Overview: An expert tells you how to avoid common appliance repairs
Our appliance wizard, Costas Stavrou, spends most of his time solving problems that were avoidable in the first place. “If people would just read the instructions in their owner’s manual and then follow a few basic rules, I’d have to find a new line of work,” he told us.
We'll show you how to avoid these 10 appliance repairs. And, we'll go a few steps further and explain exactly what breaks and how much you'll save by following our advice. If you don't follow these rules, Costas wants to thank you for keeping his repair business humming.
Meet the Expert
Costas has been fixing appliances and coaching homeowners on how to avoid common appliance repairs for more than 30 years. He and his wife, Lorrie, run a classic family business. Lorrie handles the appointments, parts ordering and billing, and she keeps Costas on his toes. In his spare time, Costas pampers his pride and joy—a canary yellow Porsche.
Tip 1: Clean refrigerator coils
On the back or underside of your fridge, there are coils that dissipate the heat that’s removed from the fridge (kind of like the radiator on your car). Dust buildup on these coils reduces airflow and wastes energy. Worse, it causes the compressor and condenser fan to run longer and hotter. That causes premature failure. A service call to install a new condenser fan runs $150. And a new compressor runs at least $500. That’s quite an incentive to clean the coils.
Tip 2: Don't block air vents
The freezer and refrigerator compartments require proper airflow to keep foods at the right temperature. So think twice before you buy warehouse-size packs of frozen food. Because if you jam them into the freezer and block the vents, you can cause cooling problems in the refrigerator and force the compressor and fans to run overtime. That'll result in premature fan and compressor failures. Replacing a fan usually runs about $150. But if the compressor fails, you’re better off buying a new refrigerator.
Tip 3: Don't overload your washer or dryer
You may think you're saving time, water or energy by cramming more clothes into your washer and dryer. But the manufacturers list a maximum load weight for a good reason. If you overload a top-loading washer, you can fry the drive belts or break the drive coupler ($150 repair bill). And, overloading can also cause socks and underwear to float over the basket. Then they get sucked into the pump and wreck it. That service call will cost you $115.
If you overload a front-loading washer or dryer, you can burn out the rear bearing or motor. That repair is so expensive that you'd be better off buying a new machine. In the dryer, the extra load weight not only takes longer to dry but also wears out drum support rollers and drive belts (up to $250).
Weight limits range from as little as 6 lbs. to as much as 15 lbs. for top loaders and about 18 lbs. for front loaders. So consult your owner's manual and find the load limits for your machine. Then grab an armful of clothes and stand on a scale to get an idea of just how much your machine can handle.
Tip 4: Clean refrigerator gaskets
If you keep your refrigerator door gaskets clean, they'll seal properly and last the life of the fridge. But if you let sticky foods like syrup and jam build up on the door gasket, they’ll glue the gasket to the frame. Pulling harder on a stuck door eventually tears the gasket, and that'll cost you about $150 (up to $300 on some brands). Plus, if the door doesn’t seal properly, the fridge has to run longer, and that'll boost your electric bill. Clean the door gasket with warm water and a sponge. Don't use detergents; they can damage the gasket.
Tip 5: Don't slam the door
You can rationalize all you want about why you drop or slam the lid or door to your washer or dryer (your hands are full, you’re in a hurry, etc.), but your appliances don’t care. So forget the excuse and know this: If you continually drop or slam the lid to your washer or dryer (top or front load), you’re going to break the lid/ door switch. That'll cost you about $175. That’s right—you can avoid this repair by lowering the lid and gently closing the door. Easy, huh?
Tip 6: Clean the lint filter
With a clogged lint filter, your clothes dry slower, and the machine works harder and wastes energy. But that's just the beginning of your troubles. Because the lint still has to go somewhere, it bypasses the filter, collects in the dryer's vent line, and reduces airflow even further.
At a certain point, the blockage gets so bad that the dryer overheats and the thermal fuse blows. The dryer will still start up, but it won't heat. The service call will run about $200 to replace the thermal fuse and clean the vent line (that charge will most likely include a lecture about cleaning the filter).
Avoid the entire lint and thermal fuse issue simply by cleaning the lint filter after each load. If you've neglected the lint filter and want to avoid a repair bill, clean out the dryer cabinet and vent line yourself. Also, if you use dryer sheets, wash the lint filter with detergent every six months. Dryer sheets leave behind an invisible film, which blocks airflow.
Tip 7: Don’t spray switches
Most people clean their stove and dishwasher knobs and touch-control panels with spray cleaners. But those liquids can easily work their way into the switches and behind the control panels and short them out. The repair bill for a shorted stove igniter switch can cost $125, and a shorted control panel can easily run about $300. Spray just a little liquid cleaner onto a rag or sponge and then clean the knobs and touch-control panel. That'll prevent shorting.
Tip 8: Don’t drag clothes out of the washer
Nobody likes lifting a heavy bundle of clothes in or out of a front-loading washing machine. But it's a mistake to drag them over the door ledge. That may save your back, but zippers and buttons gradually tear up the rubber door gasket. Replacing that gasket requires a lot of disassembly, and that'll cost you about $250. So lift out the wet clothes.
Tip 9: Clean your dishwasher screen
If your dishwasher has a filtering screen under the bottom spray arm, clean it regularly. If you don’t, the stuck food particles degrade into slime that blocks water flow and reduces cleaning performance. So you’ll pay a minimum service call (usually about $100) just to have the filter cleaned. And while we’re on the subject, cut back on the soap use too. You don't need more than a teaspoon to clean most loads. Excess soap builds up in the entire dishwasher and eventually reduces water flow, requiring another “cleaning” service call. To remove soap buildup, use a product like Dishwasher Magic, available at most hardware stores and home centers.
Tip 10: Change the furnace filter
A dirty furnace filter can actually damage your furnace. The clogged filter restricts airflow so much that the area around the heat exchanger reaches an unsafe temperature and the burners shut down. Once the furnace cools down, it’ll fire up again. But if the overheat/shutdown cycle repeats enough times, the furnace controls will shut it down for good. Hello, emergency service call (minimum $250 charge for nights and weekends). If you’re lucky, the repairperson will just replace the filter and reset the computer. But repeat overheat cycles can also damage the temperature sensor, and that’ll add $75 to the service call.
The dirt level in every home is different, so you can’t rely on a weekly or monthly schedule for filter changes. Instead of guessing when to replace the filter, install an air filter gauge (General G-99 Air Filter Gauge Kit; available online through our affiliate program at amazon.com).