It’s been a comedy of failures around my place lately, with the “new” wearing off the house and its contents and lots of little issues cropping up. It’s given me a lot of opportunity to think about the perfect way to buy products you expect to use for years to come — whether that’s a dishwasher, an air conditioning unit, or a high-end power tool. And I’ve discovered that no matter how I come at the problem, I almost always end up seeking a balance between price and features.
I know this seems pretty obvious, but looking a little deeper, it’s a lot harder to figure than one might suspect.
Take, for example, my dishwasher. The one that came with the house held up pretty well until about a year ago, when it started not getting all the crap off the dishes and generally being a pain in the ass. I put it back together a few times, fixing little issues and such, but recently it got so bad that we jokingly put a sign on it reading “please wash dishes before running dishwasher.” Doh.
And so the feature onslaught began. A basic “it washes dishes” dishwasher (placing it squarely ahead of the one I currently owned) started at around $300. Fancy models ranged upwards of $1,000. Where’s the price line? A little research uncovered that up to around the $500 point, quality ratings and available features increased steadily. But of the over-$500 models, some received great ratings and some less. Some even rated poorly on quality. My read: beyond the $500, I was buying features, not quality. So we bought right around that point — since we generally don’t care too much about the advanced features.
Power tools aren’t that different, at least in our experience. With some exceptions, of course, you generally see a pretty linear correlation between price and quality(/reliability) starting at the lowest-priced units up until some point — which we’ll call the “price/quality line” — at which the relationship breaks down. Some “above-the-line” units continue to follow the relationship, pricing higher and offering advanced features which increase reliability. But for the most part, above the line, you’re just buying individual features.
One other factor to consider with power tools: the job. What are you going to do with the tool? The biggest mistake we see tool consumers make is overestimating the needs of the jobs for which they’ll use their new tools. Bigger isn’t always better, and there are lots of downsides to buying a tool bigger and/or more powerful than you’ll need. For one, they’re more expensive. $150 to $200 will easily buy you a decent 18V drill/driver, but step up to a 36V model and you’ll pay twice that (or more). Sure, that extra torque lets you drill bigger holes, but how often do you need to drill a 1-3/4″ hole in 1/2″ steel? If the answer’s never, you probably wasted $150 or more on the 36V.
They’re heavier, too. If you drill that big-ass hole twice in the course of two years, but you drill smaller holes, say, 100 times, you lugged that sucker around 98 times unnecessarily. Consider, too, that you probably could have borrowed the big drill from a friend, or even rented one for less than your $150 difference.
Of course, this isn’t always the case, and I’m not suggesting that everyone should avoid buying large and powerful power tools. I’m just saying that it’s worth the time to examine one’s use cases before shelling out the dough. It’s a great way to uncover whether you want that monster tool because it’ll make your life better, or because Tim Allen made you think it’s cool.
So what do you think? What’s your thought process when you go tool (or dishwasher) shopping? How do you balance your needs and wants to buy tools that move you toward your project goals instead of holding you back from them?