I did ok with the networking problem my house threw at me last week, so guess what? This week, another breakdown occurred, this time a large appliance I haven’t got a clue how to fix. My 16-year-old Sears Kenmore dryer suddenly would not work. The internal light came on when I opened the door, but when I pressed the Start button, there was complete silence.
To me, a sudden failure to power on means one of two things – 1. a fuse is blown or 2. something literally burned out. There was no burning smell, so I chose option 1. Sometimes fuses are easy to find, like under a real obvious panel in the passenger seat area of my Saturn Vue, but since the dryer looks like a big white box, I knew this would entail a lot of labor. I would have to take the back off. I groaned and gathered my tools and my courage.
The back itself wasn’t hard to remove, but it did require some adherence to steps: first I had to remove the hose (which was also filled with lint), then screw off the back panel and the separate top panel that covers the ground wire and allows the huge, thick power cord to exit the back in a graceful and well-constrained manner.
Little did I realize how much lint and nastiness had worked its way into the internal areas of the dryer. I vacuumed up about a pound of lint, picked up at least two full pistol chambers worth of spent .22 casings, 6-7 long-missing buttons, and I even managed to gather $5.77 in change!
When I looked into the back, I saw four possibles for failure testing. I’ll tell you right now: I didn’t know the names of any of them, but thanks to an appliance repair how-to video I found, I was able to test the resistance across each piece to see which one of them was my culprit.
To complicate matters, when the dryer was installed by my father-in-law about 11 years ago, he found that the dryer plug and the house plug didn’t quite fit with each other, so he must have cursed loudly and hammered the plug into the socket by brute force, because it would not come out no matter what I did. I gave up on that angle and decided to cut it off at the source: I simply threw the breaker. The visual reminder of the plug firmly attached to its huge, high-voltage socket reminded me as I worked that this was a dangerous job, but I had some faith that a thrown breaker would keep me safe. (I reinforced my faith with nitrile gloves and rubber-soled shoes, just in case).
Once girded against the threat of electrocution, I pulled the wire connectors off of each piece to be tested, and used my handy-dandy, low-end analog ohmmeter (a voltmeter set to read resistance in ohms) with two leads and measured how much resistance I got across the devices. 3 out of 4 devices showed nonzero resistance, but one, the long, white-jacketed plug that looks a lot like a fuse, showed zero. I thought back to my college physics classes and reasoned that no resistance=open circuit. Whatever current flowed through the dryer met no resistance when it flowed through the device.
So, I did what any careful non-technician would do: I called the expert: an appliance repair shop I knew in Fayetteville, Tennessee, about 20 miles away from my very rural abode. He told me that the one piece that measured zero ohms of resistance was the bad part. This part roughly corresponded to the thermal fuse mentioned in the previously linked video, BUT a word of caution. The video tells us that “if the meter does not show approximately zero ohms of resistance, you will need to replace it.” So, with these two contradictory pieces of information in my head, I tended to believe the tech I talked to on the phone, especially since the other three parts I tested all showed resistance. It is easier to believe that there is one bad part and three good ones over one good one and three bad ones. It could also be my innate laziness speaking here.
So I pulled the part and took it to his shop. For $3.10, I got an identical replacement that he tested right in front of me with his more elaborate ohmmeter. With a hopeful heart, I returned home and replaced the part, which was super-easy. One screw and two attached wires later, the new part was in, and I could turn the breaker on and test it. To my delight, it worked perfectly, except, of course, the unique dusty machine smell of the as-yet still unconnected exhaust. I patted myself on the back (yeah, I do yoga just so I can be flexible enough to do this). Then I set to re-assembling this behemoth.
Re-assembly turned out to be the most grueling and difficult part of the whole operation. The hose didn’t want to re-attach; the panel didn’t want to sit with the screwholes aligned, and after about 45 minutes of struggle and bizarre contortions even a regular yoga practice hadn’t prepared me for, I managed to get the back panel and exhaust hose re-seated. I had one leftover screw, but I wasn’t about to cry over that.
Sadie’s list of tools and skills:
flathead screwdriver for all those screws on the back panel and the metal O-ring attaching the hose to the exhaust vent multi-grip tool pliers to remove the one screw holding the fuse in its socket voltmeter (analog or digital) that reads resistance (ohms) and two leads nitrile or equivalent gloves and rubber-soled shoes for extra safety a good vacuum cleaner to suck up all the lint and junk that somehow made it inside the dryer body and got stuck in the exhaust hose. patience, perseverance and ability to squeeze into tight places
Total time for operation (not counting the days I let it sit because I was afraid to work on it): about 2-1/2 hours. This counts work on the unit, vacuuming out all the junk and re-assembling it.
Total cost: $3.10 for one bad part (which may have been the thermal fuse). All together I came out pretty well. With the $5.77 I found under the dryer, I came out $2.67 in the black! I guess that goes toward labor costs, but at least I’m paying myself and not a high-priced appliance repairman!