When choosing an appliance, ease of operation and time-saving features are certainly a priority. But reliability and service also count for a lot.
According to Consumer Reports "Best Buys for Your Home," 2004 edition, the Whirlpool appliances I tested have performed well. The organization's brand repair histories, listed in the same publication, ranked the Whirlpool brand most reliable in the dishwasher and dryer category, third in clothes washers and fourth in electric ranges. The rating for refrigerators, which is posted on Consumer Reports' Web site (www.consumerreports.org) but not in the book, ranked Whirlpool first in all three refrigerator categories -- side-by-side with icemaker and dispenser, top or bottom freezer with icemaker and top or bottom freezer without icemaker.
Consumer Reports tested kitchen food disposals and kitchen exhaust fans for the first time this year; the models I used were not tested.
As to my own experience with the Whirlpool appliances during the six months that I tested them, they performed well. My only problem was with a KitchenAid disposal manufactured by In-Sink-Erator, the original equipment manufacturer for about 80 percent of all disposals sold in the United States.
The model I tested was a batch-feed type that Whirlpool does not sell, but its sister company KitchenAid does. I prefer the batch-feed type because of the way it is turned on -- you put in the sink stopper and turn it about five degrees. The advantage is that you can't accidentally get a hand or finger caught, a plus that was also noted by Consumer Reports in its initial February testing and rating of disposals. We have always had the batch-feed type, and my children are terrified of the more common continuous-feed type of disposal that is operated with a wall switch.
Safety concerns with the continuous feed disposals do not seem to be an issue with the buying public, however. Pete Young of In-Sink-Erator said consumers vastly prefer this type because it is less prone to break down, and it costs less.
Anecdotal evidence also suggests the safety issue may be overblown. In 28 years of working in emergency rooms, physician Christopher J. Davis of Vashon, Wash., said he has never seen a garbage grinder injury, nor, he added, has a colleague ever described such an injury.
The Whirlpool service representative who came to repair the batch-feed disposal took one look at the problem -- the switch was stuck in the on position -- then said the unit was covered by a full seven-year warranty and replaced it, no questions asked. Other than the switch problem, the disposal was better than my old one. With a one-horsepower motor, it grinds the garbage quickly, and it is quieter.