A higher price doesn't necessarily guarantee higher quality, according to ShopSmart, the shopping magazine from the publisher of Consumer Reports. Sometimes a lower-priced model is actually better.
ShopSmart offers six examples of when it pays to pay less instead of paying up:
You could spend: $150 or more
You should spend: $80 to $90
Here's why: ShopSmart's battery life tests include partially draining, then recharging, each battery almost 3,000 times over a 15-week period. Testers also measure how long a battery can supply power if you leave on your headlights. And they mimic frosty morning starts by testing the current that's available at zero degrees. The EverStart Maxx batteries sold at Wal-Mart beat batteries from other makers that can cost almost twice as much.
You could spend: $1,500
You should spend: $330 to $400
Here's why: Year after year, less expensive vacuums from Kenmore and Panasonic have topped ShopSmart's ratings, and pricey models from Aerus, Riccar and Simplicity, ranging from $900 to $1,500, are just meh. To separate the great from the not-so-great models, testers embed carpet with real cat hair (from groomers) and "dirt" to see how well vacuums can suck both out. They also see how well they clean bare floors. The testers check airflow in the tools, plus other features, and use a machine that measures the force needed to move the vacuums back and forth.
You could spend: $3,000 or more
You should spend: about $1,000
Here's why: ShopSmart's labs simulate eight years of use by pushing and pulling a 308-pound roller across dozens of mattresses 30,000 times, then cut each of them open to check for internal damage. They also put sensors on 36 points of testers' spines to see how well that line is maintained when they lie on their backs. And they measure how level the mattress keeps their spines when they lie on their sides. To see how easily a shifting spouse or Doberman could interrupt your reverie, they drop a 38-pound weight on mattresses with sensors inside and check to see how much vibration is picked up. In their most recent test, a $1,075 Serta rated higher in durability than a $4,800 Duxiana.
You could spend: $2,900 or more
You should spend: about $1,500
Here's why: To test ovens, testers see how evenly they broil a tray of burgers and cook two trays of cakes and cookies. They examine the burners. They also paint a mix of eggs, lard, cherry pie filling, cheese, tomato puree and tapioca throughout the ovens, bake it for an hour at 425 degrees F, then turn on the self-cleaning mode to see how well it works. Maytag and Whirlpool ovens did a better job than pro-style models from Viking -- which go for as much as $3,600 -- at cleaning up that tough mess. They also broiled more evenly and had more oven space.
You could spend: $90 or more per gallon
You should spend: $30 to $35
Here's why: Paints from Farrow & Ball, $93 to $105 per gallon, and Benjamin Moore, $68, are widely used by interior decorators. But ShopSmart's lab tests show that the Behr Premium Plus Ultra (Home Depot's brand) matched or did a better job covering dark colors, held up better to cleaning, resisted stains better and left fewer roller marks.
You could spend: $1,800
You should spend: $900
Here's why: Pro-style models look sharp, but some have rated lower than less expensive cooktops in our tests. Recently, a midpriced KitchenAid smoothtop unit outperformed an $1,800 Jenn-Air, a $1,600 Miele and a $1,500 Thermador. The tests include timing how long it takes the highest-powered burner to heat water to near-boiling, plus how well that large burner simmers a sauce on low without burning it. On the smallest burner, testers use thermocouples to measure how low a pot's temperature remains on a low-heat setting for 30 minutes.
Editors, Consumer Reports