Before you throw it away, try to fix it

replacement spider arm (left) for a side-loading washing machine

One of the amazing aspects of the age that we live in is the wealth of knowledge that is at your fingertips via the internet. One of the benefits of this fact is that we can learn to do something that before this point in time, would require a huge commitment of time and energy. One of the ways that we can optimize this is to learn to fix something in our home that we would otherwise have thrown away, replaced or paid someone else to repair.

Cautions

There are a few things to consider before you take on a repair project: If you cannot fix it, will you be worse off (in other words are you prepared to replace it)? Sometimes, DIY projects can take significantly more time than we anticipate, can you spare the time to take it to its completion? Is this project larger or more complex than you have attempted in the past? Does this project have the potential to cause discord in your home if it takes longer, grows in scope or costs more than anticipated?

My Journey

My first home DIY project was replacing a light switch. I was so worried about electrocution, that I shut off ALL of the breakers in the house. Just in case. The entire time I was sweating and wondering if I missed a breaker, assuming my roommates would come home in a few hours to discover a smoking, charred mass that was once me. Looking back, I find the experience laughable, but at the time, my fear and my ignorance was very real. This switch replacement occurred before we were blessed with the internet so I was unable to google the process or look up a YouTube video.

How to go about fixing something yourself

If you have looked through the list of cautions above and you are still comfortable trying it out for yourself, the first thing you need to do is try to narrow down the problem in as few words as possible.

For example, in my story in the paragraph above, I could try searching for the phrase – light doesn’t work. It is vague, but if I don’t know anything else, it will get me started. That search will provide a bunch of sites and videos that will walk me through some troubleshooting processes so that I can narrow down the problem. If I am unable to find anything useful, it might give me enough information to create a clearer set of search terms. Sometimes, the hardest part is figuring out how to phrase the question so that your search engine can find an answer.

It is helpful to recognize that there a few possibilities in my first DIY project: it could be the entire circuit from the circuit breaker box, it could be the switch, the light fixture or the wires in between the switch and the fixture. Understand that a decent troubleshooting tutorial will consider all of those options, but it will consider the most likely problem first.

My recent big project

Last week I took apart a washing machine in order to replace the spider arm (pictured). Thanks to my good friends Google and Youtube, it was a breeze. This was the process:

The first thing that I noticed over the last few weeks was that there was small pieces of plastic that looked like it had been gouged out of something. I was not sure that it was coming from the machine, but it did seem likely because I was finding them on the basement floor and in the lint catcher in the dryer. The problem was that I had no idea where in the machine it was coming from. I also began to notice the mild smell of burning plastic in the basement. This was concerning, but I could not tell where it was coming from. I considered that it was related the pieces of plastic I was finding, but was not positive. One day, as the washing machine was in its final spin cycle, I noticed that it was really, really loud. Alarmingly loud. So I shut it off and when I opened the door, smoke came out and the smell of burning plastic was really strong. Finally, I had confirmation that there was a problem and it was coming from the washing machine.

I had no idea what could be causing this issue, so I took to Google and typed: Side-load washer spin loud plastic pieces

It was as specific as I could get. A bunch of posts came up in the list that mentioned the spider arm and so that was my guess.

The washing machine was 15 years old so we were OK with the idea of replacing it. This also gave me the confidence to try and fix it. Once I took the washer apart and we realized that with the parts, replacing a few seals, bearings and gaskets it was going to cost $200. We decided that a comparable washing machine would be around $700 and this one had been working so well for us that we decided to go forward with the repair. If we get 6 months out of it, we will consider the experience worth it (also a valuable learning experience).

It should be noted that the from the time a took a screw driver to the first screw until the time I plugged it back in, it was down for 8 days. The reason why it took so long was that first I had to confirm that it was the spider arm that needed replacing. Once I saw that it was badly cracked (actually surprising that it did not do real damage to the machine), I ordered the part. I did not take it fully apart because I needed a 6 point socket due to the fact that I was stripping the heads of the bolts, so a few days later, I pulled the bolts. Only then did I realize that the bolts should be replaced. I am sure that my wife was nervous every morning she woke to the realization that the basement was still occupied by the pieces of a non-operational washing machine, wondering if it would ever be reassembled. But, we survived.

Once I received all of the parts, 2 hours of labor put it back together. The first time running the machine after a repair is always the scariest. I put it through a rinse and spin cycle and it ran like it was brand new.

Final warnings

Let me reiterate that if you are new to DIY fixit projects, start small. Build your confidence and your skill set over time. If you are uncertain about any project, always ensure that you cannot make it worse than it already is (in other words be prepared to replace it or call in a professional to take over).

The rewards are high – you save money and the satisfaction that comes with solving these problems is difficult to match. eAnd, bcause we live in a time that the ability to repair is not as common as it once was, you might even impress your friends with your new skills.