How to buy things that last | Smart Change: Personal Finance

Liz Weston, CFP®

Smart consumers consider price, performance and reliability when making a major purchase, such as a car or home appliance. The biggest of these is reliability – especially lately.

Supply chain disruptions can lead to long waits for parts or replacements if something breaks. Getting a new refrigerator, dishwasher, or other major appliance now often takes weeks or even months, says Paul Hope, author of home appliances for Consumer Reports. What’s more, the shortage of microchips means many manufacturers are prioritizing making their most expensive models, which are typically the most profitable, Hope says.

“It’s getting harder and harder to get cheap models of a particular product,” Hope says.

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Even in normal times you don’t want to waste money on unreliable products. Plus, buying things that are built to last can help you save money and create less waste.

“It is a huge cost item to have to replace products prematurely. It’s also very damaging to the environment,” Hope says.

Price and reliability are not necessarily related

However, finding really reliable and durable products is not always easy. You might assume that more expensive products last longer, but that’s not necessarily the case. For example, you could spend $5,000 or more on a premium range that breaks frequently or $850 on one that offers years of trouble-free use.

“We actually find that many of the pro-style brands are some of the least reliable products we test,” Hope says. “On the contrary, we often find very good performance from very cheap brands.”

Consumer-generated reviews, such as those on Amazon, can alert you to products that break easily or don’t perform as expected. But such reviews can be skewed by a few grumpy people who have had bad experiences or a torrent of fake reviews designed to boost a product’s star rating.

To make trust assessments that are actually, well, reliable, you need large amounts of data. Consumer Reports surveys tens of thousands of people each year about their experiences with various products. Likewise, JD Power, which assesses cars, bases its reliability ratings on reports from more than 80,000 owners of 3-year-old vehicles, describing the type and number of problems they have encountered in the past 12 months.

Even then, reliability ratings are predictions, not guarantees. You may be lucky and have a great experience with a product that is mostly flawed or you get the rare lemon in a product line that is generally solid.

View the guarantees

So it is also important to check the warranty of a product. A long warranty can indicate a company’s confidence in the reliability of its product. (By the way, you can usually add a year to the manufacturer’s warranty if you buy the item with a credit card that offers such comprehensive protection as a benefit.)

A one- or two-year warranty is standard for large appliances, but some brands offer longer warranties on certain parts, Hope says. An LG refrigerator typically has a one-year general warranty covering parts and labour, for example, but compressors, which circulate the refrigerant, may have a five-year or even 10-year warranty.

Lifetime warranties are, of course, the gold standard, although companies differ significantly in their definition of ‘lifetime’. For example, in Craftsman hand tools, “lifetime” essentially means indefinitely. According to the company’s site, if a Craftsman wrench, screwdriver, hammer, or other hand tool “doesn’t work for whatever reason,” the company will replace it, with or without a receipt.

Meanwhile, Manduka, a manufacturer of yoga supplies, offers a lifetime warranty on many of its mats — but it’s for the mat’s expected 10-year lifespan, not your entire life. Some lifetime warranties are limited to defects in materials and workmanship, not normal wear and tear.

They don’t make them like they used to

Some products are built better than ever before. Cars used to be junkyard ready at about 100,000 miles, but you can expect a typical new car to last over 200,000 miles, or about 15 years of average driving, with no major problems if properly maintained, according to JD Power. According to Kelley Blue Book, the average price Americans paid for new cars last year was over $47,000, so sticking with your cars longer can be a smart financial decision.

Other products may not last as long as their predecessors, meaning we have to budget for more frequent replacements. Your grandmother’s clothes washer or refrigerator may have lasted 30 or 40 years, but most major appliances today have an expected life of about 10 years, according to Consumer Reports.

That said, today’s products can provide energy savings, convenience, and technology that the older versions didn’t. A new refrigerator is typically twice the size of the workhorses of the 1970s and runs on a fraction of the electricity, Hope says. Many have ice and water dispensers. Some have smartphone apps, interior cameras, and the Internet so you can check the contents of your fridge while you’re at the grocery store.

“Yeah, things have gotten a little more disposable, but they’ve gotten a lot better in many ways,” Hope says.

This article was written by NerdWallet and originally published by The Associated Press.

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