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Diagnosing Appliance Fault Codes

When an electronic display flashes a strange number, it may be warning you of trouble

When the display panel on your appliance flashes strange numbers, grab your owner’s manual. It may be flashing a fault code that’ll help diagnose a problem.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Solve appliance problems with fault codes

Oven controls

Electric devices often flash a fault code to signal a problem.

Do you have an appliance flashing some weird cryptic message on its digital display? Is your oven saying F3, or your dishwasher announcing that C5? These short repeating messages are actually fault codes—your appliance telling you what’s wrong with it—and they’re found on many newer appliances. For instance, F3 on a Maytag oven display means the oven temperature sensor needs to be replaced. A GE dishwasher that says C5 has low water pressure and probably needs a new water inlet valve.

When you see a code number flashing, look it up in the owner’s manual or at the manufacturer’s Web site, or check the online appliance repair sites below. You can also usually find a list somewhere in or on the appliance (see below). Armed with a diagnosis and a make and model number, you can purchase the right part from a supplier and make the fix yourself. Or at least save some time on the service call by letting the repair service know what they’ll need to bring along to make the fix.

Appliance repair site: repairclinic.com/0078.asp

Locating fault code instructions for a computerized appliance

Find the model number and the fault code sheet on a refrigerator

Here are the typical locations on refrigerators. The following diagrams show where to look on different appliances. (You may need to remove a cover panel to find them.)

Oven location

Codes for an oven may be in back.

Front-loading washer locations

Look around the bottom for codes for a front-loading washer.

Front-loading dryer locations

Look around the bottom for codes for a front-loading dryer.

Top-loading washer locations

Look behind the front panel for codes for a top-loading washer.

Conventional dryer locations

Fault codes in conventional dryers may be in back or under the front panel.

Dishwasher locations

Fault codes for dishwashers may be behind the bottom panel.

Many newer appliances include computerized touch pads and control boards. You may think they’re too complicated to repair yourself. Wrong. They’re actually easier to work on because the computer does all the diagnostic work for you. Once the computer detects a problem, it stores a fault code in memory. All you have to do is put the computer into readout mode and consult the fault code chart to discover which part failed. Fortunately, most manufacturers pack the code retrieval procedure and code translation information right inside the machine.

The trick is to find them. The diagrams here show typical locations. Remove the cover panel and look for the fault code instructions in a plastic bag. Follow the instructions to put the computer into code retrieval mode, then count the blinks or read the fault code from the display. Once you learn which part failed, copy the model and serial number off the tag and buy a replacement part.

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