It’s bound to happen: Your beloved fridge, washer, or air conditioner will act up on you, requiring a repair than can set you back 50% or more on the price of a new appliance. Before you set it out on the curb and head off to charge a dreamy new replacement to your credit account, consider your options for getting it fixed. Even the DIY-clueless can handle this list, so read on!
1. Contact the Manufacturer. Even if you are absolutely, 100% positive that it is no longer covered under any kind of service warranty, call the company who made it anyway. If you don’t have the original paperwork or receipt, do a Google search for the manufacturer and call their 800 number. You may have to go through some hoops to get to the right department, but if you even have a slight recollection of when the appliance was purchased, there is a small chance of getting your problem repaired for free or for a significant discount. Often, a company can use a serial number or “made on” date to determine the age of your appliance, and if you are anywhere close to the end of your warranty period, they have been known to extend some kindness and fix the issue. (I know this from experience. I was once within a week of warranty expiration and was cut some slack, so it doesn’t hurt to ask.)
2. Check your Receipt. If you purchased your appliance with a credit card, you may qualify for an extension of the manufacturer’s warranty as a “perk” to owning your card. Call your credit card company, or check your card terms, for details. While participation will vary, the general rule is for cards that offer this extended protection, you’ll get 1 to 3 additional years on your basic manufacturer’s repair or replacement warranty. This will apply to any repairs that would have been covered before the warranty ran out, but not to repairs that fall outside of the warranty (e.g. due to carelessness.)
3. Purchase a Repair Manual. For many repairs, it’s not skill that’s required, it is knowledge. We recently had our almost-new frontloading washer quit pumping out water. We knew that a filter needed cleaning, but that it wasn’t covered under the warranty, and the trip to our rural home, alone, would cost $85! We Googled our model of washer to find a repair manual we could purchase as a PDF file. It cost us $15 for the “official” repair manual, but gave us step-by-step photo directions for changing the filter, common troubleshooting scenarios, and the part number for every possible replacement part. For any future repair that doesn’t involve electrical repairs, we can take apart and repair our washer in confidence — for the price of a part and our time, of course.
4. Ask Around. Repair men retire, but they don’t lose their “expertise.” Even as new models come out, the basic functions behind a dryer, for example, stay essentially the same. If you can befriend your community’s former appliance pro, he or she may have a thing or two to say about why your dryer is no longer heating up or what the proper speed of the drum should be. The same goes for online: You can get much of your DIY FYI from repair boards and places where The Maytag Man and his comrades hang out on the internet.
5. Read Up. There’s a certain value to being prepared for disaster, and reading up on all the common repairs involved with your appliances has a worth all its own. I subscribe to all kinds of DIY magazines, including those offered for free from home improvement stores. I understand that the sole purpose behind many of these is the advertising, but with each idea for transforming a kitchen with XYZ brands, there are one or two more that give me just what I need to salvage my older appliances. I also keep paying my bill for popular simple living and handiwork magazines. Available at Amazon for a discount, I’ve usually earned back my annual payments toward Handyman Magazine and Mother Earth News by the end of each spring.
6. Stick to a Schedule. You wouldn’t let your car go 10,000 miles without an oil change, would you? Why give your fridge more than 2 seasons without dusting off the coils and replacing a burnt-out bulb? Many of us are unaware of the timeline regarding regular appliance maintenance, and the more “decked out” your model, the more upkeep may be involved. Not only is a good maintenance schedule essential to prevent unnecessary and expensive repairs down the road, it can be crucial to persevering the value of your appliance, useful for keeping utility bills under control, and required for a valid warranty agreement.
Even with all these tools in your toolbox, it may be necessary to call in for reinforcements once in awhile, and that’s OK, too. If you must, comparison shop for the most experienced professional in your budget, and do some research ahead of time to be certain you don’t get charged for unnecessary extras. You can also get crafty with online ads for moonlighters via your local newspaper or Craigslist (assuming you have a few days to kill and are savvy about whom you let into your home.) There are quite a few unemployed repair professionals out there, and most have been able to meet me outside of normal hours and for a price that’s competitive for my area.
You don’t have to be especially handy to practice a DIY appliance repair lifestyle. Just use a good measure of common sense, networking, education, and ambition to help offset the urge to send for the repairman every time you sense trouble. Once you start getting more hands on with your washer, dryer, and hot water heater, you’ll no longer consider doing a little leg work to lower your final bill.
Let me try this over to you. Have you done a money-saving DIY appliance repair that you feel good about?