Prepare to haggle amid wild price swings at appliance dealers in the Twin Cities

Devices last for decades. But changing trends and features and shorter appliance lifespans mean you’ll likely need to replace at least one or two dishwashers, ranges, refrigerators, washers and dryers in your lifetime.

Unlike buying most other big ticket items, a lot can go wrong with appliance purchases.

You can’t easily bring a faulty new refrigerator back to the store. And most consumers need help with delivery and installation.

Unfortunately, Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org receive many reviews from surveyed local appliance buyers who indicate that delivery and installation are the most problematic parts of many transactions.

To help you separate the good stores from the bad ones, through a special arrangement, Star Tribune readers can access Checkbook reviews of local appliance stores for free until June 5 via Checkbook.org/StarTribune/Appliances.

Another major consideration: price. Checkbook’s secret price shoppers found the highest price listed by local retailers for a Whirlpool WRX735SDHZ stainless steel refrigerator to be $2,197; the lowest price was $1,379, a nice saving of $818. For a Maytag MGT8800FZ gas range in stainless steel, prices ranged from $1,131 to $1,971, a difference of $840.

Fortunately, Checkbook finds that top-rated stores often offer prices that are as low as, or even lower than, their lower-rated competitors. Additionally, Checkbook’s research shows that most stores use fake sale prices to mislead their customers into thinking they are on special offers when in fact the devices are on constant sale and that in most stores shoppers pay too much.

The only way to be sure of getting a good deal is to shop around. Since manufacturers operate minimum advertised pricing policies designed to stifle price competition, if you rely solely on store advertisements or websites, you will find the same prices from store to store for the most part. models.

But Checkbook researchers found that if they called or emailed stores and mentioned that they collected prices from multiple outlets for the models they were considering, they often offered deep discounts for win their case.

In independent stores, Checkbook buyers have found that notifying sales staff that they are getting quotes from multiple stores often results in discounts, waived delivery and installation fees, or of them. Getting the big chains to be flexible took a lot more effort, but as Checkbook researchers waited and waited to speak with sales managers in the home appliance department, they sometimes got better deals.

Call four or five retailers and ask to speak to someone who can offer you discount prices. Tell this person the brands and model numbers of the devices you want, explain that you are calling several companies to solicit offers, specify that you will only ask each store once for their best price – and that you will buy in the store that offers the best deal.

Feel free to use this method. Be polite, professional, and let stores know you’re getting competitive deals every time you make major purchases. Most appliance sellers have a habit of offering discounted prices when asked.

Start by choosing the models you want to buy. There are a few excellent sources that provide independent buying advice. Consumer Reports regularly rates devices on a range of quality issues, including reliability, and offers sound advice on the pros and cons of configurations, designs, features, and options. The US Department of Energy’s Energy Star program provides listings and energy consumption data for certified appliances. Salespeople can also be fantastic sources of shopping advice, but only in stores that have knowledgeable and helpful staff.

If you need delivery and installation services, set the prices for this work as well as the prices for the appliances. Be aware that some companies will not install dishwashers and others will not connect appliances to gas lines. Some delivery people will do nothing more than move the devices into place and plug them in.

If you’re buying from a store that doesn’t offer full installation services and you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, you’ll need to hire a plumber or appliance repair service. Most reasonably priced plumbers charge between $100 and $150 to hook up washing machines, gas stoves, or dishwashers. When comparing appliance prices, consider these expenses.

It is reasonable for a store to require a small initial deposit. But making a large deposit robs you of the leverage you might need to make sure everything goes as planned. Whenever possible, pay by credit card. If you have a problem, you can complain to your credit card issuer.

Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook Magazine and Checkbook.org is a consumer-supported non-profit organization and does not take money from the service providers we review. Star Tribune readers can access Checkbook reviews of local appliance stores for free through June 5 via Checkbook.org/StarTribune/Appliances.