The Insider: Fridge-freezers

Looking for cheap chills? Try these cool cabinets

Choosing a fridge-freezer can seem quite a daunting task. With hundreds of models to choose from, and prices ranging from £150 to £1,800, where do you start?

The good news is that you don't have to spend a fortune. When the consumer group Which? recently tested more than 100 fridge-freezers, three models costing under £500 all received overall ratings of more than 80 per cent – while one of its "Best Buys", the Indesit BAN1NF, costs just £250. It scored 79 per cent in Which?'s tests.

But the very cheapest models are usually worth avoiding. The Fridgemaster MTRF140, will set you back just £150 – but it performed poorly in Which?'s tests, scoring just 43 per cent.

"You don't have to spend a fortune to get a great fridge-freezer, but they're not cheap to run," says Martyn Hocking, editor of Which? magazine. "Cooling appliances are the biggest domestic guzzlers of energy after central heating, as they're always on. Running costs can vary from £25 to as much as £100 a year."

Energy efficiency is an important factor. It's not enough simply to pick a model that boasts an A or A+ energy efficiency rating, as running costs can vary considerably between A-rated appliances. Of the 16 fridge-freezers under £500 tested by Which?, 15 were A-rated and the other had an A+ rating. However, the annual running costs ranged between £25 and £40.

The other main factor is how good the appliance is at cooling and freezing. Surprisingly, there's quite a difference in the speed at which various models can cool something from room temperature to 5C. Hotpoint's FF187E came out as the best at this in the sub-£500 range.

Next, you may want to consider what additional functions are important to you. "Fridge-freezers can come with a whole range of additional features, from can-holders to ice dispensers, and super-freeze settings to alarms that let you know when the door's been left open," Hocking says. "Think about how much space you have, your shopping habits, and your budget, and pick a model that has the features you'll really use."

Finally, consider whether you really need a full-size fridge freezer. If you live alone, or don't keep much frozen food, you can probably get away with buying a smaller fridge with a freezer compartment. You can pick one of these up for £100 or so. The Beko RAP614W, for example, is a Which? Best Buy and costs about £120.

Where to buy

Which?'s top-rated fridge-freezer for less than £500, the John Lewis JLFFW1807, is only available at John Lewis. You'll also find a number of other good-quality models in its stores or on its website. Other high-street options are Comet, Argos and Currys – but the best deals are usually found online. If you know the model you want, comparison sites such as froogle.co.uk, kelkoo.co.uk and whichcompare.co.uk allow you to search for the lowest prices – but check delivery costs before you get too excited about a low headline price.

Five questions to ask...

What is the machine's energy efficiency rating? Ratings range from A+ through to D. Broadly speaking, the higher the rating the lower the running costs will be.

Does it need defrosting? Some fridge-freezers come with a "frost free" function, which means that they don't need to be defrosted.

How big is it? Sizes vary considerably, so make sure that you've got the space for your new appliance before you order.

How quickly does it cool? Some fridge-freezers will cool down food and liquids much quicker than others.

What extra functions does it have? Some models come with ice dispensers, water coolers and door alarms (to warn you when you've left the door open).

The Insider is written in conjunction with the consumer group Which?. For more information, visit www.which.co.uk/fridgefreezers or get a guide to Best Buy home appliances in 'Which? Money', on sale at Sainsbury's for £2.99. To get three issues of 'Which?' magazine for £3, call 01992 822 800 and quote INADVICE

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