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What's the problem with buying cheap appliances?

A great bargain or just suspiciously cheap? Here’s what you need to consider before buying a budget appliance.

cheap washing machine next to an expensive washing machine
Last updated: 19 September 2019

Need to know

  • There are more budget appliances on the market than ever before, including cheap whitegoods from Aldi, Kogan, Kmart and more
  • Cheaper models occasionally outshine more expensive models in our performance tests, but you also need to consider things such as longevity, repairability and safety
  • For ultimate peace of mind, check CHOICE product reviews and advice before you buy

Whether you're in the market for a new washing machine, fridge or oven, one of the many decisions you'll have to grapple with is: "how much am I going to spend?" When an email pops into your inbox advertising a 'grab it now' offer of an Aldi washing machine for just $349 – a fraction of the price of other models on the market – should you snap it up then sit back to count all the cash you just saved?

We often say that price isn't an indicator of good quality or performance, and there are plenty of cases where cheap appliances can outperform more expensive models. But CHOICE experts agree that there are a few other things you need to consider before buying a budget appliance. 

"We're seeing more and more very cheap appliances and whitegoods from the likes of Aldi, Kogan, Ikea and Kmart coming onto the market," says our head of reviews and testing Matthew Steen.

"These can be attractive options, but it's important to consider things such as the longevity, efficiency and quality of the product you're buying. It may be cheap now, but it could cost you in the long run and might end up in landfill sooner than you think."

inside washing machine in CHOICE lab

In our CHOICE labs, we disassembled a cheap washing machine and a high-end washing machine to compare the quality of their make and assess value for money.

Consider: how long is it going to last?

"Price isn't an indicator of quality when it comes to appliances, but you may find that a mid-range or high-end (and therefore, highly priced) machine will last you longer than a very cheap budget buy," says CHOICE household goods expert Ashley Iredale. 

"A higher price point may mean the manufacturer has invested more in product design and higher quality components. But you can't always trust this is the case, so it's important to check our product reviews before you buy to make sure you don't get stuck with a dud."

We recently broke down the components of two washing machines from opposite ends of the pricing scale: one was a $529 machine and one was a $2199 machine.

"The cheaper machine had far inferior wiring and used cheaper counterweights made of concrete," says Ashley. "Whereas the more expensive machine used more durable and readily recyclable material."

"In this case, the cheaper model was clearly an inferior product. It's likely it wouldn't last as long and would potentially have more problems." 

For products that last, you can also check out the results of the CHOICE Appliance Reliability Survey, where we analyse data from members to let you know which brands are the least likely to let you down.

Will you be able to repair it?

As today's manufacturing processes prioritise faster, cheaper assembly over repairability, products may cost less to make (and buy) but they're also harder (and more expensive) to repair.

Budget machines can also be more likely to break down sooner and are not as easy to service or replace parts, which means you could soon be outlaying more cash to replace it. Service technicians will tell you there are big differences between brands when it comes to ease of access for repairs, and therefore how long a repair will take and how much it costs.

"One exception to this rule is when you're thinking about top-tier models from premium brands that include digital controls, such as dishwashers or washing machines," says Ashley. "These can sometimes create complications over simpler, cheaper machines with fewer features."

What about efficiency and environmental impact?

You should always consider the water and energy consumption of a machine before you buy, as small differences in efficiency could cost you hundreds of dollars over the lifetime of an appliance.

More expensive models may use better quality parts and more thoughtful design, which means they'll most likely last a lot longer and be easier to repair, recycle or refurbish. This ultimately translates to fewer products going to landfill. 

Some companies also operate take-back schemes for their products and build this cost into the purchase price.

waterEnergyRating

We put all appliances through their paces in our CHOICE labs. The best way to ensure you're getting value for money is to check our product reviews.

Safety standards and faults

A budget machine could use lower-quality wiring and have lower specifications. This could mean it's more likely to suffer electrical faults or have fewer features that prevent things going wrong. 

For example, as a measure to stop your home from flooding, the $2199 washing machine we tested had a sump and anti-flood protection in the advent of a pipe or hose bursting, as well as thicker, better-quality hoses. The $529 machine had neither. 

Does CHOICE test Kogan machines and Aldi Special Buys?

Wherever possible, we include appliances for all budgets in our testing in CHOICE labs. 

We know there's a lot of interest in Aldi 'Special Buys' for appliances such as ovens, dishwashers, washers and dryers, but these products often have restricted availability which makes them hard for us to get to test. 

"We find that appliances from 'budget brands' such as Aldi, Ikea and Kmart can suffer from inconsistency," says Matt. "While some products can perform well in our tests, others can be disappointing. Checking our CHOICE product reviews is the best way to make sure you don't end up with a dud."

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