Fix your appliances with help from the Samurai Appliance Repair Man

My rusty washer and dryer were once new, bought in 1999 from a modest inheritance, perhaps explaining the sentimental attachment and my reluctance to replace them. I do not expect you to think so fondly of your washer and dryer. But let us call mine "Mom" and "Dad."

Mom, frankly, deserved a longer life. She had cleaned up my messes delicately, agitating only when necessary and spinning as if the world revolved around me. About five years ago, she stopped, just like that. Dad tumbled toward despair. Finally, he snapped, his belt broken.

As a single woman, I had failed them, having brought home no handyman. Nor, in a one-income household, was there money for professional appliance repair.

So I turned to the Internet for guidance and discovered the Samurai Appliance Repair Man and his website: Fixitnow.com. His golden promise has stayed with me like an ink spot on white.

"If I can't help you fix your appliance and make you 100 percent satisfied," he wrote, "I will come to your home and slice open my belly, spilling my steaming entrails onto your floor."

There he was, a man who understood devotion. He called himself the "Fermented Grand Master of Appliantology" — fermented, because while his advice was free, those who wished to show gratitude could fatten his "beer fund."

He had friends, lots of friends, a cyber subculture of appliance repair men and women who stood ready to help we grasshoppers at no charge.

At first, I was a mere troll, searching for "Kenmore" and finding solutions in the Samurai's fact sheets and repair forums. I printed a diagram that showed me how to replace Dad's belt. Mom, in all likelihood, needed something called a motor coupler. (It sounded almost romantic, but let me tell you: A Mom with motor coupler issues will never be in the mood to do wash.)

I, of course, turned off the water and unplugged the machines before proceeding.

After that, I spent a lot of time on the floor with wrenches and a flashlight, the deconstructed pieces of my laundry room lining up alongside me. Dad's belt change went quickly. To inspect Mom's motor coupler, I had to learn how to pull away the whole front cabinet of the washer, leaving only the back wall attached, exposing the tub and the motor.

I unclipped the water pump and unbolted the motor, and there it was, before my eyes: the motor coupler. It looked like a tiny bagel sandwich, except the bagel was white plastic and the smear was black rubber. Each bagel half had three peg legs that poked into the black rubber ring. But the plastic had broken. Pieces fell into my hands. Combined, they weighed almost nothing, but together, they had made Mom move.

I wound up at an appliance parts store on Waters Avenue in Tampa, where a replacement coupler cost less than $25. (I could have saved money buying from the Samurai's online parts store, but clothes were piled high.) Within a couple of hours, Mom was humming.

My hands got dirty but my clothes got clean. It was that simple. No waiting till Monday for an appointment. No worrying about cost overruns. No adding clunky metal debris to the landfill. From then on, I started viewing machines — my dishwasher, my mini refrigerator, my gas oven — as less menacing, less mysterious.

When Dad blew his thermal fuse, I was there. When Mom needed me in the clutch, I came through.

Along the way, the Samurai — real name, Scott Brown, of New London, N.H. — proclaimed me an "Apprentice of Distinction," noting that I had demonstrated "patience, perseverance, manual ability and courage." The title came with a virtual trophy.

I celebrated with a new can of Rust-Oleum for Mom and Dad.

That's our story. Oh, sure, sometimes I look at the fancy new front-load washers and dryers, in bright colors with pedestal stands, and I think, "What if …?" But that's all. I only look.

Patty Ryan can be reached at pryan@sptimes.com.

What you'll need

The Internet: The Samurai's chief blog site is www.fixitnow.com, which links to his repair forum, www.appliantology.org, and parts partner, www.repairclinic.com. Get started by looking for guidance under the FAQ section, which the Samurai calls "shimmering pearls of appliantological wisdom." The repair forum is searchable, and once you've registered (it's free), you can post questions. Even when you're in the middle of a repair, answers may come quickly enough to be useful.

Safety: Before starting, unplug the appliance, with dry hands, while wearing shoes, when there is no lightning nearby and all threat of tsunami has passed. And wear your life vest. Got it?

A plan: Give early thought to how you will buy parts. Your local parts store may close early on weekends. If time isn't an issue, you can save money by ordering online.

Patience: Don't expect first repairs to go quickly. Learning from scratch takes time. You may need to stop to go buy a tool. You may even need a frustration break.

Tools: A basic ratchet wrench set, with interchangeable sockets, will get you through a lot of repairs. Expect to supplement it with new sizes of sockets, depending on the bolts you encounter. The 3-inch extension bar that came with the set may be all you need but a 9-inch bar will help keep your wrench and knuckles from banging into metal.

Multimeter: Even if the idea of electricity totally creeps you out, a $15 battery-operated multimeter can help you figure out if a part is dead — with that part sitting safely on your kitchen table — by measuring resistance in units called ohms.

Organization skills: As you remove parts, line them up in the order of removal. It will be easier to remember how to reassemble them. Use cups for small parts like screws.

A camera, maybe? Upload photos when seeking clarifications online. Snap. The drive cam looks burned. Is this normal? Snap. This replacement part doesn't look like the old part. How do I know which terminal to use?

Bungee cords: Sometimes you need a third hand.

Flashlight. It's dark and scary down there.

— Patty Ryan

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Fix your appliances with help from the Samurai Appliance Repair Man 06/28/12 [Last modified: Thursday, June 28, 2012 2:52pm]

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