Lesson from a broken washing machine

In Happy Hats on September 19, 2010 at 8:31 pm

Washing Machine, Spring, Texas 0329091303BW

Our washer decided to stop spinning on the rinse cycle and drain the water last Sunday.  My husband and I were at a loss.  We had a full load of work clothes in the wash, immersed in soapy water and not a clue of what to do next.

In Mexico I would have asked my sister or my mom if they knew a trusty plumber that could do a good job and not charge much.  We would then call him or go to his house and ask him to go fix the washing machine, and the plumber would usually have time to earn some extra cash on a Sunday.

My experience having things fixed here in the U.S. is completely different.  Our gas oven stopped working one day.  We called the company and they scheduled a technician that was able to come 3 or 4 days later.   I do not use the oven that often so it wasn’t a big deal.  The technician came, and what I learned was priceless.

The technician arrived, set out his laptop on the floor, looked up our stove model number and pulled up the specs.  He then took out the oven lid and turned it on, it didn’t light up.  He showed us the piece that wasn’t working.  Looked up the piece number and said “okay, it’s going to be $160 for today.  I have to replace the ignitor.  The part is $120.  You won’t have to pay labor, it is already included in today’s bill.  Or you can consider buying a new stove. ”  We said we would think about it.  After all, if you’re going to pay $280 for a repair, might as well check out a new stove.

The technician left and I was left unsatisfied with the whole situation.  The stove looked just fine, solid, clean, and ready to last for another 20 years if we could only change the part.  But paying another $120 for the part seemed just too much money.  And we couldn’t be paying $120 dollars every time something stopped working and had to be replaced.

I decided to look for the part myself.  The part cost us $25 dollars plus shipping and handling.  It took me 30 minutes to replace it.

When the washing machine stopped working I was not so confident it would be something we could fix.  To me, washing machines have always fallen in the realm of the trusty plumbers.  They know what to do and it always seemed really complex.  I can still remember from when I was 9 years old or so, this old guy with dirty overalls and hands full of oil, disassembling our washing machine in our patio in Mexico and poking it here and there, then having to come back the next day to try and fix it again, and finally managing to patch it up after a full afternoon of sweating and looking frustrated.  I couldn’t really see me or my husband attempting to do anything that convoluted.

But then I didn’t want us to pay $250 or so dollars to have the washing machine fixed. And I didn’t want to go buy another one.  Something about throwing away big appliances makes me cringe.  The image of them taking up space in a landfill seems bad.

So I decided to look up the symptoms in Google and from there determine if it was something we could take on or if we had to part with a big chunk of our money to have an expert come and repair it.  It turned out it was something that didn’t look that difficult to fix.  Everything pointed to the lid switch.  I pulled out the washing machine specs with the model number, located the part and looked for a good price.  Ordered it online for $15 dollars plus shipping and handling, and then looked for instructions on how to replace the switch.  I found a couple of really good videos in YouTube.

Looking at the videos and my experience, I now think the old guy in dirty overalls was brave for doing his job without the resources that would’ve made a difference for him.  In my mind he gets points for determination.

So, the part arrived.  We left it on the kitchen counter as we waited for Friday. My husband disassembled the washing machine on Friday night, I replaced the switch on Saturday morning, and then my husband re-assembled the washing machine right after that.  Took us in all about 30 minutes to do.  Now we have a functioning washing machine.  I am very proud of us!  We stretched beyond our perceived limits and managed to do something we thought we couldn’t do.

We feel a lot more confident now in exploring whether a repair is something we can try out.  We are not completely at the mercy of trusty technicians.  Little victories over my own perceived limitations are sweet and addictive.  I want more.

If my post resonated with you and you know other people who would find it interesting, practical or inspiring, please share it with them by email, facebook or twitter.  Sharing is the only way my writing will reach new readers.  Thank you!


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