Tips on shopping for a deal on a refrigerator and Consumer Reports' latest ratings.

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For anyone who’s been waiting to replace a refrigerator, this could be the right time to get a good deal. According to the editors of Consumer Reports, prices are stable, energy use is about half of what it was in 1990, and stores need to make room for new models. Plus, there are more features in every price range.

Even economy models priced as low as $500 now offer spill-proof shelves, gallon-jug storage on the door and icemakers. Midpriced refrigerators ($1,000 to $1,500) have water and ice dispensers on the door plus a choice of a stainless-steel or stylish high-gloss finish that’s easy to clean. Inside, they feature temperature-controlled drawers that help keep food fresh longer.

Spending more than $2,500 gets design innovations such as sleek, integrated water dispensers, drawers that quickly chill foods or LED lighting.

Making the grade

CR recently spent months testing dozens of refrigerators, from relatively basic white boxes to four-door refrigerators and built-in refrigerator and freezer columns.

The top-freezer refrigerators that earned CR’s highest ratings are the Whirlpool ET1FTEXS ($850), which is also both a CR Best Buy and a Quick Pick, the Maytag MTB2254ME ($800) and the GE Profile PTS22LHR ($1,350).

For bottom-freezer refrigerators, the top-rated models were the Samsung RF266AA ($1,600), a CR Quick Pick and the KitchenAid KBFS25ET ($1,700), which was both a CR Best Buy and a Quick Pick.

The highest-rated side-by-side refrigerator was the Amana ASD2627KE ($1,350), both a CR Best Buy and a Quick Pick. For built-ins, the GE Monogram ZICS360NR ($6,400) and the KitchenAid KBFC42F ($6,600) tied for the top spot.

Other findings

Efficiency is on the rise. Energy Star refrigerators made after April 28 must be 20 percent more efficient than the current federal standard, an increase of 5 percent over those made before that date. The difference might amount to only a few dollars a year per household. Yet if the almost 3.5 million Energy Star-qualified refrigerators sold in 2006 had met the new criterion, we’d use 90 million fewer kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, equivalent to the greenhouse-gas emissions of 12,500 cars.

More models have dispensers. Water and ice dispensers are now available on all types of refrigerators. But through-the-door ice dispensers on French-door models typically make far less ice than those on side-by-sides or even French-door models with icemakers in the freezer.

A bargain brand stumbles. Ikea, the home-products retailer from Sweden, also sells appliances. But at $700 in stainless steel, its refrigerator was somewhat noisy and mediocre at keeping food cold, shortcomings that helped put it at the bottom of CR’s ratings of top-freezers.

Features that count

According to Consumer Reports, these elements enhance convenience:

• Temperature-controlled drawers, such as meat drawers and express chill and express thaw drawers.

• Pullout shelves, which make it easier to see and reach items in back.

• Split or half shelves, which allow room for tall items.

• Digital controls with temperature readouts, since they’re more precise than a dial.

• LED lighting, which uses light-emitting diodes instead of regular bulbs.

• Dual evaporators, a design that keeps food fresh longer by keeping items moist.