, but none of the models had customer satisfaction ratings greater than 3 (out of 5) and more than half got a 1, the lowest possible score.

With a computer or phone you can find useful information such as battery life, speed, and storage, and even tear down videos, but buying a refrigerator is almost like buying a black box, once you determine the size of the box you need for your available space. The more I researched, the more confusing it became. LG and Samsung seemed to have a poor reputation for reliability, yet LG was the top choice on Consumer Report.

Checking on the web gave me more conflicting information:

  • Kitchen Infinity says to avoid Viking, KitchenAid, and Maytag, and choose GE and LG
  • An article from Worst Brands says to avoid Frigidaire, Kitchenaid, Whirlpool, Bosch; go for LG, GE, Bosch
  • Yale Appliance tracks the service rate (service calls divided by units sold) for each brand they sell and publishes that data in an annual reliability report. LG, GE, and Bosch have had the lowest service rates in recent years.
  • Farm Food Family says to avoid Frigidaire, Kitchenaid, Whirlpool, Bosch, Viking and choose LG, GE, Samsung, Cafe, Magic Chef
  • Upgraded Home says to avoid Samsung/Whirlpool/Kitchenaid/LG french door models and noted that Frigidaire, Whirlpool, and Kitchenaid have the worst customer service
  • An article on CNET with a national survey of repair technicians says Whirlpool, Maytag, and Kitchenaid are ranked 1-2-3 for overall appliance reliability
  • Appliance Repair technicians in a survey hate Samsung and LG.
  • Another appliance tech said to avoid Samsung, LG, Kenmore, GE and Frigidaire, and choose JennAir, Whirlpool, Kitchenaid, Amana, and Maytag.
  • Seven appliance repair experts in a survey advised against choosing Samsung due to its frequent issues and difficulty sourcing parts.
  • Six out of the above seven experts considered LG one of the least reliable brands. However, according to Yale Appliance, LG has consistently maintained one of the lowest service rates, with 4.5% in 2022, 6.9% in 2023, and 8.8% in 2024. This data contradicts the advice from repair pros, suggesting that LG’s reliability may have improved in recent years.
  • Experts gave mixed reviews to Frigidaire, but most leaned towards it being less reliable.
  • The New York Times surveyed its readers to collect data for their best refrigerator guide, and Frigidaire had the lowest satisfaction rating.

While there were lots of opinions, there was little consensus of which brands were best or worse, although it was easier to find every brand among the worst on some list, which may reflect the quality of the lists as much as the products.

Home Depot and Lowes had the most knowledgeable sales people and Best Buy the worst. But none would venture out and recommend a particular brand. The retailers also vary in how they handled defects. For example, Home Depot said if there were any problems once the refrigerator was delivered, the customer needs to contact the manufacturer. That was a non-starter for us, with so many stories about unreliability and troublesome service. We didn’t want to purchase a problem right at the start.

With no clear leader, our choice came down to features more than brand. My wife liked the spaciousness and features on a French door LG that was similar to what we had. But she selected a less expensive one with the ice maker in the freezer and not in the door. She decided that if they are all unreliable she might as well get one with the features she preferred.

We bought the $1399 model from Costco, who offers a 90-day return policy for any reason. They provided a slightly lower price, didn’t charge extra for delivery and removal of the old refrigerator that the others do, and provides a 2 year warranty. After all our research, it was more important where we purchased it than the exact model we selected. And we ended up with a brand with one of the worst reliability records according to some surveys, but one of the top rated models from Consumer Report.