There was a time when a dishwasher's price was largely determined by the number of cycles and little else. So, when someone was looking for a new dishwasher, the primary factor that determined the price range of what they would buy was how many cycles it had. So, most people went for models that had very few cycles, as there weren't many differences otherwise. "It's just for me. I don't need all those cycles. What's the cheapest dishwasher you have?" Well, let's see what you get when you buy the cheapest dishwasher.
The cheapest dishwasher today is around $200-250. Dishwashers have come so far in the last 15 years that keeping to the same price range from 15 years back will end up getting you something of significantly lower cleaning power, higher noise, and reduced lifespan.
For instance, base model dishwashers will have vinyl-coated racks. Vinyl starts soft, but becomes brittle with heat, moisture, and bleach that's in detergent. Then, it cracks, allowing water and bleach to get on the steel racks beneath. Ever seen rusty dishwasher racks? Ever gotten one of those little rack repair kits? Vinyl is the reason for that. And, racks aren't cheap. A single rack without anything attached to it costs about $80, plus about $10 shipping. So, replacing two racks on a $200-$250 dishwasher will cost almost as much as the entire machine. 80-90% cost of repair versus replacing doesn't make repair a very good option.
Base model dishwashers usually lack a wash arm on the ceiling inside the tub. What does that mean? Well, the bottom rack gets cleaned from below and above, but the top rack only gets cleaned from below, with whatever sneaks past the dishes raining down on the dishes from above. A wash arm on the tub ceiling ensures cleaning from both directions on the top rack, so you don't have to worry about re-cleaning dishes. Every load you re-wash is costing you water, energy, and detergent. Money.
Today's dishwashers are also much quieter. The base models, while quieter than models from 15 years ago, are the loudest ones on the market today. While noise might not be the biggest factor, it's something that most people consider at least a little when shopping for a dishwasher. If you could have a quieter dishwasher, wouldn't you rather have that instead of noisier?
So, what does going up the line a little bit get you? Quite a bit! First, you'll get better materials. The racks, instead of being coated with vinyl, will be coated with nylon. Nylon stays strong up to ten times longer than vinyl, so you don't have to worry about racks rusting out. You'll also get a wash arm in the top of the tub, so the top rack gets cleaned from both above and below, reducing re-cleaning needs. And, you'll get at least a three decibel noise reduction
The big question: how much does all this cost me? Not all that much. Instead of $200-250 (white/black) or $350 (stainless steel), you'll be looking at about $400 (white/black) or $500 (stainless steel). That price difference will gain you a longer lifespan, better cleaning, and quieter operating. Over the average major appliance lifespan (10 years), it's just $15/year more. $1.25/month. FOUR CENTS A DAY. When we spend 15-25 cents per load on detergent alone, doesn't just four more cents make sense?