Monday, July 02, 2012

Appliance Repair

At least once a year, I have some kind of appliance break-down: my refrigerator stopped chilling food, washing machine electronics went bad, dishwasher started leaking, icemaker stopped making ice – the list goes on and on. Against my wife’s better judgment, I decided to try and fix these problems myself.
I like the idea of repairing things rather than throwing them out and getting new ones. There are so many benefits, including:
  • Saving money by not hiring a repair person and even more money by skipping out on buying a new appliance
  • Feeling a big sense of accomplishment when you can find and fix a problem yourself
  • Having a great excuse to take something apart and figure out how it works
  • Helping the planet by keeping old appliances out of a landfill

6 General Tips for Repairing Appliances

1. Reader’s Digest Fix It Yourself manual

This book is a great resource for troubleshooting and repairing everything in your house including appliances. I received this as a gift years ago, and it has saved me hundreds of dollars in repair costs. The sections on individual appliances are short and sometimes lack the depth required for a complete fix, but they usually have excellent diagrams and troubleshooting guides. I often go to this book first for troubleshooting appliance problems.

2. Learn to use a multimeter

A multimeter is an inexpensive tool that can measure voltages and resistances (and sometimes other electrical properties). You should be able to find a decent one for $10-20. Make sure that it measures AC and DC voltage and resistance, as these will be the most common measurements you will need to make. I would also recommend getting a model with an audible continuity check feature. This will make a beeping sound whenever you touch the multimeter’s probes to something that is electrically connected; this makes it handy to do continuity checks on wires without having to keep your eyes on the multimeter’s display. Click here for a good tutorial on multimeters.


This is a great website for ordering appliance parts. Shipping is inexpensive and fast – the company is based in Oklahoma so parts often arrive in Austin the next day. This site is also a great resource for repair advice. They have extensive forums, and by searching for the model number of appliance you can use an interactive parts diagram help you quickly find the exact part you need.

4. Google search for service manuals

Often appliance manufacturers will create detailed service manuals that they release only to "authorized service technicians." By searching for your manufacturer and model number along with the phrase “service manual” you can usually find online versions of these usually inaccessible manuals. These manuals are great and tend to include very detailed troubleshooting guides and steps on replacing individual parts of the appliance.

5. YouTube videos

YouTube is a great resource for figuring out how to disassemble an appliance, which is often the hardest part of the repair. I start by searching for videos of the exact model of the appliance, but sometimes I find a different model from the same manufacturer. Even if they are not the same model number, these videos are still useful, as manufacturers tend to use the same general design for many different models of an appliance. For instance, if you can find a video that shows how to disassemble one model of Whirlpool washing machine, it will usually still be of help because they tend to put hidden screws or connectors in the same places from model to model.

6. Whirlpool and GE do it yourself repair manuals

I have not used these manuals, but Whirlpool and GE both have a series of repair manuals for the do-it-yourselfer. There tends to be one manual for each appliance type – one for dishwashers, one for refrigerators, and so on.

When You May Need Help from the Experts

Occasionally you might be faced with a repair that’s beyond your abilities, and it is wise to know when to admit defeat and call in a professional repair person. Sometimes a repair costs more than replacing the whole appliance, or the repair requires lots of very specialized equipment – like when the refrigeration system goes bad in a refrigerator. And frankly, sometimes time just is not on your side like when you have a mountain of clothes that need to be washed right away or all your frozen food is in a cooler.
There are also instances when a repair will involve something you are not comfortable doing – for instance, I do not repair things that involve natural gas because it makes me nervous. In those cases, do not be afraid to call a professional repair person. If you do have to take that route, I encourage you to watch and learn from what that repair person does. Generally, if you explain to a repairman that you would like to learn how to make repairs and are genuinely interested, they will not mind if you look over their shoulder as they make the repair. I have found that they will be pleased that you are interested and will explain lots of “insider” tips as they make the repair.
Your friends and family might think you are a little crazy at first for trying to repair your own appliances, but after you have pulled off a successful fix, everyone will be impressed by your appliance repair wizardry.

Disclaimer: The author of this post accepts no responsibility for any injuries or damages that may occur from any advice in this posting.  Doing repairs can be dangerous and if you are unsure of something please consult a professional before attempting a repair.

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