Monday, February 15, 2010


This post comes to you live from the laundromat around the corner. It could be worse, but definitely there are other places I'd rather be. It's not that the laundromat is a dump - it's actually quite nice. It's also a wonderfully efficient way to get the laundry done - all those loads working in parallel. No, it comes down to the fact that I need to be here at all, and you can probably guess why. For a married man and homeowner there is a short list of reasons why I'd be at a laundromat: either 1) Hilary and I are on the outs, and I'm bach'ing it while the divorce papers process, oooooooor 2) the washing machine is on the fritz.

Actually, the washing machine has been on the fritz for a little while now. Sad tale, really: it's a rather nice, efficient, front-loading machine that provided us with five months of excellent service after we moved into the house. A few weeks ago it conked out, sending Hilary to the laundromat for an afternoon. But the washer was intelligent enough about its affliction to flash a cryptic error code that translated to a bad water temperature sensor. A $140 visit from the Sears repairman and about five minutes revealed that the sensor itself was just fine - it's cable had come loose. Well, the upshot of that unpleasant outlay of cash was that, when the same thing happened two weeks later, I was able to find and plug the cable back in myself.

Our current problem, however, goes much deeper than that. Yes, the same cable has come loose again, but I'm pretty sure that's secondary to the horrific screeching sounds it was making during its final spin cycle. One of the plastic fins that agitates the clothes has snapped off, too. Oh, and it started leaking profusely, which for a washer is never a good sign. I did a little poking around, tracing the small stream of water back to its source. The front loader has a horizontal perforated metal drum that holds the clothes and spins. But with all those holes and spinning, it is hardly water-tight - the actual containment is done by an outer plastic tub that the metal drum rotates in. This plastic tub is roughly cylindrical and spit into two halves. Some investigation with a flashlight (and improvising a dental mirror out of an old CD) revealed that the forward half of the tub has a nickel-sized chunk missing from it. It appears to have cracked from the inside out, like some small object got slammed into it during that fatal spin cycle.

So, now we face a choice: repair or replace. (The third option - sticking to the laundromat - just isn't up for consideration.) Searching through Sears' online part catalog showed me a replacement tub part is only about $160; backordered 1-2 weeks. The temperature sensor and cable assembly is just $20. I count myself a fairly handy guy. Being the front half of the tub, I might be able to access it by removing the front panel of the washer and, with some fluent cursing, replace it myself. It would help if I could locate a service manual for this model, which must be a really rare request, because no one at Sears has a clue where I could buy one. Even with a manual, I could expect to sink anywhere from an afternoon to a weekend in such an endeavor; perhaps a string of late nights. I'd much rather watch the olympics.

Another service call by Sears is an option. It'd be $75 for someone to diagnose and estimate the repairs. The parts cost, I am told, would be the same. The labor is a flat $140 per repair , which is probably a deal for a repair of this level and the value of my scant freetime. But, fixing the tub still doesn't explain the god-awful screeching that preceded the failure, nor how the tub got busted in the first place. Plus, the washer is approximately 5 years old from what I can tell, and it has mixed reviews online. In other words, we could sink $300 into this washer - one third to one half the replacement cost - but we'd be waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Without doing deep research, replacing the washer appears to be $700-1000. We could do some research (I'm thinking' Consumer Reports on this one) to find one that gets good reviews and is a touch more efficient. The key thing would be having something with a warranty. Maybe I can find a service manual from the get-go. It's no small amount of money, but in this case might be the right choice. Presumably we could have it delivered and the old one taken away.

Based on what I can tell of this surprisingly sophisticated machine, this failure seems analogous to a cracked cylinder head gasket in a 85,000-mile car. Sure, you could repair and get another few years out of it. Certainly it would be cheaper to fix it than it is to replace it. A part of me is leery of just junking a machine that is 85% fine (at least, I think it's not a breath away from total failure). A part of me wants it both ways: out in some money to repair it, sell it off as-is and maybe break even, then go ahead and get a new one.

Any thoughts or experience from the audience?


Art said...

For my part, I would be a bit leery of a washer that has a major failure after only 5 years. Our washer/ dryer set is probably 15 years old at this point. Yet, as you say, washers are fairly simple machines and parts are easy to put in. I think I would put the funds into a fix at least once --and have the tech find the cause of the screech while there, it could be as simple as a wet drive belt. Then if something else goes wrong, it definitely would be time for a replacement.

Brian said...

Replace the parts, sell it off for the cost of the replacement or maybe a little more, then get a new one. preferably as an anniversary or birthday present. Nothing says love like "I'll never make you go to the laundromat again".

On the other hand, the laundromat in West Leb, across from the Chili's, does present interesting possibilities for Date Night.
Good luck with it.

Katie said...

There's always the option of seeking out a floor model from one of the big box stores. We got our floor model Samsung 328 washer marked down more than 50% that way. I think it was ~600, including the pedestal.