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8 mistakes people make when buying a fridge (and how to avoid them)

From being swayed by a fancy design to choosing the wrong type or size, CHOICE experts help you buy better. 

Last updated: 19 March 2024

Fridges are one of the most important appliances in our home, if not the most important. They run 24/7 and we rely on them to keep our food fresh and our drinks chilled (and our ice-cream perfectly scoopable in the freezer, of course).

Whether you need a new-look fridge for a kitchen reno, or an upgrade on your old Kelvinator that's given up the ghost, it's important to buy a fridge that suits your needs and budget. 

Choosing the wrong size or type, or one that costs a bomb in electricity to run, can fill you with fridge regret later down the road.

Choosing the wrong size or type, or one that costs a bomb in electricity to run, will fill you with fridge regret later down the road

CHOICE experts spend hours in our appliance labs putting the latest fridges of all types and sizes through their paces to see which perform best.

And they know the ins and outs of the features you need, the ones you might not, and what's important to focus on when buying a new fridge – as well as the things manufacturers and fast-talking salespeople use to get you to spend more than you need to.

Here is their advice on some of the common mistakes you don't want to make when shopping for a new fridge, instore or online.

ash next to ikea fridge

Cool head: CHOICE expert Ash has been testing fridges for years.

1. Being swayed by certain brands

If you're easily swayed by fancy international brands spruiking cutting-edge design and Euro-glam features, make sure you take a friend with a firm hand when you go shopping to stop you making a rash decision. 

That's because we've seen many expensive fridges from international brands come through our labs that have unfortunately underwhelmed our experts. 

CHOICE expert Ashley Iredale warns that sometimes the Euro models just can't hack the heat.

"We've seen several expensive fridges from premium European brands perform very poorly in our tests," says Ashley. "It's not that they're bad fridges, it's just that they were designed for European conditions.

A cheaper brand that designs fridges for the Australian market will usually blow the expensive Euros out of the water

CHOICE expert Ashley Iredale

"Australia is a much hotter part of the world and fridges here are faced with very different operating conditions, so a cheaper brand that designs fridges for the Australian market will usually blow the expensive Euros out of the water."

Buying on brand alone is never a good idea either, as performance, features and usability of specific products even from the same brand can vary significantly – we've seen fridges from the same brand perform wildly differently in our testing. 

So, look for brands that have a long history in Australia and check our fridge reviews to see a product's test ratings before you buy. 

2. Falling for a sleek finish

Are your eyes looking past the boring white fridges and towards a sleek, shiny model or a glossy retro number in bright red? Buyer beware, warns Ashley. 

"Fancy finishes can come at a price premium over a plain white fridge, despite the fact it makes no difference to the appliance's performance," he says.

"Worse, those fancy retro fridges may look great, but we've found they're incredibly expensive, and often tend to have 1960s levels of performance, not just a 1960s look, so they're best avoided."

Fancy finishes come at a premium price, despite the fact it makes no difference to the appliance's performance

Ashley Iredale

That's the case with Smeg's $4000 fridge that flunked our testing last year. It scored a lukewarm CHOICE Expert Rating of 43% overall, but a truly chilling 0% for temperature stability, which measures how consistent the temperature is over time. 

This means that the temperature fluctuates a lot in the fridge and freezer, which is bad news for your groceries and will likely contribute to food spoiling faster or even being unsafe to eat.

smeg worst fridge ashley iredale

Retro rip-off: Smeg's 60s-styled fridges have a bad track record in CHOICE testing.

3. Choosing a fridge that's too big, or too small 

When it comes to fridges, size obviously matters. But biggest isn't always best. 

First, measure up. There's no sense in buying a massive double-door fridge if it won't suit the size and layout of your kitchen, or squeeze through your doors. 

Second, as Ashley points out: "Buying a fridge that's bigger than you need will not only cost you more to buy, but also cost you more over the life of the fridge because it will use more energy. So, don't waste your cold hard cash on a massive 440L-plus fridge if it only needs to store food for two or three people." 

Equally, if you buy a fridge that's too small for your large family, for example, you'll be left constantly exasperated when it comes to unpacking your groceries.

Ashley says: "If you're in any doubt over what size fridge you need, opt for the slightly bigger option, but please don't go overboard."

CHOICE tip: When you measure your fridge space, allow at least 5cm on all sides so the heat from the motor can escape and the fridge can keep cool, keeping your energy bills down.

4. Splurging on features you don't need (like an ice maker!)

Those old-school ice-cube trays are just so fiddly and time-consuming to use, aren't they? 

Not really. A high-end fridge with an inbuilt ice-maker may seem like a desirable luxury at cocktail hour – but Ashley says you should think twice before paying extra for one.

"An ice-maker can take up valuable space in your freezer or fridge compartment," he says. 

"And you may also need to plumb your fridge into the water supply in order to use one. If space is important to you – avoid."  

electrolux-ehe6899ba icemaker interior

An ice-maker (pictured middle left) can take up valuable space that you could put to better use.

5. Not checking how much different fridges cost to run

Since your fridge never turns off, it's one of the most power-hungry appliances, making up about eight percent of your energy bill all on its own. So choosing a more efficient one will save you money in the long run. 

"Looking at large fridges (450–525L capacity) we've tested, the running costs range from $1236 to a frightening $1976 over 10 years," says Ashley.

"That's over $700 difference over the life of the appliance, which is money you'd probably prefer to have in your pocket."

Running costs range from $1236 to a frightening $1976 over 10 years

Check the energy ratings on products and CHOICE reviews. We include a 10-year running cost for each fridge, so you can compare the long-term costs of each model and avoid bill shock later down the road.

6. Choosing the wrong type of fridge

When researching fridges, you'll come across a number of different types. These will include:

  • side-by-side fridges (American-style models with two narrow, full-height cabinets beside each other)
  • top-mounted models (fridge on top and freezer on the bottom)
  • bottom-mount models (freezer on top and fridge on the bottom)
  • French-door fridges with two doors that meet in the middle and open out over a bottom-mount freezer.

Which fridge style is right for you depends on your specific needs and the size of the fridge you need.

For example, side-by-side fridges are a popular choice for narrow kitchens where you can't have a large swinging door, or when you want low and easy access to both fridge and freezer compartments.

bosch kan92vi30a side by side fridge

Side-by-side fridges have some well-known problems and drawbacks.

But Ashley warns: "The design of side-by-side fridges is fundamentally flawed. Because the compartments are so tall and narrow, they tend to have very poor temperature evenness, and you'll get cold and hot spots. 

"Plus, because they're so narrow, you might have trouble getting wide or long items into them, like a whole celery or a large pizza box."

French-door fridges combine the convenience of a bottom-mount fridge with good capacity and extra features, but they're often bulky and expensive, which means they're not suited to every budget or smaller kitchens.

It's important to consider the pros and cons of different styles before you buy – consult our fridge buying guide for helpful advice.

7. Thinking you need the newest smart fridge features

Smart fridges that connect to your wi-fi to access a wide range of different features are now a common option. Their level of functionality varies, from basic temperature and energy monitoring, to a fully interactive experience.

Many manufacturers allow you to monitor and manage your smart appliances, such as a fridge, through their app. 

You can:

  • receive notifications from your fridge, for example if your water filter needs changing or the settings adjusted
  • change the temperature of your fridge 
  • activate extra ice-making
  • receive basic energy usage data if you want to keep an eye on your energy bills.

Ashley calls for a reality check on these futuristic fridges, though. 

The features offered by smart fridges may be convenient options for some, but his expert opinion is that they're not so convenient as to make it worth paying a premium for. 

CHOICE experts think smart features are not yet worth paying a premium for

And while we eventually expect to see advanced energy management systems, and clever diagnostic tools that can report problems with a fridge or even schedule a service call before the need becomes apparent, that still feels a long way off.

Instead, if you have a bigger budget, Ashley says you're better off spending it on some of the other newer fantastic fridge technologies, such as multi-zone compartments. 

What are multi-zone compartments?

These compartments are often a separate door between your fridge and freezer that you can switch functionality of, depending on your needs. 

For example, you could turn a fridge zone into a freezer if you've stocked up at the bulk-buy butcher, or turn it into a chiller to get drinks cold quickly ahead of a party.

8. Shopping before doing your research

Your fridge will hopefully last you the next 10 years or so, so this is an important purchase. Doing research before you buy is the best way to ensure you don't end up with a dud, and that you buy the appliance that best suits your needs.

Our fridge buying guide can help you make decisions on everything from size, to finish, to the features you need.

And then, for CHOICE members, our fridge reviews give you the low down on how well models from all the big brands perform. 

CHOICE experts have independently tested and reviewed hundreds of fridges, so you can trust we'll help you find the fridge that best suits you. 

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.