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Consumer Reports

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    Do you know your consumer rights? Take our quiz to find out.

    Are you a savvy consumer? Do you pity the poor merchant that tries to pull as fast one on you? Play our Are You a Good Consumer? game to find out. The answers are at the bottom of this page.


    1. TRUE OR FALSE? My refrigerator stopped working just three weeks after the warranty expired, so I’m out of luck.

    Separate from any written warranty you may get from the store or manufacturer, state laws require that most products come with a so-called implied warranty of merchantability, an unwritten assurance that they will be free of substantial defects and last a reasonable amount of time (although implied warranties generally last for no more than four years). While merchants can get around this by selling products using such terms as "as-is", 11 states (Connecticut, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia) and Washington, D.C. don’t allow merchants to sell items as-is. And you'll rarely see as-is sales in walk-in stores, even where they're allowed. But that's not the case with most manufacturers and retail websites, where implied warranty disclaimers are common. Read a manufacturer's warranty or website's terms and conditions to see what we mean.

    What to do: If a product is defective or breaks in an unreasonably short period, ask the retailer and/or manufacturer to make good. If that doesn't work and you want to assert your implied warranty rights, you might consider suing in small claims court or contacting an attorney experienced in consumer law. Another option, if you purchased the item using a credit card, is to check whether the card automatically extends the manufacturer’s warranty for up to a year or so.

    2. TRUE OR FALSE?: A store has a sign requiring a $10 minimum purchase for credit card transactions. I didn’t have any other form of payment with me, so I was out of luck for the $8.99 item I wanted to buy.

    Until 2010, this probably would have been false because of credit card network rules prohibiting merchants from imposing credit card minimums. But at the behest of business groups, Congress added a little-known provision to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act allowing merchants to impose a minimum purchase requirement of up to $10 for credit card purchases, as long as they treat all credit cards the same.

    What to do: The easiest thing is to carry some cash just in case you encounter this in a walk-in store. Or you can buy an additional item to meet the $10 threshold, as long as it’s something you actually want and the price is right. Another option may be to use a debit card. But since debit cards don’t provide the same protections as credit cards—an important consideration when buying online—it’s probably best to shop elsewhere.

    3. TRUE OR FALSE?: If I successfully dispute a purchase with my credit card issuer the company that initially charged my card still can legally pursue me.

    Just because you’re credit card issuer gave you a chargeback doesn’t mean a company can’t go after you, perhaps by hiring a collection agency or even filing a lawsuit.

    What to do: If you have a problem with a product or service, try working things out with the business that provided it first. Before requesting a chargeback, make sure you’re in the right. Just because you didn’t like a product you purchased doesn’t automatically give you the right to dispute the charge.

    Are you immune to advertising tricks? Find out by reading "Don’t Let These Ad Traps Catch You."

    4. TRUE OR FALSE?: Health laws prohibit me from returning that bathing suit I decided looks terrible on me.

    While it’s possible there’s a state or local law banning returns of bathing suits, earrings, underwear, and other personal items, generally laws don't prohibit such returns. Still, a store can choose to adopt a policy that doesn’t allow returns of these items or anything else, as long as it let's you know what it is before you buy.

    What to do: Check the retailer’s return policy. If these items aren’t specifically excluded, you can return them under the store’s general rules. But if something is defective or it's not what you ordered, it doesn’t matter what the return policy is, take it back.

    5. TRUE OR FALSE?: You see an espresso machine advertised in your newspaper for an amazing $49, but it turns out to be a misprint. Although the actual price is $249, the store has to honor the advertised deal.

    Stores generally aren’t required to honor an incorrect price that is the result of a legitimate mistake, such as a misprint in an ad or shelf price tag. But there are exceptions. In some states, if a product scans at a higher price than advertised, retailers are required to provide consumers with some benefit, such as a free item or the difference between the advertised and scanned price, plus some bonus. But there may be restrictions. Connecticut, for instance, limits the amount of the freebie to $20, and the rule applies only to consumer commodities, such as food—not to espresso makers.

    What to do. Use a Web search to check your state’s law or go to your state’s consumer protection website. Some states require retailers to post signs outlining the law’s requirements; check the entrance, customer-service area, or checkout counter for them. And stay alert at the checkout line. If an item rings up too high, tell a store manager or customer-service representative. In some states, it’s up to the consumer to notice the error and request the free item or other benefit. Some stores have adopted similar policies voluntarily. If the pricing problem is a trend at a particular store, complain to your state consumer protection office.

    How did you do?

    Got them all right? Congratulations. You’re the ultimate consumer who knows your rights. No one is putting anything past you.

    Got one or two wrong? Not bad, but keep researching and reading. There's more to learn.

    Got them all wrong? It's a tough world out there. Don't go out shopping alone.

    —Anthony Giorgianni

    1. False. 2. True. 3. True. 4. False. 5. False.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    'Company Doe' might finally be unmasked, and that's a win for consumers

    In a major victory for consumers, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has ruled (PDF) that a Maryland district court was wrong to conduct months of secret litigation and seal all records in Company Doe v. Public Citizen. The company had sued in 2011 to prevent a report about one of its products allegedly harming a child from being posted on the database on, which was created to help consumers learn about potentially dangerous products. The district court judge had allowed the corporation to be known only as Company Doe.

    Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, along with Public Citizen and the Consumer Federation of America, intervened, filing a motion to unseal all records in the case. Now that the federal court has ordered the case to be unsealed, it is expected that Company Doe’s identity will be revealed when the case is sent back to district court.

    Noting that the federal ruling “sends the right message,” Ami Gadhia, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, said: “If a company sues to keep its name out of the complaint database, it can’t use the courts to hide its identity from the public. The decision also underscores the importance of this critical database, which was created for people to report unsafe products after a flood of recalls for dangerous toys, faulty cribs and other hazards.”

    —Andrea Rock

    Get more details about Company Doe v. Public Citizen:

    Consumer groups aim to unmask Company Doe by unsealing secret court record

    Arguments made in 'Company Doe' case in federal appeals court



    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    The 7 dishwasher details that count most

    Innovations in dishwashers have made them quieter, easier to load, and more energy and water efficient. In fact, some are so quiet you can barely hear them running. Combined with a good dishwasher detergent, the best dishwashers from Consumer Reports’ tests produced sparkling loads of dishes without pre-rinsing. And any new machine will cost less to operate than the one you have now. If you haven’t bought a dishwasher in a while, you’ll be impressed by the following features.

    Adjustable racks and loading aids. Racks that move up and down, adjustable tines, and silverware and stemware holders let you reconfigure the interior and organize the contents. Those features increase flexibility, especially when you cook for a crowd, and can help accommodate large and odd-shaped items such as cookie sheets and stockpots. Silverware holders and flatware slots also tend to improve cleaning by preventing silverware from nesting.
    Recommended dishwasher. Bosch 500 Series SHP65T55UC, $900, has easily adjustable racks plus a third rack.

    Half-load option. It’s always more efficient to wash a full load of dishes. But if you frequently wash half loads—just glasses, say—a model with a half-load option might help you save some energy and water compared with running a half-load in a dishwasher without that feature.
    Recommended dishwasher. GE Profile PDT750SSFSS, $1,100, has a half-load option and special bottle-washing jets.

    Soil sensor. It adjusts water use and cycle length to the amount of soil on the dishes. A sensor can improve energy efficiency.
    Recommended dishwasher. Kenmore Elite 12783, $1,200, has a soil sensor and is also one of the quietest models.

    Filters. These keep wash water free of food that could be redeposited on clean dishes. There are two filter types: manual and self-cleaning. Most manufacturers have moved to manual-clean because self-cleaning filters, which use a grinder to pulverize debris and flush it down the drain with the water, are convenient but noisy.
    Recommended dishwasher. KitchenAid KDFE454CSS, $1,500, has a filter that needs to be cleaned manually and very quiet operation.

    Rinse/hold cycle. This lets you rinse dirty dishes before you’re ready to start a full cycle, reducing potentially unpleasant odors and preventing soil from setting while you accumulate enough dirty dishes to run a full load.
    Recommended dishwasher. The Kenmore Elite 12793, $1,350, has a quick-rinse feature and is our top-rated dishwasher.

    Special wash cycles. Most dishwashers come with at least three cycles: light, normal, and heavy (for pots and pans). Some also offer pot-scrubber, soak/scrub, steam-clean, or china/crystal cycles, or a sanitizing cycle, which raises the water temperature above the usual 140° F. The extra options sound good, but the three basic cycles should be enough for most chores, even for baked-on food.
    Recommended dishwasher. Bosch 300 Series DLX SHX53TL5UC, $850, has a "speed perfect" cycle that uses extra water and energy to wash more quickly.

    Stainless-steel tub. Steel is more durable and stain-resistant than plastic, but dishwasher models with a plastic tub tend to cost far less. Even a standard plastic tub should last longer than most people tend to keep a dishwasher.
    Recommended dishwasher. Thermador Topaz Series DWHD640JFM, $1,500, has a stainless-steel tub and a nifty light that shines on the floor when the unit is running.

    —Adapted from Consumer Reports Kitchen Planning & Buying Guide

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Turn your yard from thirsty to thrifty with these tips

    Not only do lawns soak up a lot of water but homeowners tend to over-water their grass in an effort to keep it green. But pouring on the water can be too much of a good thing and actually harm your turf if not your budget. To keep your energy and water use in check, transform your property with landscaping that uses water sparingly. Here’s how, according to the EnergySaver program at the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Choose plants that drink less. Once established, native and low water-using plants require little water beyond normal rainfall. If you’re designing a new landscape or just sprucing up your yard, consider the water needs of the plants you choose.

    Group plants according to water needs. Planting vegetation with similar watering needs in “hydrozones” reduces water use by allowing you to water according to each zone’s specific needs. Because of their differing water needs, turf and shrubbery should always be separated.

    Cut your lawn size. Turfgrass receives the highest percentage of irrigation water in traditional landscaping. To better manage outdoor water use, plant turfgrass only where it has a practical function such as play areas.

    Water wisely. Know your plant’s water needs and avoid watering during the heat of the day when evaporation is greatest. If you have an irrigation system, make regular adjustments to ensure proper watering.

    Use mulch. Adding mulch around shrubs and garden plants helps reduce evaporation, inhibit weed growth, moderate soil temperature, and prevent erosion. Aerating your soil and adding organic matter can improve its ability to retain moisture.

    Repeat as needed. Replace mulch around shrubs and garden plants at least once per year, and remove weeds and thatch as necessary.

    Grasscycle. Leave the grass clippings on your lawn after you mow. They quickly decompose releasing valuable nutrients back into the soil to feed the grass. In the heat of the summer, raise your mower’s cutting height as longer blades tend to shade each other.

    Minimize or eliminate fertilizer. Fertilizer encourages new growth, which requires more water. If you do need fertilizer, look for a product that contains "natural organic" or "slow-release" ingredients that feed plants slowly and evenly.

    To find plants that are best for your region, consult your county cooperative extension agent or a local nursery as well as using the EPA’s “What to Plant” tool. And here is a gallery of landscaping ideas that homeowners shared with the EPA.

    Best mowers for the lawn you have
    To take the best care of the lawn you have now, consider a top-performing mower from Consumer Reports' tests. For smaller lawns, our top-rated gas push mower is the Cub Cadet SC100 11A-A92J,$250. we also recommend push mowers from Craftsman, Yard Machines, Lawn Boy, and Ariens.

    For medium lawns, the $600 Honda HRX217VKA self-propelled mower topped our tests. We also recommend self-propelled mowers from Toro, Troy-Bilt and Snapper, among others. And for larger properties, nothing runs like the John Deere X300, $3,000, although lawn tractors from Cub Cadet, Husqvarna and Snapper came close.

    —Mary H.J. Farrell

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Top Husqvarna mower features easy blade changes

    Riding mowers are your best bet when tackling properties larger than a half-acre. But with all that cutting power comes maintenance challenges. Swapping out the blades to sharpen them entails elevating the heavy machine and then manipulating your tools beneath the mower deck. Thanks to Husqvarna, that task just got easier with the introduction of the 46-inch Husqvarna YT46LS, $2,300, one of a series of tractors that features tool-free blade removal.

    When we first wrote about the Husqvarna YT46LS we hadn’t put it through our mower tests or tried the tool-free blade removal. Since then we’ve run the machine through a battery of tests on our Florida fields and guess what? It’s a dandy mower as well. It showed  impressive evenness in the side-discharge mode most people use, and cutting in other modes was at least as good. We also named the machine a CR Best Buy, superb for its handling and ease of use.

    The tractor’s blades are held in place not with bolts but by clips and magnets that guide the blade into place. In addition to being able to change blades without tools, you’re prevented from installing a blade upside down because the holes won’t line up. But there’s one part of blade swapping that Husqvarna can’t change: the need to access the blades. To do that you’ll still need to elevate the deck using a tractor lift, ramps, or another secure method. We also think that you’ll need some practice working the clips before you’ll be able to install or remove a blade without looking.

    Overall, however, more frequent blade sharpening through easier blade swapping could make a visual difference in your lawn. The Husqvarna is just one of the lawn mowers we recommend from our tests of almost 170 walk-behind mowers, lawn tractors, and zero-turn-radius riders. If you're in the market for a mower, check out our lawn mower buying guide.

    —Ed Perratore
    (On Twitter, @Ed Perratore)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    7 ways to clean green for Earth Day

    The annual Earth Day celebration on April 22 might inspire you to live greener—maybe you'll consider buying an electric or hybrid car to replace your gas guzzler, replace energy-hog incandescent lightbulbs with efficient CFLs or LEDs, or exchange your gas-powered mower for an electric model.

    When it comes to spring cleaning and household chores in general, you can work greener by concocting your own greener cleaners from some basic ingredients. Bonus: These environmentally friendly products will save you money.

    Keep the following in mind: Don't mix chlorine bleach with toilet-bowl cleaner or ammonia as it could produce dangerous fumes. Don't mix bleach with vinegar because the combination increases the potency of bleach, which could damage certain materials. Add water to a bucket or spray bottle first, then pour in ammonia, bleach, or other items. This way there's less chance that the caustic material will fly out if there's splash back.

    And if you usually use contacts, wear glasses instead when handling these products since contacts can absorb vapors and hold them against the eye, causing irritation or damage.

    1. Freshen up

    Make your own air freshener using 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 1 teaspoon of vinegar (or lemon juice), and 2 cups of hot water. Pour mix into a spray bottle and spritz away. White vinegar has a slight scent while wet, but it leaves no odor after drying.

    2. All-purpose cleaner

    Soapy ammonia is a versatile cleaning agent. You can use it in place of a commercial all-purpose cleaner for everyday kitchen and bathroom cleaning. Dilute according to the instructions on the container.

    3. Window and glass cleaner

    Just add 3 tablespoons of vinegar per 1 quart of water in a spray bottle and you have a safe, eco-friendly window cleaner. Some recommend using half vinegar and half water. For extra-dirty windows try this: ½ teaspoon of liquid soap, 3 tablespoons of vinegar, and 2 cups of water. Shake well. The best way to get streak-free windows? Use newspaper instead of paper towels to wipe them.

    4. Stains and spots

    Cream of tartar lifts stains from sinks and tubs, and removes spots from aluminum pans. A mild alternative to chlorine bleach that can be used for stain removal and mild bleaching and killing germs, this common baking ingredient is available in drug stores and supermarkets.  

    Don't want to go DIY? Check our Ratings of all-purpose cleaners, which include green products. Also, find the best paper towels for your chores.

    5. Grime and grease

    Use baking soda to clean up in the kitchen. For a "soft scrub" for countertops, mix baking soda and liquid soap until you get a consistency you like. The amounts don’t have to be perfect. Make only as much as you need, as it dries up quickly. To clean extra-greasy ovens, mix together 1 cup of baking soda and ¼ cup of washing soda, then add enough water to make a paste; apply the paste to oven surfaces and let soak overnight. The next morning, lift off soda mixture and grime; rinse surfaces well (gloves are recommended as washing soda may irritate skin).

    6. Borax in the bathroom

    Sold in most grocery stores, borax is a water softener and sanitizer. For a good all-purpose bathroom sanitizer, mix 2 teaspoons of borax, 4 tablespoons of vinegar, and 3 to 4 cups of hot water in a spray bottle. For extra cleaning power, add 1/4 teaspoon liquid soap to the mixture. To clean your toilet bowl, pour 1 cup of borax into the toilet before going to bed. In the morning, scrub and flush. For an extra-strength cleaner, add 1/4 cup vinegar to the borax.

    7. Silver cleaner

    1 piece aluminum foil (big enough to cover the bottom of the cleaning container)
    1 to 2 tablespoons baking soda
    2 quarts very hot water
    Lay the aluminum foil along the bottom of a plastic or glass container.
    Place the tarnished silver on top.
    Sprinkle the silver with baking soda, and cover it with very hot water.
    Soak until bubbles stop, then rinse and polish the silver with a soft cloth.

    In the chemical reaction, the silver sulfide (tarnish) breaks down and transfers to the aluminum foil, which you can then throw out. The result: shiny silver. (Note: This technique removes tarnish uniformly, so don't use it with antique or intricately patterned silver.)

    Floor-wax stripper

    1 gallon cold water
    ½ cup powdered floor cleaner
    2 cups ammonia
    Fill a 2-gallon bucket with the water.

    Carefully add the floor cleaner and ammonia. Mix well. Apply the stripper with fine steel wool and a lot of elbow grease.

    Wall cleaner

    3 quarts water
    1 quart chlorine bleach
    1/8 cup trisodium phosphate

    Fill a 2-gallon bucket with the water, then carefully add the bleach and TSP. Mix well. Apply the cleaner with a sponge or soft brush, working from the bottom up—it's easier to clean streaks off a clean surface. Rinse the surface with a cloth dampened with clean, warm water. To avoid damaging paint or wallpaper with this (or any other cleaner), test it on an inconspicuous spot.

    Wood furniture cleaner

    6 teaspoons light olive oil
    3 cups distilled white vinegar

    Pour the oil and vinegar into a 1-quart spray bottle and blend well. Spray the cleaner onto wood, wipe over a damp cloth, and finish drying with a clean, lint-free cloth.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    16 smart things to do with your tax refund

    Truth be told, you're better off not getting a tax refund. That money going back to you means that the government took too much from your paycheck, eliminating your opportunity to spend, invest, or earn interest on that extra cash. So you need to adjust your withholding. Calculate the proper amount of witholding using the IRS' withholding calculator

    Still, since a tax refund is commonly seen as a windfall, we offer our suggestions for what to do with a refund. The average federal refund this year will exceed $3,000, but our refund recommendations range from free to pricey.

    For your home

    Paint your interior. Use one of the high-scoring paints in our Ratings—some of the best finishes cost only $20 a gallon.

    Create the right mood. Top-rated LEDs continue to come down in price, and some top models we tested cost only $10.

    Update your landscape. Pruning an overgrown landscape with a selective removal of plants can make a yard feel more organized, and clear the way for new plantings. Perennials tend to be less expensive than annuals and fill the yard with seasonal color and blooms. Read more about how to fix the 5 most common lawn problems, and other lawn care tips.

    Get a new refrigerator. If you love seltzer and your current fridge is on the fritz, you might consider putting your tax refund toward the Samsung RF31FMESBSR French-door refrigerator ($2,900), which has a built-in SodaStream sparkling-water-dispenser. Check our refrigerator buying guide and Ratings.

    Set up a new gas grill. It's the right time of year to get your grill on with a new gas grill that comes with handy features. We've also sized up the best and worst grills for you to make the decision that much easier.

    For your car

    Upgrade your tires. New tires can make a measurable improvement in your car's performance and safety. When looking for new tires, focus on tires that do well in our tests for braking, handling, and resistance to hydroplaning.

    Find a GPS navigator. You can get many of the same functions that the infotainment systems in new cars have by picking up a portable GPS navigator. Basic units priced at $100 and up from Garmin, Magellan, and TomTom provide helpful turn-by-turn directions. For a bit more, you get free traffic information. At the high end, you'll find devices that add features such as a trip computer, Bluetooth capability, an MP3 player, and an FM transmitter.

    For your tech interests

    Capture it all. If you're using your refund for an action-packed vacation, you can immortalize your surfing, diving, and water-skiing adventures with an action camcorder. The GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition ($400) is our highest-rated action cam; the Silver Edition ($300) is a close second.  

    Impress your friends with your bleeding-edge geekiness. Put the latest thing in electronics on your wrist, and get a smart watch. The function-packed Samsung Galaxy Gear watch—it makes calls, takes pictures, and more—is great for those who already own a newer Samsung phone. The sleeker but more basic Pebble, which alerts you to incoming calls and messages, works with any Android or iOS phone.

    Buy an Xbox. Even nongamers will appreciate its other home-entertainment features: For example, the Xbox OneGuide shows you all your video-watching options in one interface; and you can use voice commands to control it. Now you can get the Xbox One in a bundle with the much-anticipated game Titanfall, normally $60 alone, for just $450 (marked down from $500).

    For your bottom line

    Pay down debt. According to surveys by the car-shopping service CarMax and Edward Jones, an investment house, a large percentage of refund recipients will use their windfalls to pay credit-card bills and other loans. We've outlined several approaches to managing your debt. First order of business: Negotiate with creditors for more favorable terms or to reduce what you owe.

    Invest in your retirement. It's too late to contribute to an traditional IRA for a potential tax break for 2013, unless you planned for it in advance or want to file an amended return. But why not jumpstart your retirement savings for 2014? The maximum you can contribute to a traditional IRA for a potential break on your 2014 taxes is $5,500, or $6,500 if you're 55 or older. If you can stomach reading anything more about taxes, check out IRS Publication 590, Individual Retirement Arrangements for details on your deduction eligibility.

    Invest in a child's education. Start or contribute to a 529 college savings plan. The money grows tax-free and remains untaxed if it's used toward qualifying higher-education expenses. And depending on where you live and the plan you choose, your contribution also may qualify you for a state income-tax break for 2014. Such plans are only one element in a college-savings strategy; read Parents' Guide to Saving for College for more ideas.

    For your health

    Go for a row.  Rowing provides a great full body workout, working your legs, arms, and core. The Concept 2 Model D (shown, $900) received our highest Rating. Or consider the H20 Seattle Wooden ($1,100) rower. It scored almost as high as the Concept 2, plus it looks good and, since it uses water for resistance, it re-creates the sound of paddling on a lake or river.

    Get a gadget. The Samsung Gear Fit ($200) is a stylish hybrid of smart watch and activity tracker. It looks good and is easy to use, though the apps for keeping track of your workouts are still pretty basic.

    For your kid and yourself

    Buy baby and yourself a new stroller. If you run or walk for exercise, consider the Schwinn Free Runner (shown, $220), which earned a very good score for running and excellent marks for maneuverability. This model is safe, thanks to its top-notch one-touch braking and five-point harness. If you have two kids to push around, consider the Graco FastAction Fold Duo Click Connect ($280). Check our strollers buying guide and Ratings for more details.

    Consumer Reports

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Keep your countertop appliances in tip-top shape

    Once you’ve gone to the effort of finding the perfect coffeemaker, toaster, stand mixer, or other countertop appliance, you want to make sure it lasts. And keeping your coffeemaker free of residue and your toaster free of burnt crumbs results in a better-tasting breakfast. Here are some simple maintenance tips from the experts at Consumer Reports along with some of our top-rated small appliances.


    • Rinse the basket after each and every use, even if you use a goldtone style filter.
      Wash the carafe and lid by hand, or, if it’s dishwasher safe, in the top rack of the dishwasher.
    • Every few months, run a brew cycle using a 1:3 vinegar-to-water solution, followed by three or four brew cycles using plain water. This will remove mineral deposits that can clog the water dispenser over time.
    • Scrub the inside of the carafe with baking soda to remove any coffee residue that’s built up.
    • Never use a glass carafe that’s cracked or nicked; it could shatter when it comes into contact with the heating element.
    • Also, never put a glass carafe filled with hot coffee down on a wet or cold surface. The rapid temperature change could cause the glass to fracture or explode.

    Our top-rated drip coffeemaker: Cuisinart Perfec Temp DCC-2800, $100.
    Top-rated single-serve: DeLonghi Nescafé Dolce Gusto Genio EDG455T, $130.

    Toasters and toaster ovens

    • Empty the crumb tray after every use. Built-up crumbs can smolder and even ignite.
    • Only use the toaster as its manufacturer intended. This means no buttered bread (the butter can drip into the heating element and ignite) and no pastry treats or similar items with a high sugar content (which can also ignite). You can toast these in a toaster oven safely, as long as you keep them away from the heating element.
    • Keep the toaster away from the backsplash, or adjacent flammable materials, like curtains.
    • Never stick any utensil into the toaster; you can damage the interior and risk electrocution. If something is stuck inside, unplug the machine, wait for it to cool, then turn it upside down and shake gently.
    • Don’t consider the top of the toaster oven a storage shelf. They are typically not well insulated, so the top and sides get hot.

    Our top-rated toaster: Calphalon Stainless Steel 2-Slot HE200ST, $60.
    Top-rated toaster oven: Breville Smart Oven BOV800XL, $250.


    • Only use the blender for jobs it was intended to handle. No mixing pizza dough or grinding coffee beans in most models.
    • Take care not to overload the machine. Having too many heavy ingredients to process could cause the motor to overheat or burn out.
    • Keep the seals tight. Prevent leaks by gently tightening the blade assembly against the base of the jar before each use.

    Our top-rated blender: Ninja Master Prep Professional QB1004, $60.


    • Wipe the base and head of the stand mixer and the beater head of a hand mixer immediately after every use. Some ingredients, like egg whites, can harden quickly.
    • Look inside the slots for beaters and other accessories to be sure they haven’t gotten plugged with dough.
    • Never overload the machine. The user’s manual should offer instructions on both the types of ingredients you can mix as well as optimal amounts.

    Our top-rated hand mixer: KitchenAid KHM926, $100.
    Top-rated stand mixer: Breville BEM800XL, $300.

    Food processors

    • Wipe the base carefully after every use.
    • Remove the blade and wash carefully by hand—even if the manufacturer says it’s dishwasher safe. This will extend the life of the blade.
    • If it’s dishwasher safe, wash the plastic bowl and lid only in the top rack of the dishwasher.
    • Use the machine only as the manufacturer intends. For example, crushing ice or trying to grind coffee beans in your food processor or chopper can damage the blade.
    • Do not overload the work bowl or try to perform tasks the machine isn’t powerful enough to handle. Kneading heavy dough in a low-wattage processor or putting too much in a small-capacity work bowl can overheat and damage the engine.

    Our top-rated food processor: Breville BFP800XL/A, $400.

    —Adapted from Consumer Reports Appliance Buying Guide

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    The biggest refrigerator ever just got bigger

    The Samsung T9000 four-door refrigerator, $3,500, had been the biggest model ever tested at Consumer Reports, boasting nearly 23 cubic feet of usable capacity. But it was just knocked off its perch by its brand mate, the Samsung Chef Collection RF34H9960S4, which has an additional .4 cubic feet of usable capacity, based on our initial measurements.

    Samsung's new four-door, French-door refrigerator won't appear in our Ratings until full testing—assessing temperature performance, energy efficiency, noise, and ease of use—is complete. The Samsung T9000 has one of the highest overall scores in our Ratings, on the strength of its superb temperature control and energy efficiency.  

    The Chef Collection model has several interesting features not found on the T9000. That includes a metal storage tray, called the Chef's Pan, that’s suitable for marinating meats and fish, and can also be placed in the oven and dishwasher. The new four-door is also the second Samsung refrigerator to dispense sparkling water, via SodaStream CO2 cartridges that you insert into the unit (the Samsung RF31FMESBSR was the first). And the new fridge features a unique temperature display, in the form of the LED lights that shine through micro-pinholes in its stainless steel door.

    The big capacity and innovation of the Samsung Chef Collection refrigerator is matched by a sizable price tag. With an MSRP of $6,000, it's in the ballpark of expensive built-in refrigerators from the likes of Jenn-Air, Sub-Zero, and Thermador. Of course, you're paying for a certain look with built-ins, but these refrigerators tend to be short on usable space, and they rarely have the innovative user features we're seeing with more standard refrigerators.

    —Daniel DiClerico 

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    6 ways to save energy and money right now

    Heating and cooling your home accounts for a whooping 54 percent of your energy use. Heating water for bathing and cleaning accounts for another 18 percent. But without making much effort or sacrificing comfort you can cut your energy costs right now and save money too. It’s a win-win. Make every day Earth Day with these six simple tips from the experts at Consumer Reports.

    Don’t rinse your dishes. Dishwashers are made to do dirty jobs so just scrape the excess food from the plates and let the machine do the rest of the work. Pre-rinsing your dishes under running water can easily waste more than 6,000 gallons of water per year. Soaking or prewashing is generally only recommended in cases of burned- or dried-on food. To ensure your dishes sparkle, use one of our top-rated dishwasher detergents.

    Reset your thermostats. With warmer weather coming, it’s time to reset your programmable thermostat. Put it as high as is comfortable and also make sure the settings reflect your summer schedule when you may spend less time in the house. You can also lower the thermostat on your water heater to 120°F, which is hot enough for showers as well as washing clothes and dishes. The three top-rated thermostats in our tests get high marks for ease of use.

    Take shorter showers. An average shower uses about five gallons of water per minute. Shortening your shower by two  minutes, can cut your water use by 10 gallons. Baths take a lot more water than showers but if you prefer them, plug the drain as soon as you turn the water on and adjust the temperature as the tub fills. Top-performong low-flow showerheads in our tests cost as little as $50.

    Wash only full loads. Only run your dishwasher and washing machine when they are full. If your dryer has a moisture sensor, use it so you don’t over-dry your clothes or waste energy. Dry similar fabrics together—towels with towels, sheets with sheets. And air dry lighter clothing; some manufacturers recommend it. Check our top-rated laundry detergent powders, liquids, and pods.

    Change your lightbulbs. Switching to energy-efficient lighting is one of the fastest ways to cut your utility bills. Timers and motion sensors can save you even more money by reducing the amount of time lights are on. Replacing 15 inefficient incandescent bulbs in your home with energy-saving bulbs can save you about $50 per year. To find the best bulbs for your sockets, check the results of our tests of energy-saving lightbulbs.

    Clean your refrigerator coils. Your refrigerator is running all the time. To keep it in peak condition, clean the compressor coils—you should do it every few months. Wipe door gaskets with a mild detergent and water, not bleach. Check the seal by closing the doors on a dollar bill. If the bill falls out or can be removed without opening the doors, plan to replace the gasket. Our top-rated French-door refrigerator costs only $54 a year to operate.

    —Mary H.J. Farrell

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Read the manual before buying a major product

    A New York woman was left dumbfounded when she discovered that the storm door she had purchased was so difficult to put together that she'd have to pay a professional $200 to do it for her. And a Consumer Reports staff member was disappointed after buying a $100 electronic activity tracker only to find out that it transmits data to the iPhone, not to the Android phone he owns.

    You can avoid these kinds of post-purchase regrets by reading the product manual or instructions before buying that new car, appliance, computer, or other expensive or technologically complex item. Such documentation increasingly is available for download from manufacturer websites (typically in pdf format). Since you'll need to read it anyway after the purchase, why not do so before buying and possibly avoid some disappointing surprise and the feeling that you wasted your money?

    What you find could make the difference between whether you buy a product, choose another model or make, or forgo the purchase. It can also be a sobering counter to the advertising hype or sales pitch that took your attention away from all the not-so-stellar details you'll wish you had known about before you handed over your credit card and lugged that monstrosity home.

    Just thumbing through the manual or instructions can remind you of all those things you meant to ask about before you got googly-eyed over the prospect of owning that latest, greatest new gadget. Or it may make you think of questions to ask.

    A specifications page in the manual can help you determine whether that refrigerator is too big for the space you have for it or whether that home theater receiver can work with a record turntable without your having to buy additional equipment.    

    Reading the manual or instructions also can help you plan your purchase. Do you need to buy special cables for that new TV? Did you remember to hire a plumber to install a water line for the ice maker that comes with your new fridge? Will you have to purchase a separate, external drive if you want to read or burn CDs or DVDs with that new laptop?  

    Of course, reading the manual or instructions isn't the only way you can find out what extras you'll need, and it's just part of the research you should do when considering a major purchase. You also should read the product description and any list of frequently asked questions, as well as look for user and professional reviews, such as those in Consumer Reports. But reviewing the documentation could be the piece that makes the difference.

    What to do

    Here are some of the things you should look for when going through the manual or instructions.

    Warranty and technical support. Often the manual is where you’ll find the written warranty. Find out exactly what it covers, what it excludes, and how long it lasts. What do you have to do to file a claim? Who pays if you have to return the product to the manufacturer, and who covers the cost of shipping it back? Does the manual include a list of service centers that you can call or take the product to for repairs? If so, is there one near you? How do you go about getting technical support? Is there a toll-free phone number? Is the warranty transferable to subsequent owners?

    Readability and accuracy. Evaluate the manual or instructions. Are they well-organized and easy to read, especially for items that have lots of features, require assembly, or that otherwise aren’t easy to set up or use, such as computers? Is it likely that you'll find whatever you're looking for in the manual? Is there a table of contents or index?

    Features. Confirm that the item actually has the features and capabilities you want. For instance, does that washing machine have automatic dispensers for bleach, detergent, and fabric softener or an extra rinse cycle if you're sensitive to detergent residue? Does that new oven come with a control lockout, a recommended feature if you have small children, or a cook time/delay feature that lets you select when cooking starts and ends?

    Compatibility.  Does that software work with your Mac or PC? Will that elliptical exerciser fit in your basement with enough clearance for you step to up on it without hitting your head on the ceiling? Does that new car run on regular fuel, or will you go broke feeding it premium?

    Installation, assembly, and setup.  Does the product require installation, assembly, or setup? If so, can you do it yourself or will you have to pay someone? Maybe after reading the manual or instructions, you'll realize that you were crazy thinking you could install that garbage disposal yourself. Perhaps you don't have the technical savvy to set up that wireless router and the computers, printers, and other devices you'd like to connect to it. If the manual or instructions leave you in doubt, try a web search to see how well others did. Our tests of closet organizers found the installation instructions on several models to be unclear or wrong. Perhaps with further research you'll find that someone has posted a YouTube video to help you overcome the documentation's shortcomings.

    Maintenance. What kind of maintenance does the product require? Just as with installation and setup, can you do it yourself or will it require a professional? How much does the maintenance cost? For example, does that new car have a timing belt instead of a chain, requiring you to spend hundreds of dollars every 100,000 miles or so to replace it (or possibly risk destroying your engine, as one of our staff members did)? Does that new smart phone have batteries that can be replaced only by the manufacturer? What if your new product contains lightbulbs, belts, or filters? Can you change them yourself? Are replacements widely available, or must you buy them from the manufacturer at astronomical cost?

    Accessories, subscriptions, and other add-ons. Find out what additional items you may need to purchase to get that product to actually work or provide the advanced functions or performance you need. Plan to mulch or bag your grass with that new riding lawnmower? Figure on spending another $50 to $500 for a kit. And what about subscriptions? Sure, that car maker heralded the ability of its high-tech communications system to provide live traffic and weather, but don't count on it unless you're willing to pay extra to subscribe to the service that delivers the info.

    Of course, the manual probably won't tell you the cost of extras, installation, or maintenance. But it can clue you in on what to research further before buying—that is, unless you're planning o use a crystal ball instead. But that probably comes with a manual, too!

    — Anthony Giorgianni


    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Upscale appliances at down-to-earth prices

    Buoyed by signs of life in the economy, some Americans are spending more freely on luxury goods. If you’re ready to splurge wisely, consider this list of high-end appliances that earned top marks in Consumer Reports’ tests. Still watching your wallet? We found less expensive alternatives with an upscale look that did just as well or better in our tests.

    Built-in refrigerator. Jenn-Air JS42PPDUDB[SS], $7,200.
    This 42-inch-wide refrigerator combines very good temperature performance and excellent energy efficiency to keep your food fresh and your energy costs in check. And, you’ll appreciate its quiet operation.
    Just as good for less. The cabinet-depth Bosch Linea 800 B22CS80SN[S], $2,700, gives the look of a built-in but costs much less. The 36-inch-wide side-by-side refrigerator is our top-performing cabinet-depth model with solid temperature performance and energy efficiency and exceptionally quiet operation.

    Pro-style range. GE Monogram ZDP364NDPSS, $7,500.
    This dual-fuel 36-inch pro-style range pairs a gas cooktop with an electric oven. Superb simmering and impressive baking helped to make this a top pick.
    Just as good for less.  For less, you can buy the KitchenAid KDRU763VSS, $6,000, our top-rated, dual-fuel 36-inch pro-style, which also features beefy knobs. It pairs a gas cooktop with an electric oven. Simmering was superb, and baking and broiling impressive. There's also plenty of oven space, with a convection feature that can trim cooking time for some foods.

    Vacuum cleaner.
    Kirby Sentria, $1,350.
    From an iconic brand, this bagged upright was stellar at all cleaning tasks in our tests. And it’s among the least repair-prone brands for uprights, according to our reader surveys. But you have to remove the powerhead to use any of the cleaning tools.
    Just as good for less.  Our top-rated upright, the Kenmore Elite 31150, $350, does a very good job removing embedded dirt from carpets and is excellent on bare floors. Its pet hair pickup is impressive as is the air-flow when cleaning with tools.

    Blender. Vitamix 5200, $450.
    This model is one of the most powerful blenders on the market today. Backed by a 2-hp motor, it aced our ice-crushing and icy-drinks tests, and more.
    Just as good for less. Tied at the top is the Ninja Master Prep Professional QB1004, $60. Its superb performance and outstanding value combine to make it a top pick. the Ninja features a top-mounted motor that you press down to operate and excelled at all the main blending tasks.

    —Adapted from Consumer Reports Appliance Buying Guide

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    Why do new dishwashers take so long to complete a normal cycle?

    Between federal energy standards and the Energy Star program, dishwasher manufacturers face myriad restrictions—some mandatory, some voluntary—that require them to make dishwashers that use less water. and energy But when they do, something has to give and that something is time. Some of today's dishwashers take more than three hours to complete a normal cycle.

    Think of it like the food you buy. To appeal to consumers who want less fat, salt, or sugar, food makers alter the amount of other ingredients as well. Look closely at the label, and you’ll often see that when the amount of one undesired ingredient is reduced, the amount of one or two others goes up. If it didn’t, you may decide the food tastes awful. Making the food taste good enough for you to buy it again is the bottom line.

    In the case of dishwashers, both water and energy are needed for a model to do its minimum job—spraying hot, soapy water at the dishes and rinsing them afterwards. But to qualify a model for Energy Star, manufacturers have to limit the water and energy the machine uses for its normal cycle even more than the federal standard requires. No matter how miserly they are, though, the bottom line remains: Dishes have to get clean, or the machine doesn’t sell.

    It’s a simplification, but no regulation addresses how long a cycle can run. So don’t expect normal cycles to drop anytime soon from their 2- to 3-hour mark. Fortunately, there’s some good news: While dishwasher makers are limiting the water and energy their normal cycle uses, no regulation blocks them from also offering quicker cycles that claim to wash either a fully soiled load or, more commonly, a lightly soiled one.

    We don’t recommend you pre-rinse dishes; today’s better dishwashers can get off even the grungiest stains. But if a quick pre-rinse turns your load into a “lightly soiled” one you can complete in a half hour, go for it. Models that include such cycles include most of our top dishwasher picks, including the Bosch Ascenta SHX3AR7[5]UC, $730; Kenmore Elite 12783, $1,200; Kenmore Elite 12793, $1,350; and KitchenAid KDFE454CSS, $1,500. Of these, the Bosch has the shortest normal cycle at 95 minutes.

    In the market for a new dishwasher? Check our buying guide for dishwashers before viewing our Ratings of almost 170 models.

    —Ed Perratore
    (on Twitter, follow @EdPerratore)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    FDA's proposed e-cigarette regulations don't go far enough

    The Food and Drug Administration finally took a first step toward regulating the fast growing market of e-cigarettes. Consumers, health advocates, and industry representatives will have until July 9 to comment on proposed regulations, which the agency made public today. “There’s a lot that's still unknown about e-cigarettes, including what’s really in them and how safe they are, so there’s a lot of work to do between now and then,” Marvin M. Lipman, M.D. Consumer Reports chief medical adviser, said. "And until more is known, think of every puff as a trip into the unknown with you as the guinea pig."

    The FDA will regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products, since the liquid nicotine in the devices comes from tobacco. Under the proposed rules, e-cig manufacturers would have to register with the FDA, provide a list of ingredients in the products, disclose scientific data and manufacturing processes, allow FDA inspectors into the plants, and put warning labels on products saying that they contain nicotine, an addictive substance. Manufacturers also would be prevented from marketing the products to people younger than 18 in person or online, sell them in vending machines in places where minors are allowed, offer free samples, or claim that the products are safer than cigarettes unless they get approval from the FDA by submitting scientific data.

    “Those are all good things,” Lipman said. “But there are some important gaps. For instance, the proposed regulations don’t ban flavored e-cigs, like bubble gum and grape, which may act as a come-on for kids." Nor do the new regs restrict the marketing of e-cigarettes by, for example, banning ads for the products on TV, as is done for cigarettes.

    Perhaps most important, the proposed regulations don’t make any judgment on the safety of the products or just how effective they are in helping people stop smoking. “Clearly, we need to know more about e-cigarettes, and what we do know isn’t reassuring,” Lipman said. For example, several recent studies have suggested that e-cigs may actually encourage smoking of cigarettes in teens. And poison control centers have reported a recent surge in calls linked to the devices.

    Beginning on Friday, you can read the proposed FDA e-cig regulations and comment on them. (Search for Docket No. FDA-2014-N-0189.) And share your experience with us including any problems stemming from children coming into contact with liquid nicotine.

    —Joel Keehn

    More of our e-cigarette coverage:

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    15 amazing products for $15 or less

    High-quality products don't have to come at a high price. We combed our ratings to find 15 top-performing products that sell for $15 or less. You won’t get fancy packaging or fancy features. But that’s the point: These items do exactly what they’re supposed to do without giving you extras you don’t want or need. (Click each product for more information.)

    Share your smartest money-saving tips in our best shopping deals discussion.

    Panasonic RP-TCM125 headphones (shown)


    Price: $10


    Why a bargain: Sound quality as good as some much higher priced models, and you can have them for $10! It has integrated function control, microphone, and call connect/disconnect.

    Check our buying guide and Ratings for headphones.

    Kirkland Signature alkaline batteries (Costco)


    Price: $13 for 48


    Why a bargain: Brand-name batteries can be quadruple the cost. These kept our flashlights and other gadgets powered for at least as long. Tip: Power up flashlights and remotes with inexpensive alkaline batteries. Save pricey lithium batteries for cameras and game controllers.

    Check our buying guide and Ratings for batteries.

    Accutire MS-4400B tire-pressure gauge


    Price: $11


    Why it's a bargain: Durable, accurate, and easy to use, this stick-type pressure gauge measures your tires’ air pressure from 5 to 99 PSI. The similar Accutire MS-4021B goes for about $10 and measures pressure up to 150 PSI.

    Check our buying guide and Ratings for tire-pressure gauges.

    ReliOn Rigid 60 Second thermometer (Walmart)


    Price: $6.95


    Why it's a bargain: Excellent accuracy and reliability in our tests makes this model a Consumer Reports Best Buy.


    Check our buying guide and Ratings for thermometers.

    Equate Ultra Protection Sunscreen SPF 50 (Walmart)


    Price: $7.50 for 16 oz.


    Why it's a bargain: This sunscreen blocks UVA and UVB rays, and you get a lot for the money.  In our tests, it was one of the best of 12 similar products tested and a Consumer Reports Best Buy.


    Check our buying guide and Ratings for sunscreens.

    Great Value Facial Tissues With Lotion (Walmart)


    Price: $1.46


    Why it's a bargain: Aaah. Lotion. Gentler on sore noses. This one is ultrasoft and a lot cheaper than big brands with lotion.


    Check our Ratings of facial tissues.

    Kirkland Signature Paper Towels (Costco)


    Price: $15 for 12 rolls


    Why it's a bargain: Costco’s paper towels are great at sucking up spills. So if you go through sheets like crazy, why pay more?


    Check our buying guide and Ratings for paper towels.

    White Cloud 3-Ply Ultra toilet paper


    Price: $6 for a 12-roll pack


    Why it's a bargain: Strength, softness, and disintegration time are all excellent. Not only is this toilet paper a Consumer Best Buy, it is also the No. 1 rated toilet paper tested in our labs!


    Check our buying guide and Ratings for toilet paper.

    Nu Finish NF-76 car wax


    Price: $8 for 16 oz.


    Why it's a bargain: A Consumer Reports Best Buy, the Nu Finish NF-76 is the No. 2 out of 12 liquid/gel wax in our ratings—and is less than half the of the No. 1 rated wax.


    Check our buying guide and Ratings for car wax.

    Elmer’s Ultimate glue


    Price: $5 for 4 oz.


    Why it's a bargain: Classic Elmer’s brand, in its Ultimate line, is excellent on wood and plastic, good on metal. Water resistance: very good. A Consumer Reports Best Buy.


    Check our buying guide and Ratings for glue.

    Kirkland Signature Dishwasher Pacs (Costco)


    Price: $10 for package of 110 pacs


    Why it's a bargain: Another great bargain product from Costco, these pacs made our dirty pots and dishes sparkle!


    Check our buying guide and Ratings for dishwasher detergent.

    Member’s Mark Ultimate Clean laundry detergent (Sam’s Club)


    Price: $14 for 177 oz.


    Why it's a bargain: It was second only to Tide Ultra Plus Bleach Vivid White+Bright in our lab tests—and it’s half the price! It out-cleaned dozens of big-brand and store-brand high-efficiency detergents at only 12 cents per medium-sized load.


    Check our buying guide and Ratings for laundry detergent.

    Mainstays 10” Nonstick Sauté Pan (Walmart)


    Price: $13


    Why it's a bargain: Fried eggs didn’t stick, and pancakes cooked as evenly as in some expensive pans.


    Check our buying guide and Ratings for cookware.

    Proctor Silex Cool Touch 22203 toaster


    Price: $15


    Why it's such a bargain: With such an affordable and great performance, this everyday appliance has made our annual bargain list three times.


    Check our buying guide and Ratings for toasters.

    Red Baron Singles Deep Dish Pizza, Cheese


    Price: $2.91 for two single-serving pies


    Whay it's a bargain: Keep these in your freezer and save on takeout. The crust is crisp and tasty, the cheese is good and stretchy, and the sauce has a nice kick.


    Check our buying guide and Ratings for frozen pizza.

    —Susan Feinstein

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    10 refrigerator brands that won't let you down

    Consumer Reports' refrigerator Ratings can help lead you to the model that's best suited to your space and styling needs, with precise temperature controls, ample storage, and the right mix of features. Yet even at 275 models (and counting), our Ratings may not include every refrigerator at your local home center or appliance dealer. With that scenario in mind, our statisticians and market analysts pored over several years of performance and reliability data to identify brands with the best track records. Here are the results, by refrigerator type: 

    Bottom-freezers. This category includes popular French-door and four-door refrigerators, as well as conventional bottom-freezers. Kenmore and Samsung have several models on our recommended list, including the top-scoring four-door model, the Samsung T9000. Both brands also have solid performance and reliability. Other safe bets among bottom-freezers are Amana, Electrolux, Frigidaire, KitchenAid, and Whirlpool. LG and Maytag are relatively safe bets (though it’s worth noting that when LG is on, it’s very on, with some of the highest-scoring models for the category). Less consistent brands are Fisher & Paykel, GE, and Haier.

    Side-by-sides. If you have a galley-style kitchen, or you want accessible freezer space, you might be considering a side-by-side, with its narrow door swing and fully vertical freezer compartment. But take note: this category has been the most temperamental, with no brands making our “Safe Bets” list. Relatively safe bets include Frigidaire, Hotpoint, and Maytag. Less constant brands include Amana, Electrolux, GE, Kenmore, Samsung, and Whirlpool. If you're considering a KitchenAid or LG side-by-side with an icemaker, well you might want to reconsider. Both have been repair-prone in our Product Reliability Surveys.  

    Top-freezers. This bargain category has models costing as little as $500. But if the refrigerator can't keep its cool, or it's continuously conking out, you won't be saving in the long run. Haier and LG offer solid performance and reliability. Haier has several winners, including a $600 CR Best Buy. Frigidaire and Kenmore are relatively safe bets, while Amana, GE, Hotpoint, Maytag, and Whirlpool have been less consistent.

    There you have it. Hopefully you can find a model from a brand with top performance and reliability. If your heart is set on a brand we've identified as less consistent, you can still consider it. But we urge you to stick with a model that scores well in our refrigerator Ratings.

    —Daniel DiClerico (@dandiclerico)  

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Advertising tactics that bug Americans the most

    Everybody has an ad come-on they love to hate. The top five, according to a recent nationally representative survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, are robocalls; false claims that you’ve won a prize or sweepstakes (Woody Grant, Bruce Dern's character in the 2013 film "Nebraska," would agree); bills that look real but aren’t; pop-up online ads, and hyperbolic ads for medical remedies. Least annoying of all the gripes we asked about: ads on billboards. (Check the infographic below for all the details. Download the image and share it with your friends and colleagues.)

    Read about the downside of too many product choices on store shelves. Check out the advertising goofs, glitches, and gotchas from our Selling It column.

    Women tend to get more annoyed than men, our survey of 1,000 Americans found, especially with fast-talking disclaimers; ads that target people based on past purchases, demographics, or behavior, and asterisks tied to tiny disclaimers in print or online ads.

    Adgravation also increases gradually with age. By the time Americans have passed 60, they’re much more annoyed than are those 18 to 29. Have they just grown tired of waiting for advertisers to tell it straight?

    This article also appeared in the June 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    What Isaac Asimov got right about today's robots

    Fifty years ago when science fiction writer Isaac Asimov attended the 1964 World’s Fair he imagined a 2014 world in which people ate pre-prepared “automeals,” cars traveled above the ground on jets of air, and robots helped around the house and yard. “Gadgetry will continue to relieve mankind of tedious jobs,” Asimov predicted. As Consumer Reports’ tests have shown, some of Asimov’s musings were spot on while others seem as remote today as they did then.

    “Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence,” Asimov wrote in The New York Times. That has been borne out in our tests in which a robotic vacuum cleaner shut itself in a room, a robotic gutter cleaner got mired in the muck, and the blades of a robotic mower continued to spin dangerously well after its mowing task was complete.

    Fortunately, in our most recent tests of robotic vacuum cleaners, we found two good enough to recommend. The Roomba 760, $450, was excellent on carpet and bare floors and not too noisy. And it was a cinch to set up.  The LG Hom-Bot Square LrV790R, $800, was very good at cleaning carpet and floors, easy to use and quiet. We also had success with the Winbot 710 and 730 window cleaning robots. They cleaned fingerprints, dust, and streaks, but sometimes missed a spot. The Winbots saved work but not necessarily time, averaging nearly 30 seconds per square foot of window cleaned compared to  8 seconds when cleaned  by hand.

    In Asimov’s vision of 2014, “Kitchen units will be devised that will prepare 'automeals,' heating water and converting it to coffee.” And indeed, most of the coffeemakers in our tests can be set at night to brew in the morning. Although, he underestimated today’s zest for home cooking when he said, “I suspect, though, that even in 2014 it will still be advisable to have a small corner in the kitchen unit where the more individual meals can be prepared by hand, especially when company is coming.” As it turns outs, today’s kitchens are bigger than ever.

    Asimov also predicted the trend towards cordless tools when he said, “the appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords, of course, for they will be powered by long-lived batteries.” But here’s an area where there’s still room for improvement. In Consumer Reports tests of outdoor power equipment, cordless mowers typically don’t perform as well as gas-powered mowers but we’ve seen advances in cordless string trimmers and leaf blowers.

    While Asimov’s visions of cities with moving sidewalks, cars that zoom along two-feet off the ground, and colonies on the moon are still the stuff of dreams, he was right about flat-screen TVs, Skype, and solar-power farms. Sadly, he was also right that we’d have “underwater housing,” just not in the way he envisioned.

    —Mary H.J. Farrell

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    2-in-1 coffeemaker-blender does neither task well

    If your morning routine includes a cup of coffee and a fresh-fruit smoothie, you might be tempted by the Hamilton Beach Java Blend Brewer/Blender 40918, $80. The two-in-one device combines a "to-go" style drip coffeemaker, complete with a 16-ounce travel mug, and a two-speed blender with a 32-ounce container. Sounds handy, plus the appliance's compact design can save space on the countertop. Unfortunately, those conveniences were not matched by stellar—or even steady—performance in our tests.

    As a blender, the Hamilton Beach scored a 31 out of a possible 100. The biggest ding came during our durability test, which involves repeated crushing of our large, tray-made ice cubes. Multiple samples failed the test, resulting in the lowest possible score. We also ran performance tests on the blender using smaller crescent-shaped ice cubes, which the manufacturer's manual recommends. The blender fared better in those tests, for example producing a very good pina colada. But that wasn't enough to lift its score.   

    Turning to our coffeemaker tests, the Hamilton Beach earned an overall score of 40. It fell short of industry guidelines for brewing temperature and duration, necessary for a flavorful cup of joe. It also was only marginally convenient to use, though to be fair no to-go coffeemaker scored better in this regard. But several models did deliver superior brewing, including the top-rated KitchenAid Architect KCM0402ACS, $100, with its excellent brewing performance.     

    Bottom line the Hamilton Beach Java Blend Brewer/Blender 40918 joins the long list of multi-functional appliances that are only middling at their multiple tasks. Especially if there's space on the countertop, you're better off investing in a full-size blender and coffeemaker. For an extra $10, you could have the recommended Mr. Coffee BVMC-EHX33CP coffeemaker ($30) and the Ninja Master Prep Professional QB1004 ($60) blender.

    —Daniel DiClerico (@dandiclerico)   

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Cub Cadet's zippy ZTR mower cuts like a champ

    Over Consumer Reports years of testing hundreds of mowers and tractors, our engineers have developed certain expectations. One is that a lawn tractor or zero-turn-radius rider with three blades won’t cut as evenly as a smaller machine with only two. Another is that a so-called “stamped” mowing deck, with its sleek curves, has smoother airflow—and thus better cutting—than a box-like fabricated deck of welded plates. But in our latest tests, the zero-turn Cub Cadet RZT L54, $3,300, upset both those expectations. And that's a good thing.

    The 54-inch Cub Cadet RZT L54, like most of the zero-turn-radius machines in our mower Ratings, cut more evenly than any of the wide-deck lawn tractors we tested on our mowing fields in Fort Myers, Florida. And among zero-turn riders, it also matched the performance of a machine with one of the best decks we’ve seen, the top-rated Troy-Bilt Mustang 42" 17WFCACS, $2,300, for the most commonly used mode, side-discharge cutting. MTD manufacturers both brands.

    Three-bladed riding machines typically leave a ridge of slightly higher grass in the area cut by the middle blade, but the three-bladed Cub Cadet avoided this tendency. Fabricated decks, considered more durable and found mostly on commercial tractors, typically don’t perform as well aerodynamically because the squarish angles impede airflow. Nevertheless, the Cub Cadet RZT L54 defied the odds—largely because of a raised section of the deck that guides clippings higher for broader dispersal.

    In addition to its performance in side-discharge mode, this rider also packed its bag to the brim in our tests in bagging mode. Fewer people tend to use a zero-turn-radius rider in bagging mode, but you might appreciate this capability if you bag either clippings or leaves. For bagging, it even outperformed the 42-inch John Deere X300, $3,000, one of the best baggers among lawn tractors.

    Unfortunately, in our brand-repair survey, we lacked enough information to include Cub Cadet among brands of zero-turn-radius riders, but the data we do have suggest that the brand may be repair-prone. As a result, we did not include the Cub Cadet RZT L54 among our top mower picks.

    Whatever machine you’re looking for, be sure to read our buying guide before viewing our Ratings of almost 170 walk-behind mowers, lawn tractors, and riders.

    —Ed Perratore
    (follow me on Twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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