Sunday, October 2, 2011

Three Money-Wasting Mistakes Shoppers Make

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The recent news that median household income has fallen probably didn't come as a surprise to most homeowners. We already know that it's getting tougher to pay the bills. And no matter how hard you try to pinch your pennies, things still break and need to be replaced. That's why it's more important than ever to squeeze the most value out of every dollar you spend. Consumer Reports can help you with that.

Our year-round testing of thousands of products confirms time and again that the price-quality relationship is far from certain. You can pay a lot and get crummy performance or pay a little and get something terrific. Two products that cost the same can perform very differently. In fact, performance can be night and day for two models of the same product from the same brand line. Here are three mistakes consumers make when they comparison shop.

Comparing Items on Price Alone

Washing machines. Our lowest ranked front-loader, the Frigidaire Affinity FAFW4011L[W], scored 27 points out of a possible 100 in our tests of washing machines. But for the same $600 you can buy the Whirlpool WFW9050X[W], which scored 77 and is a CR Best Buy. The Affinity was only fair at its chief job, getting clothes clean, but it was excellent at both water and energy efficiency. By contrast, the Whirlpool was very good at cleaning, which makes it a much better buy.

Refrigerators. Your refrigerator runs constantly so you'll want one that's an energy miser. That rules out the Fisher & Paykel E522B bottom freezer, which was an energy hog and scored a 21 in our refrigerator Ratings. And it was only mediocre at holding a constant temperature in all sections. For the same $1,500 you can buy the Whirlpool Gold GX5FHDXV, a bottom freezer that scored an 82, was excellent at energy efficiency and temperature performance and is a CR Best Buy.

Vacuum cleaners. Our tests of vacuum cleaners revealed another time-tested truth—even same-priced models from the same brand can have vast performance differences. Take these two $250 canister vacuums from Hoover for example. Both were excellent at cleaning bare floors, one of a vacuum's easier tasks. The bagless Hoover Zen Whisper SH40080 scored a 44 in our vacuum cleaner tests and was only fair at the tougher jobs of cleaning carpet and removing pet hair. Its brand mate, the Hoover WindTunnel S3670, was very good at those tasks, scored a 67 and is a CR Best Buy.

Buying by Brand Name

Dishwashers. Bosch makes our top-rated dishwasher, the Bosch Evolution 500 SHE55M1[2]UC, which scored an 81 in our Ratings and costs $850. At $1,000, its brand mate, the Bosch Integra 500 SHX45P0[5]UC, costs more and is a lesser performer, earning only a 66. Both were excellent at washing and energy efficiency. So why not pocket the $150 difference?

Dryers. We generally like Kenmore products but saw a vast difference in the scores of two electric dyers. The Kenmore 6952[2] ($380) scored a 10 and the Kenmore 8903[2] ($580) scored a 77 and is a CR Best Buy. So what made the difference? The dryer's main task—drying performance. One was poor and the other excellent. The 8903 also has a larger capacity and was quieter.

Gas ranges. Two KitchenAid gas ranges were also at opposite ends of the Ratings chart. Scoring a 31, the KitchenAid Architect Series KGRS807S[SS] ($1,700) landed at the bottom of the 30-inch models while the KitchenAid KDRS505X[SS], which costs only $300 more, scored a 71. The latter model was super at simmering while the Architect Series model was not. They baked and broiled equally well but the Architect has less usable space.

Assuming a Higher-Price Means Better Performance

Vacuum cleaners. In our tests of upright vacuum cleaners, a $50 Dirt Devil put a $400 Dyson to shame. Scoring a 63, the Dirt Devil Featherlite Bagless M085845 (sold at Target) is a CR Best Buy. It was excellent at picking up pet hair and very good at cleaning carpet. The Dyson DC24 Ball All Floors, which scored a 44, had poor airflow for tools and was only fair at pet hair. While the Dyson was quieter and matched the Dirt Devil's excellent performance on bare floors, cleaning carpets is what separates the winners from the also-rans.

Blenders. At $60, the Ninja Master Prep Professional QB1004 blender is one as-seen-on-TV product you may want to see on your counter, especially if you like icy drinks. It was also excellent at crushing ice cubes and not so noisy. We gave it a score of 73. Another multi-tasker, the DeLonghi 3-in1 DFP-950 ($300) earned only a 27 and scored poorly on the ice crush and icy drink tests. And it was noisier than the Ninja.

Kitchen knives. The knife sets in our Ratings range in price from just $30 to $785 but it was the $75 Ginsu Chikara that earned a CR Best Buy and a score of 85. Why? Well, it's simple, the knives were excellent at cutting and the handles were comfortable. The knives from the Culinary Institute of America's Master Collection Hyde Park cost $260 but didn't score as well—a 67. While they were very good at cutting and comfort, the handle balance didn't cut it.

Copyrighted 2009, Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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