Used Appliances: Should You Buy One?
Get a good working stove, refrigerator, washer, or dryer for a fraction of their original price
Whether you have a strict $200 budget, you want to prevent yet another hunk of metal from entering a landfill, or you’re looking to score a high-end appliance for less, Consumer Reports experts say that buying a lightly used appliance can be a smart move. That is, if you know what to look for and where to look for it.
“It takes a little legwork, flexibility, and a willingness to live with a mismatched kitchen or laundry suite, but in return you can find a top-of-line appliance for a fraction of what it would cost new,” says Jim Nanni, director of appliance testing at Consumer Reports. “In some cases, you may also get features that you couldn’t afford otherwise."
Where to Shop for Used Appliances
There are several ways to get your hands on a used appliance. But we recommend buying from a used-appliance store or local repair shop instead of places like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and yard sales.
According to the appliance experts we interviewed, prices tend to be lower at used-appliance stores and local repair shops, but the main selling point at those retailers is the warranty. We called a dozen shops across the U.S. and found that warranty coverage ranges from six weeks to six months, including parts and labor. But regardless of its length, any warranty guarantees you’ll at least go home with an appliance that works.
“It’s better for me to fix it in my shop and sell it working right than to drive out to your place to fix it later under warranty,” says Bob Wennerstrom, owner of Blue Streak Appliance, a repair service and used-appliance store in Bayfield, Colo.
Many repair shops have technicians inspect appliances and replace any worn-out parts before allowing the appliances to be sold. These technicians can probably tell you more about the machine’s condition than the average consumer who’s selling a used appliance.
“Since I repair appliances, I know what models have repair history problems, what models have parts readily available, and the ones that last,” Wennerstrom says.
You might also consider thrift stores or nonprofits. Yoselin Genao-Estrella says she saved more than $6,000 and stayed well within her budget by shopping for kitchen appliances at the Habitat for Humanity NYC ReStore in Queens, N.Y. “I ended up getting my dream Viking stove plus a GE Profile refrigerator for $1,000,” she says. We wouldn't have steered her toward a Viking range because of its CR reliability rating, but Genao-Estrella says so far, so good.
Thrift-store prices can be comparable to those at used-appliance stores, but keep in mind that these sellers aren’t appliance experts, and inspections may not go beyond plugging in an appliance to make sure it turns on. But some places, such as ReStore, offer a 30-day guarantee that the appliance will work or they’ll give you store credit. Plus, when ReStore affiliates across the U.S. sell used appliances, proceeds go toward building and preserving low-income housing.
What to Expect When Shopping for Used Appliances
Many used-appliance stores sell ranges, washers, dryers, and refrigerators. They don't often sell dishwashers or microwaves because the price of those appliances are already so low that shop owners won’t make any money on them. You won’t find many wall ovens, cooktops, or built-in refrigerators, either, because they can require different-sized cutouts in a wall or countertop, so they appeal to fewer shoppers.
According to the sellers we interviewed, most of the used appliances you’ll find will be under 10 years old, though some may go back as far as 15 years. (You’ll want to pass on most of those. You’ll see more about why in the section about life expectancy, below.) And don’t expect to see many of the latest features.
“Used-appliance selections are typically behind on trends,” says Dan Leonardi, owner of Leonardi Appliance Parts & Service just outside of Chicago. “So right now you’re going to see side-by-side refrigerators and top-load washers. There’s a lot of white and black appliances in used-appliance inventory.”
Depending on the size of the store, there could be 30 to 40 pre-owned appliances of all types on the showroom floor at any given time, compared with over 100 new models at big-box stores. That may seem like slim pickings, but the inventory can change day to day; you just have to keep checking. Genao-Estrella visited Restore at least a dozen times before she found the range she wanted.
Appliance repair technicians don’t usually bother with machines that are more than 15 to 20 years old because they're probably not worth the cost of repair. "You’re unlikely to get much more use out of these dinosaurs," Leonardi says. “We want to make sure customers will still get an average of seven years out of them.”
How long will the appliance you’re shopping for last? That depends on the specific machine, but here are some general guidelines to keep in mind from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), a trade organization:
- Electric range: 16 years
- Gas range: 13 years
- Top-freezer refrigerator: 14 years
- Side-by-side refrigerator: 12 years
- Bottom-freezer refrigerator: 11 years
- Dryer: 12 years
- Top-load washer: 12 years
- Front-load washer: 11 years
“You want to know the age of an appliance, because it’ll allow you to balance the useful life of an appliance with its price,” says Jill Notini, vice president of communications at AHAM. “If you're spending $200 on a 10-year-old refrigerator with an average life of 12 years, you have to be aware and ask yourself if it's worth it.”
In Genao-Estrella's case, the trade-off made sense. “I did the math, and based on how much I was saving, the investment will be good for two to three years,” she said. “Obviously, I hope it’ll last for much longer than that, but you have to have realistic expectations. It’s not for everybody.”
So that you know what to expect, check out CR's list of the Most Common Appliance Problems and Repairs, which outlines the appliance parts that fail most often. For instance, built-in icemakers are a common problem in refrigerators, so if you're looking at a model with one, make sure it's working. And mold can be a problem for a number of front-load washers. Always sniff for funky smells and peel back the rubber door gasket to check for mold underneath it. Another common problem with washers are the door or lid switches; if they don't latch properly, the drum won't spin.
Data from our 2019 and 2020 major-appliance surveys can help you weigh the risks of a particular used appliance by looking at brand reliability. Tens of thousands of CR members reported problems that cropped up within the first five years of owning their new appliances. The infographic below highlights only the types of appliances you can expect to find at used-appliance stores, not built-in models or dishwashers.
Within the First 5 Years
Survey results for refrigerators and ranges are based on CR’s 2020 ratings. Survey results for washers and clothes dryers are based on CR’s 2019 ratings.
When it comes to an appliance's life expectancy, there are also exceptions to the rule. For instance, some of the repair technicians we spoke with mentioned that the Whirlpool direct-drive washing machine is a shining example of a true workhorse. Those top-load washers were built in the 1990s under various brand names, including Maytag, Kenmore, and Roper.
“I can sell that 25-year-old machine for $275 because it was built like a tank and lasts,” Leonardi says. “Once we rebuild them with new parts, you can get another 10 or 15 years out of them.”
Before factoring in any delivery and installation fees (see more on that below), older pre-owned appliances can be as much as 75 percent off the original retail price. But on average, you can expect about 50 percent off—that’s even if the appliance hasn’t actually been used at all.
“It’s amazing how many brand-new kitchen appliances we get,” says Leslie Williams, director of the ReStore in New York. “When people purchase a home, they never want the kitchen that’s in it. They want their own custom kitchen, even though what's there are great, brand new pieces.”
Delivery and Installation
Some used-appliance stores require you to arrange your own pickup and delivery. Some offer delivery for a fee; this may include hauling away your existing appliance, too. From our research, delivery costs range from $25 to $200. Delivery services often work only locally, so unless you have your own truck or plan to rent one, shop close to home.
One piece of advice regarding transporting refrigerators, from CR’s Nanni: if it can fit in your truck standing up, it’s best to transport the refrigerator that way, so you don’t have to worry about the lubricants migrating away from the compressor. If you need to lay the refrigerator on its back during transport, be sure to let it stand upright in your kitchen for a day before plugging it in to allow time for the oil to flow back into the compressor. If you don't, you risk breaking the compressor by running it without this essential lubricant.
As for installation, some appliances just need to be plugged in, but others require more work. “If you don’t know how to hook up gas lines on ranges and dryers or connect a dryer vent, consider hiring an appliance repair professional to do it for you,” Nanni says.
According to HomeAdviser, you can expect to pay $100 to $200 to install a range and $50 to $150 for a washer and dryer if you have all the energy and plumbing lines installed and proper venting in place.
Remember to include delivery and installation costs in your overall budget for a used appliance. They may end up costing more than the appliance itself, in which case, buying a new one from a store that includes these services may be a better option.
Used-Appliance Shopping Checklist
Research the appliance you want. Have an idea of what features you want before you go shopping. Do you prefer a top-load washer or front-loader? Does it matter if your fridge’s freezer is on the top or the bottom? Are you desperate for a convection oven? Is it stainless steel or bust? Check out CR’s buying guides for washers, dryers, refrigerators, and ranges for more info on all types of these appliances.
If what you’re looking for is harder to find—like that convection oven—ask salespeople or repair technicians to keep an eye out for you and call you if they get one in. And know which type of fuel source you have so you don’t waste time, say, browsing electric ranges if you’ve got gas-line connections.
Check out CR’s reliability ratings on brands that last for a frame of reference on your better bets. Our brand reliability rankings cover appliances from more than two dozen brands purchased from 2009 to 2019. You can also do a model search on our website for ratings and reviews; many older appliances can still be found there. And look up which models have readily available replacement parts on repairclinic.com so that if your machine breaks, it’ll be easy to get spare parts.
Once you have a contender, find the manufacturer’s sticker, usually on the doorjamb or other inconspicuous area of the appliance. Jot down the serial number and model number. Use that to check if it’s been included in a safety recall. If the machine doesn’t have a model number and serial sticker in place, skip it. It could have been recalled or scrapped and illegally salvaged.
You’ll also want to look for the date of manufacture stamped on the appliance’s sticker. If it's not on the sticker, use the serial number to look it up online. Refer to the AHAM average useful life guidelines, above, to figure out how many working years your appliance is likely to have left.
One other research note: Used appliances seldom come with manuals, but manufacturers typically make them available on their websites. Just search for the model number to download the manual for your appliance.
Check a shop’s reviews. “I’ve been around nearly 30 years and I’ve seen a lot of shenanigans in the appliance repair industry,” Wennerstrom says. “If you’re going to buy a used appliance from a local store, make sure they've been around for a little while.”
But there’s even more you can do. Scour Yelp and the Better Business Bureau for red flags about stores you’re interested in, like issues with their warranties or installation problems. “Consumers should read reviews and make sure they’re buying from a company that will honor its warranties,” Leonardi adds.
A note on warranties: Be sure to read them. The shop should give you a physical copy that’s explicit about what is and isn’t covered. Warranties should also be free and cover reimbursement or replacement if the appliance dies under warranty.
Ask questions. “Similar to how you would ask about the repair service records of a used car, you want to ask what has been replaced on the appliance and what has been serviced in the past,” Notini says. If you’re at a shop, ask:
- What did they check for in their inspection of the appliance?
- Did they replace any parts? If so, did they use scrapped parts or new parts (new is preferable). Were the parts original equipment by the manufacturer (OEM) or generic (which are less than ideal)?
For instance, Leonardi Appliance preemptively installs new parts that are known to break even if they’re still working. “As technicians in the field with thousands of service calls under the belt, we know the high-failure problems with many models, so we’ll go after those common issues,” Leonardi says. “For instance, every gas dryer will get a new ignitor, coils on the gas valves, belts, rollers, and a fresh gasket.”
Blue Streak Appliance runs every appliance through a 21-point inspection before it hits the showroom floor. This includes testing temperatures for washing machines and refrigerators, checking motor speeds and switches, and inspecting for worn valve threads, agitator dogs, and leaking pump hoses. Those are crucial parts that you probably won’t check yourself, but it should be easy enough for the salesperson to tell you what was found.
Even if you don’t understand what all the parts do, asking questions gives you a sense of how much attention the seller gave the appliance. If it's important to you, you can also ask if their technicians are certified to service a specific brand you're interested in.
Test the machine. Ask to plug it in, then:
- Check doors, knobs, and switches, whether they're for lights or circulation fans.
- Look for any rust or damage, some of which may be just cosmetic, like scratches and dents. But a frayed or damaged cord or cracked glass-top stove are safety issues that make the machine a no-go.
- Do a sniff test for musty, moldy smells that could indicate water damage.
- Make sure the appliance sits level.
- Finally, look at the manual to make sure all the appliance's pieces are there. You can do an online search for it right on your phone to see the model’s removable parts, such as shelves, drawers, and racks, that should come with the specific range or refrigerator.
Negotiate. Haggling is entirely acceptable and even expected. You may have more room to bargain if you pay in cash, buy more than one item, or take the appliance home immediately. “I would give a customer 10 percent off if they took it off my showroom floor right away,” Williams says.
The Most Reliable Appliance Brands
CR members can use the appliance brand reliability rankings chart below to see how reliable one brand is relative to another. The results are based on data CR collected from our members on more than 592,000 major kitchen and laundry appliances purchased between 2009 and 2019.
While it may not cover all the machines you’ll see out there, it will at least help guide you toward the best brands to buy and help you avoid problem-prone machines. Because you’re probably not purchasing a suite of appliances, focus on how the brands score for the particular type of appliance you’re shopping for rather the brand’s Overall Score.
Bosch, for example, rates Excellent in reliability for dishwashers but less so for washer and dryers.
But keep in mind there are always exceptions. For instance, Viking ranges rate Poor for reliability based on our members' feedback, yet Genao-Estrella has had no problems after two years of use. "The stove is fine, and since we've been working from home, we're cooking more than ever," she says. But the GE Profile fridge, which is rated Very Good for reliability, needed a compressor repair, which cost $400.
Any regrets? "Not at all," Genao-Estrella says. "We've had brand-new fridges that completely broke after two years, too. You just never know with appliances."
If you do decide to purchase a used appliance or bought one in the past, tell us about your experience. Please post in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.