Pricey brand loyalists may want to rethink their allegiance before spending big money on the next major kitchen appliances, says Consumer Reports’ annual Product Reliability Survey, which identifies the most and least reliable product brands.

 

Among the least reliable brands identified by Consumer Reports readers are major cooking appliances by high-end brands such as Viking, Thermador, Dacor and Jenn-Air. CR's survey shows that 33 percent of Viking gas ranges and at least 15 percent of Viking, Thermador and Dacor gas cooktops have been repaired or have had an unrepairable problem during the last few years.

 

Pricey Sub-Zero brand refrigerators also proved to be among the more repair prone brands. CR's survey shows that 24 percent of Sub-Zero side-by-side models, as well as 24 percent of Sub-Zero top-/bottom-freezers models, have needed repair over last few years – a stark contrast to Whirlpool, whose category-best side-by-side and top-/bottom-freezers models required the least amount of repairs, 14 percent and 7 percent, respectively.

 

Whirlpool, Kenmore and General Electric brands prove to be safe bets for major appliance shoppers. Both brands on average tend to have relatively low repair rates between 2002 and 2006 for many types of appliances including electric ranges, gas ranges, gas cook tops, electronic wall ovens, refrigerators, gas and electric clothes dryers, and front- and top-loading washing machines.

 

While not the sole front-runner in each electronic device category, Sony brand electronics were a safe bet and among the more reliable brands in many categories including camcorders, and picture tube TVs. Sony shows promising reliability for plasma TVs, LCD TVs and microdisplay TVs.

 

Consumer Reports National Research Center's reliability data is based on responses from more than 950,000 readers. Because many readers own more than one type of product in the same category, that translates into more than 1.3 million vehicles, 1.2 million electronic gadgets, and 2.5 million appliances and lawn machines – a total of 5.1 million product reports.

 

"While changes in design can change a product's performance, and specific models within a brand may vary in reliability, we have found that choosing a brand with a consistently good history improves your chances of getting a reliable model," said Mark Kotkin, director of survey research for Consumer Reports.

 

Time to Repair or Replace?
Sometimes entire product categories require more repairs than others. For example, when Consumer Reports looked at 3- and 4-year-old-products, it found that laptop and desktop computers, side-by-side refrigerators with ice makers, riding mowers and lawn tractors tended to need more fixes than other type of products.

 

Consumer Reports generally advises that in the following scenarios, buyers should replace rather than repair products: 1) when a product costs less than $150; and 2) if repairs would cost more than half the price of a new model.

 

The May 2007 issue of Consumer Reports offers consumers a timeline to determine whether it's smarter to replace a product than to repair it by considering the product's age, typical repair and replacement costs, and the improvements of new models. The chart below shows at what age it would be more sensible for consumers to replace rather than repair their current product:

  4 Years        digital cameras, 32-inch picture-tube TVs

  5 Years        camcorders, 36-inch picture-tube TVs computers, gas push mowers

  6 Years        dishwashers, over-the-range microwaves, top-freezer refrigerators, upright vacuums

  7 Years        clothes dryers, gas self-propelled mowers, top-loader washers

8 Years        Bottom-freezer and side-by-side refrigerators, canister vacuums, electric or gas ranges, electric wall ovens, front-loader washers

 

CR's May issue, which goes on sale April 10, offers a complete rundown on the most and least reliable brands for cooking appliances, refrigerators, washers and dryers, electronics products, TVs, vacuums, cars, lawn machines and more. More information is also available at http://www.consumerreports.org/.