The cold, hard truth about buying a fridge in Mexico

A side by side refrigerator is cheaper than the French door style. Photo: Courtesy
A side by side refrigerator is cheaper than the French door style. Photo: Courtesy

Purchasing the right refrigerator in Mexico can be stressful. Here’s our guide to making the right decisions.

About five months ago, our 11-year-old fridge in our Mexico home started making this loud, humming noise. A few months prior, the water dispenser on the door began leaking, and the ice dispenser completely stopped working. I knew that we were likely living on borrowed time because the average life span of a refrigeradora is about 10 years.

Sure enough, this week, the humming noise got louder for nearly a minute and then went deathly quiet.

With so many options available for fridges, it can be overwhelming to determine which one is the best for your needs. Rather than looking at them all and trying to compare each one, it is best to narrow the field. I do this with almost all big-ticket purchases. It keeps me from being overwhelmed so that I can purchase correctly and quickly.

Selecting from three options is less stressful than choosing from 30. To eliminate options that won’t work, start with the size of the fridge.    

If your fridge is for a new condo, you will want to measure the space allowance. Space allowance is the size of the cut out in your kitchen allocated for your fridge. Depth and height are not usually as important as width, but it is a good idea to get all measurements to be sure. Pay special attention to your upper cabinetry and baseboards since they can impact space allowance. Another word of advice – walls, ceilings, and floors in Mexico are not always flush. Check each dimension in a few spots. This way, you can make sure there will be no surprises such as one side sticking out or it not sliding in easily.          

If you are replacing an existing fridge, like I am, and the fridge fits well in the space, you can measure the dimensions of your current refrigerator. When measuring depth, make sure to measure from the wall to the front face of your fridge.

It’s a good idea to leave an extra inch all around the fridge for circulation and ventilation. If you don’t, the fridge motor will have to work harder, and it may lessen its lifespan.

Another important measurement is the depth of your counter. Do you want your fridge to align with the front of the cupboards if possible or is it all right if the fridge sticks out? Many kitchens have islands. If so, check to make sure there is enough clearance to open the fridge doors and walk by when the doors are open. You are better to know this information before you start looking at style options.

Before you put away your measuring tape, also record the dimensions of any doorways. Sometimes fridges come as part of a condo sales package and the developer might have put the refrigerator in the unit before the door jambs. If you need to remove the jambs, at least you will know ahead of time so you can plan for it.

The next decision to make is the style you prefer. There are four main styles: the French door, side by side, top freezer and bottom freezer.

French door fridges

The most popular fridge style today is the French door style. This style is one with side by side doors and a bottom freezer. It is an excellent solution if you have ample space in your kitchen and extra room in your budget. If you eat a lot of fresh produce, deli, and dairy items, this is an excellent style since everything will be within easy reach. This type of fridge is perfect for large items such as a pizza box or full-size turkey. Since you can pull the freezer door straight out, and the doors require only half the space to swing out, it is perfect for narrower spaces. If you like bells and whistles, you can easily find them in a French door style refrigerator. Many come with ice makers, ice/water dispensers, LED screens, and smart technology. There are more colors and finishes available in french door fridges than other styles. Unfortunately, freezers in French door fridges do not have the best shelving. They usually have just a couple of big drawers, so if you have a lot of frozen goods, you need to be prepared to do some digging.

Side by side fridges

This two-door style of refrigerator has the freezer on the left side and cooler on the right. If you eat more frozen than fresh food, this is a better style than the other types since it will be easier to see and access everything without having to bend down. A side by side fridge offers the best organization for frozen food.

Side by side fridges cost less than French door fridges, which is a definite plus if your budget is limited. If space is also limited, it is also a good choice. The doors don’t use up as much space as the top or bottom freezer style. With side by side fridges, you can add on features such as ice makers, water dispensers and LED screens. If having lots of compartments and shelves on the doors is important, you may feel limited with a side by side fridge. Remember that the doors are narrower than the other styles meaning less storage.  

Top and bottom freezers

These are the classic models with which we are most familiar. The doors are full width. They come with a basic, practical freezer. The only difference between the top and bottom style is where you find the freezer. For those who want a basic fridge or who have a limited budget, this is the best choice. Since they typically do not come with any extra features like water dispensers, ice machines, or LED screens, not only is the price lower, but you will stand a better chance of not having to repair it. Make sure you have a lot of space allowance since these styles of fridges require more room for the full-width door to open. If you have a lot of items you need to store in the freezer portion, this may not be the best option since the freezers tend to be smaller.

Some other variables to consider:

Fridge capacity

The good news is you don’t have to become an expert on fridge capacity. As a rule of thumb, for a family of four, most manufacturers recommend 18 to 22 cubic feet. For each additional person, add another two cubic feet. Far more important is a good layout when it comes to the drawers and shelves.

Energy Efficiency

With growing concern about our carbon footprint, energy efficiency is often an essential factor. New refrigerators are far more efficient than they were 20 years ago. There are still some variances depending on the brand.

Look for fridges with an EPA Energy Star rating since this designation means it is rated as one of the best for its efficiency.  Check out the Energy Guide label as well. It will show you the estimated annual operating costs and kilowatt-hours used per year. 

Overall, top-freezer fridges are considered more energy efficient compared with other fridge door styles.  

Where to purchase?

You can purchase your fridge at your local appliance store or a big-box chain.  

Big-box retailers have national buying power, so their prices on specific models are sometimes a little lower than at local appliance stores.

But today, many local appliance retailers belong to a buying group. They buy in bulk to be able to offer about the same prices as big-box retailers. Regardless, what most people do not realize is that the price difference is often quite low, sometimes only MXN 500 or MXN 1000 (UD 25 or USD 50).

I recommend supporting your local store. Most important, it keeps more money locally, meaning support of local jobs and families.

Local retailers also have service technicians to work on your appliances should they need repairs. Don’t underestimate how important this is. Appliances are a lot less expensive than they used to be, but they generally only last five to seven years, 10 at the most. With all the features fridges have today, you are likely to need it serviced or repaired at least one to two times during its lifetime.

Another reason to buy from your local retailer is the knowledge of their staff. They sell appliances, not a warehouse of thousands of items. Salespeople receive regular product training and updates. As a result, they are far more knowledgeable than big box store employees. They also hear feedback daily from their customers about features, advantages, disadvantages, problems, etc. after the sale, so they know which products to recommend.

Finally, remember to factor in the cost of delivery. Most big-box retailers do not offer free delivery, whereas most appliance retailers do. You can hire an independent delivery company, but they usually do not unpack and install the appliance. Sometimes, they won’t even bring the product inside the house or remove it from the box.

Since local retailers deliver fridges every day, they have more experience and can make sure that your appliance will get into your home without damage.

Should you hire a third party for the delivery, with limited experience in handling fridges, you will likely end up holding the bag if the refrigerator gets damaged.

Sheryl Novak sells furniture to expats in Mexico at SOLutions.com. Need appliances for your home in Mexico? Email sa.novak@solutionsmexico.com.

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