The News From 2Dits Farm: When Good Washing Machines Go Bad

It’s a dangerous business, going through your cellar door. You never know what might need fixing.

Case in point: last week, after a few days of beautiful weather which finally allowed me to get into the garden and start the spring cleaning, I had accumulated quite a pile of muddy work clothes, so when we got a day of April showers, naturally I planned to use the respite by catching up on the laundry. When the first load was washed, I went downstairs to load the dryer. No doubt I was thinking about something else, installing drip irrigation in the gardens, perhaps. I reached into the washer and pulled out a sopping wet sweatshirt. Reality broke into my musings with a bang. “Oh, sh–, that’s not good,” I said. (Not exactly profound, but what do you say when the world slips sideways for an instant? Right, that’s what I thought.)

There was no water in the tub, indicating that the machine had filled, rinsed, and drained just fine. There was no flood on the floor, which was good, too. We like dry floors. But clearly the spin cycle hadn’t worked at all. After wringing the clothes out by hand and running them through the dryer twice, I festooned every available surface in the house with still-damp clothing and went in search of the owner’s manual.

I found the laundry guide. (Seriously, who needs to be told to pre-treat heavy stains?) I found the installation guide. (Moot, since the machine was installed by professionals from Sears years ago.) What I did not find, and desperately needed, was the owner’s manual with its helpful troubleshooting guide and parts schematic.

At this point, I stopped for coffee. I was beginning to get an intimation that things might be spiraling out of my control. The little voice that lives in the back of the minds of women of my generation–the one that whispers, “Machines are too complicated for you to understand, my dear. Just call the repairman.”–had begun its insidious urging.

Most of the time, I shut that sucker up. The few times I haven’t, I generally have surveyed the bill afterward and wished I had tackled the job myself. I hate paying labor and service charges that more than quadruple the cost of quite inexpensive parts. Besides I’m wicked stubborn, as we say in Maine, and I wanted to see if I could make this repair myself. So I fired up the computer and did some virtual troubleshooting on my sick washing machine.

I knew it was crucial to find information which would pertain to my make and model, which is a Kenmore Advantage 110 series. Fortunately, several sites allowed me to load in my complete seven-digit model number, which narrowed the search results to information I could actually use.

First, I had to research the most likely causes for ‘spin cycle does not work.’ I found a list of the ten most probable causes. That there were at least ten things which could have gone wrong was somewhat daunting, but according to this site, the number one reason for a broken spin cycle is a bad lid switch. This made sense: I knew from past observation that the agitator will move if the lid is open, but the machine won’t proceed through the rest of the wash cycle until you close the lid, which closes the switch. However, the machine won’t drain, either, if the lid switch is bad, which was not the case here. My tub drained. Moving to the second most probable cause, I found something called the motor coupler. That didn’t sound good.

I read on, discovering that there are two plastic toothed thingeys and a rubber donut with holes in it that connect the motor and the transmission, and that over time it’s common for the teeth to break off and/or the rubber donut to wear, tear, and crumble. When this happens, no spin cycle. The sign of this, the helpful guide declared, was a pile of crumbled rubber on the floor under the washing machine. “Excellent,” I said. “I can check to see if there are any crumbles under my machine, and that way I’ll know if this is the problem.”

Friends, let me tell you that there are things to be seen behind and beneath one’s ten year old washing machine that are best left to the professionals, who are inured to such horrors by the daily experience of their profession. And that is all I want to say about that, except that I did learn something about the secret lives of missing socks, and I did find what was either rubber donut crumbs or some very odd mouse droppings. The betting was even odds, either way.

Back to the computer. Now that I knew what was needed, I had to find out how to install those parts. I’ve found YouTube wonderfully helpful on many of my projects, and it came to my rescue again. I discovered a very good video by a professional repair shop which showed how to take my washer apart, make the repair, and reassemble everything. I went ahead and ordered the parts. After the Easter holiday, the package arrived. I got out screwdrivers, wrenches, and a work light, and got to work.

It is a law of the universe that whatever needs repair in my house is never, ever exactly like the item in whatever repair instructions I’ve read or video I’ve watched. It doesn’t even surprise me anymore, though it is always disheartening because I immediately know a) the job is going to be more complicated than I thought, and b) I’m going to skin my knuckles. These things are immutably bound together.

So I wasn’t thrown into a panic when my motor had some sort of extra electrical connection which could not be unplugged to permit pulling the motor completely away from the machine, as the fellow in the video had done. Fine, I thought, that’s OK, I’ll just have to work in a tighter space. Which I did, skinning my knuckles as I loosened a couple of very tight bolts. Finally I was able to get a look at the old motor coupler assembly. It was a mess. Of the six teeth the two plastic cams were supposed to have between them, five had broken off, and the rubber donut was shredded. I have no idea how the machine lived as long as it did.

I got the new parts installed, wrestled the motor back into place, reattached all retaining clips, electrical connections, screws, etc., etc., and slowly creaked my way upright. After the fill hoses were reattached, I plugged in the machine and loaded a couple of thick bath towels. Wincing a little in trepidation, I cautiously started the wash cycle.

No hoses leaked. No flood appeared on the floor. No horrible clanks of doom sounded in the cellar. Instead, the agitator agitated, the drum drained, the tub spun, and the cycle came smoothly to a stop. Opening the lid, I pulled out the first towel. It was nicely damp-dry, just as it was supposed to be. For a cost of $14.95 and a few hours of my time, I had fixed the washer and learned something interesting along the way.

Smiling, I gave a Rosie the Riveter fist pump to my astonished cat and headed up the cellar stairs to pour myself a celebratory glass of wine and bandage my skinned knuckles.

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About Sheila Gilluly

Sheila Gilluly is the author of THE BOY FROM THE BURREN, THE GIANT OF INISHKERRY, AND THE EMPEROR OF EARTH-ABOVE. She runs a 24-7 diner for squirrels, raccoons, deer and other patrons.
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11 Responses to The News From 2Dits Farm: When Good Washing Machines Go Bad

  1. Linda Lord says:

    What an amazing woman you are, Sheila!!!! The next time I have a problem like that I am not calling a repairman, I am calling you!!

    • Sheila says:

      OTOH, with a repairperson, at least theoretically the job will be done right, Linda. It’s always a toss-up whether something I do is going to work!

  2. There are things I cannot do, and machinery is one of them! Also woodworking and tile. It is odd, how one just knows there are things that are impossible.

  3. tuppenny says:

    I’m impressed.

  4. Deborah Laymon says:

    Oh, wow! You are a much braver person than I am! That’s a really impressive job!

  5. Cat Kimbriel says:

    I am thoroughly impressed. Since Life, Interrupted, I don’t trust my hands on something that involved. But i will cheer you on!

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