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Cheap Refrigerators Buying Guide

Our top two picks are the Maytag M1TXEGMYW (starting at $710), a top-freezer model with ample storage and a reputation for value and reliability, and the Whirlpool ED5KVEXVQ (starting at $899), a side-by-side that stands out for its feature set and overall performance. Sitting a rung below are the Kenmore 69002 (starting at $848), a bottom-freezer refrigerator with functional storage space and good temperature regulation, and the GE GTH18GBD (starting at $537), another top-freezer model that consumers consider a decent value at the cost of a little noise.

One model that just doesn't rank is the Frigidaire FFTR1814L (starting at $476), an entry-level fridge with a top freezer and few features that is the target of complaints about build quality and performance.

Kenmore, Maytag, GE, LG, Amana, Whirlpool, and Hotpoint are well represented in the cheap refrigerator segment of the market. A recent study by J.D. Power and Associates found that Samsung rates highest in customer satisfaction for both features and price and Kenmore Elite fridges score well for performance and reliability, but most models bearing these brand names don't meet our definition of "cheap". Maytag and GE refrigerators have been dogged recently with slightly more repair issues than other major brands, according to research by a consumer products testing site as reported by Appliance Assistant, but some models (one from each of these companies appears on our list of top picks) nonetheless earn multiple stars in online consumer reviews.

Generally speaking, utilitarian top-freezer refrigerators are the least expensive, with side-by-side models costing slightly more. Bottom-freezer and French-door refrigerators (the latter have two doors for the fridge compartment atop one freezer drawer) hover at the higher end of the price spectrum, although a few sit just within or beyond the Cheapism range. Counter-depth and cabinet-front styles start at a minimum of $1,800. Compact and apartment-style refrigerators are the least expensive options but too small for most families.

Price aside, the configuration of your kitchen may knock certain refrigerator styles out of contention. Top- and bottom-freezer models require more door clearance than side-by-side or French door refrigerators, which are both well suited to galley kitchens and layouts with a center island. But keep in mind that wide-shelved top- and bottom-freezer refrigerators accommodate oversized containers and platters better than side-by-sides, which have significantly narrower fresh and frozen food compartments.

The household's daily food preferences will probably affect the cheap refrigerator you choose, as well. If demand for fresh foods and vegetables is high, a bottom-freezer fridge may be more convenient. Heavy consumers of TV dinners and ice cream might prefer the easier access of a top-freezer fridge. A related consideration is the allocation of space between refrigerator and freezer compartments. Top-freezer and bottom-freezer models offer two-thirds fresh to one-third frozen storage; the split in side-by-side refrigerators may be similar or closer to half and half. French door refrigerators give you two-thirds fresh storage but provide the space-conserving benefits of side-by-sides at a higher price point.

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The outer dimensions of a cheap refrigerator also bear noting. Width is self-explanatory but a hinge atop the door adds an additional 1/2- to 3/4-inch of height to the front of the fridge, which matters if there's a cabinet above. The hinge measure is usually factored into the product specifications, but sometimes two heights are given -- one with and one without the hinge. Carefully check the clearance if the cabinet depth equals that of the refrigerator.

Most refrigerators come in white, black, and stainless steel, with some available in bisque and platinum or silver. Standard white refrigerators are the cheapest; stainless steel models sell for about $200 to $300 more. One disadvantage to stainless is the endless battle against fingerprints, while white and bisque show dirt easily. The finish is either smooth or textured (white, black, and bisque only).

Cheap refrigerators are a pretty basic appliance. There aren't many frills in this segment of the market, so aside from a handful of exceptions, forget about an automatic icemaker, external water dispenser, and LCD display. But pull-out and/or spill-proof shelves make an appearance in the better budget models, as do gallon-size shelves in the door. The best inexpensive refrigerators are also Energy Star compliant. But remember: The larger the refrigerator, the higher its cost and the greater its energy consumption, so choose a model that meets your needs without exceeding them.

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