What to get at Sears and what to forget

Winners and washouts from Consumer Reports' tests

Published: August 18, 2014 11:00 AM

Even if it’s not the retail juggernaut you remember as a kid, Sears is still a great place to find a range of products at all price levels. A lot of the hard goods sold at its 1,320 locations pass through Consumer Reports’ test labs, including appliances, power equipment, and batteries from Kenmore, Craftsman, and DieHard—three brands owned by Sears Holding. Judging from our latest Ratings, there are plenty of reasons to keep Sears on your list of go-to retailers. But we also turned up some duds, so there will also be times when you’ll want to visit another big-box store. With that, here's our list of winners and losers from Sears.

Kenmore Elite 41073 and 81073
Photo: Sears

Sears winners

Car batteries. DieHard batteries, sold at Sears, Kmart, and a handful of other retailers, are some of the best from our latest car battery tests—depending on the type of car you drive. If you own a large car, truck, or SUV from Ford, the DieHard Gold 50865, $145, and the DieHard Advanced Gold 50765, $175, make our picks list in the Group 65 category, combining long life with superior resistance to frigid temps; both also feature a convenient handle. Chrysler drivers should consider the DieHard Advanced Gold 50778, $165, our top model in the Group 78 category, and the highest overall scorer of all tested car batteries. Other DieHards make our winners’ lists for these categories, though the brand also has some dogs, so check the model names carefully. And if you drive a Honda, Nissan, or Toyota, you’ll do better with a battery from EverStart or Interstate.     

Laundry appliances. Sears has several models on our recommend list of laundry appliances, especially if you spring for the Kenmore Elite line. Among front-load washers, the Kenmore Elite 41073, $1,200, combines superb washing performance and efficiency, plus its jumbo drum can handle 24 pounds of laundry. If, like so many consumers, you’re looking for a matching washer/dryer set, pair it with the equally capacious Kenmore Elite 81073 dryer, $1,200. Prefer top-loaders? Consider the Kenmore Elite 31412 washer, $950, which earns mostly solid marks.

Refrigerators. Several refrigerator picks in the popular French-door configuration are from Kenmore. Consider the Kenmore Elite 72193, $4,150 which combines solid temperature control, storage capacity, and efficiency; act fast, however, since the model is being phased out. The Kenmore 7160[3] performed similarly for less than half the price, though it lacks a through-the-door ice and water dispenser. Sears also carries many recommended top-freezers, including the well-priced Kenmore 78892 for $600.  Among side-by-sides, we like the Bosch Linea 800 B22CS80SN[S], $2,700, which is also available at other retailers.

Snow blowers. Craftsman scores big in our snow blower tests. Among two-stage gas models, the Craftsman 88396, $1,200, nearly beat out the top-rated Cub Cadet, and it costs hundreds less. If you have a long driveway that sees heavy snowfall, this is a superb choice. If snow removal demands are less, consider the smaller Craftsman 88173, $680, which is tied for the top spot among compact two-stage gas snow blowers.          

Vacuums. Whether you’re looking for an upright vacuum or a canister, bagged or bagless, Kenmore is a brand to consider. The Kenmore Elite 31150, $350, is our number one bagged upright vac, while the Kenmore Elite 21814, $500, is tops among bagged canister vacs. Both models are suited to carpets and bare floors, plus they were tough on stubborn pet hair in our tests. Many other Kenmore vacuums make our recommended list, so you’ll have plenty of choices at Sears.

Craftsman 37095

Sears washouts

Cordless drills. Craftsman is Sears’ big power tool brand. Of the nine Craftsman cordless drills we tested, only one makes our picks list. Those in the light-use category, meant for basic household tasks like hanging shelves, had a particularly rough go of it. Case in point: the $60 Craftsman 11834 had subpar power and dismal run time.

Cooking appliances. As impressive as Kenmore is with dishwashers, dryers, and other large appliances, the brand’s cooking appliances aren’t consistent winners in our tests. Apart from a 30-inch electric coil model, no Kenmore ranges make our recommended list. There are no wall oven winners or over-the-range microwaves. Kenmore does have a few models on our picks list for cooktops, including the top-rated induction model, the Kenmore 43820, $1,700, but that alone doesn’t make the brand a standout in the cooking appliance category.   

Paints and stains. Sears’ paints and stains tend to not stand out either. For example, the Sears Easy Living Ultra Flat interior paint missed our picks list by a good margin, in part because it’s not the smoothest finish. Sears WeatherBeater Ultra Satin exterior paint is also middle-of-the-pack. Among stains, Sears Weatherbeater Deck, Fence & Siding Solid didn’t hold us as well over time as other products. When it comes to paints and stains, Home Depot’s Behr or Lowes’ Valspar brands offer better quality.

Self-propelled lawn mowers. Only one model from Craftsman makes our recommended list for this competitive lawn mower category. Others get middling marks, including some fairly expensive models, like the $500 Craftsman 37095, with its so-so mulching and side discharging. This is another case where you’d be better off choosing brands from Home Depot (Honda or Toro) or Lowe's (Troy-Bilt).       

Leaf blowers. Craftsman also couldn’t compete with brands like Echo, Toro, and Husqvarna in our leaf blower tests. The Craftsman Pro 79400, $200, gasoline backpack blower wasn’t as fast at sweeping leaves while the Craftsman 79401, $280, wasn’t as easy to handle.

—Daniel DiClerico (@dandiclerico on Twitter)  

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