How to Shop for a Large Appliance Now

Supplies could remain low through the end of the year. We have expert tips and tactics to help you find what you need.

A customer views washing machines displayed for sale at an Appliance store Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images

If you’re shopping for a large appliance right now—or trying to get your current one fixed—it can still feel like early COVID-19 times.

“Back-orders on parts and new products have never been this long in the 20 years I’ve been here,” says Rodney Neuenschwander, manager of Home Appliance, a retailer and appliance repair service in Massillon, Ohio.

Likewise, the senior acquisition agent who buys large appliances for CR’s tests says he’s waiting three to four months for some products, mainly higher-end items. Our sources tell us the outlook for repairing or replacing a major appliance isn’t likely to improve much this year.

Read on for the latest on appliance supply-chain issues, how to determine your best course of action, and tips for appliance shopping now.

Why the Holdup?

A variety of forces, some pandemic-related and some decades old, have put kinks in the supply chain. After more than a year at home relying more than before on ranges, dishwashers, and fridges, many Americans are seeking to replace or fix those big-ticket items. Record-low interest rates for mortgages have sparked home buying and building, further fueling appliance demand. Manufacturers that have maintained lean, cost-cutting inventories for decades haven’t kept up. And they and their parts suppliers are running with COVID-19 safety protocols that slow production.

Other factors have affected supply. When record cold temperatures in February paralyzed much of Texas’s electrical grid, the state’s oil production shut down temporarily, delaying production of petroleum-based products such as plastics used in many appliances. Shortages of shipping containers, as well as computer chips used in many appliances; clogged ports on the West Coast; and a fluke accident in March that blocked a major shipping route haven’t helped matters.

“Things were getting better, and then someone decided to block the Suez Canal,” says Ken Miele, CEO of Appliance Dealers Cooperative in New Jersey, which distributes appliances from manufacturers to 210 independent retailers, mainly on the East Coast.

Find out which brand tops the chart in CR’s updated Appliance Brand Reliability Rankings.

What About Repairs?

The average current wait time for a technician affiliated with Repair Clinic is about 10 days, says Chris Zeisler, the website’s technical services supervisor. “In more populated areas, it’s just something they can’t get manpower out on,” he says. “I wouldn’t expect that to be a long-term situation, but it’s definitely a crunch right now.”

If you can get a technician to your home, you may find you have another wait for parts—if they’re available. Or you might have to compromise by accepting generic parts—or decide to buy a new appliance instead. (Find out which appliance repairs you can do your own and which require a pro.)

What You Can Do

What does this mean for seasonal large appliance sales? Discounts will be reduced this year, says David MacGregor, an appliance-industry analyst at Longbow Research, based in Cleveland. And promotions, in general, won’t be applied to as many products. “Why discount something that consumers are lining up and waiting five to six weeks to buy?” MacGregor asks.

More on Appliances

That doesn’t mean you won’t find something suitable. “The situation is not so dire that people will have to go without a refrigerator if they really need one,” Davis says. “But they may not get it at the price they want to pay.”

But you can still negotiate on other aspects of your purchase, such as fees for delivery, installation and disposal, and associated parts like hoses and electric cords. “Some of our independents are doing that,” Miele says. “Our guys want the business, so they’re going to make sure the customers are happy.”

Here’s a breakdown of simple tactics, whether you need a replacement right away or you can make do for a bit. In either case, check our third annual Appliance Brand Reliability Rankings for brands to focus on. And consider the advice we compiled late last year on shopping for an appliance during a shortage, all of which still applies.

If You Need a Replacement Now

• Head to an independent dealer first. Independents often can match prices at big-box stores and have a bead on supply that’s at least as good as what the major chains have. Plus, because they typically don’t depend on third-party delivery services, they can often be more exact on when you’ll get your machine. They also can offer perks such as in-house service or a loaner while you wait for your new machine.

• Hone your search on big-box websites. If you want to shop at a major chain, take advantage of any search tools that let you quickly find what’s in stock locally and available for delivery now.

• Consider substitutions. When we recently researched options for Bosch dishwashers—many of which do well in CR’s tests—we found that a popular stainless steel model wasn’t available at a local Home Depot. But the same model was in stock in white.

If You Can Wait

• Get on an independent dealer’s waiting list. “We’re getting a good supply of product,” Miele says. “We’re just filling orders more slowly than before. When you go shopping today, in four to six weeks you’ll probably have that washer and dryer.”

• Sign up for big-box-store alerts. Some chains, such as Home Depot and Lowe’s, let you set up notifications that will be sent when your favored model arrives.

• Don’t expect prices to drop any time soon. The experts we interviewed all said they don’t expect the supply-and-demand situation to change any time soon. “My industry contacts speculate the availability issues will extend through the end of 2021,” MacGregor says.

Tobie Stanger

I cover the money side of home-related purchases and improvements: avoiding scams, making sense of warranties and insurance, finding the best financing, and getting the most value for your dollar. For CR, I've also written about digital payments, credit and debit, taxes, supermarkets, financial planners, airlines, retirement and estate planning, shopping for electronics and hearing aids—even how to throw a knockout wedding on a shoestring. I am never bored. Find me on Twitter: @TobieStanger