By Matt T
Modern computers can diagnose their own problems and even fix them for you. Copiers and fax machines can flash warnings on their text displays or control panels. Even cars have the notorious idiot lights that keep you posted when your oil gets low or your coolant temperature goes up too high. But most appliances, even the new washing machines with “graphical user interfaces,” don’t communicate much about their malfunctions. You have to diagnose them some other way.
That seems odd, doesn’t it? Perhaps it has to do with the fact that most appliance manufacturers don’t want owners poking around inside. Whatever the reason, you have to develop you own way of knowing when your washing machine needs service. It is part technique and, admittedly, part art, but it is something you can do if you know how to follow instructions, read manuals and take directions.
Washing Machine Repair Paradox
The fancier and more “digital” your washing machine is, the more electronic systems it will have that you can probably not work with at all. The way the modern, multicolor, touch-screen type control panels work on the high-tech washers means more “replacing” than repairing. If something goes wrong, the whole circuit board goes. You will probably not be fixing many of these control panels.
On the other hand, the first thing to know about washing machines is that the actual, physical functions are quite simple and thus many repairs are very straightforward. Water fills the tub, a motor agitates the tub with the clothes and soap in it, and the tub spins out the water, helped by some electrically-assisted suction. If you have had your machine for some time, you have become familiar with its sights, sounds and actions, which define the washer’s “baseline” operational status in a communicative way.
Good Sounds and Bad
Most washers are belt-driven, but whether yours is a belt- or direct-drive model you are going to recognize an electric motor that is failing. You will hear grinding, screeching and/or various whines from a dying motor. This will be a straightforward, if not necessarily low-cost, fix.
Of course, if your motor doesn’t kick in at all, or cuts off intermittently (or once and for all), you can safely assume that a service call is in order. And although you might think that water on the floor around the washer is another sure sign, this might be the result of normal spillage, hose backwash in the spin cycle or another normal occurrence. How can you tell?
In this case, you will judge the situation by your history with the machine. If you often see some slight spillage or puddling, then there’s no big deal. But you need to question the first appearance of anything, whether it’s a puddle of water or a “walking washer.”
Walking Washing Machines
Sometimes washers will “walk” – move back and forth and forward and back, with each turn of the heavily-laden tub – and, within reason, this is normal and doesn’t reduce the appliance’s effectiveness. However, if your machine is exhibiting this behavior with normal loads, or is pitching and yawing dramatically, it may be due to a problem with the internal pully-and-weight mechanisms that are meant to keep the device stable.
You need to eliminate the other possible causes of any problems you observe. If water is not flowing when you turn on the machine, it could be the intake valve, or it could be your water supply. Make sure it isn’t the latter before you start wrenching on the former (or calling the repair shop).
Additionally, intermittent operation and other power supply issues could signal problems with the electrical components. On the other hand, the problem could be with your home circuitry, or even with a poorly grounded wall plug or an extension cord that isn’t up to the power load.
Think It Through
There are numerous indications that the timers and switches are having problems. You could get stuck between cycles, the water may not be evacuated from the tub, the dial may stop turning – all of these things should encourage you to have the control circuitry of the appliance checked by a qualified professional.
The bottom line, as always, is to use your head and think things through. If you have paid attention, historically, to the operation of your washer, you will, whether you know it or not, have a good feel for how it works – as well as how it looks, sounds and acts when it is running. You may even have a “feeling” that something is wrong, although it is much easier to deal with repair personnel if you can describe the possible problem.
If you have been maintaining your washer properly, and are familiar with how it works (as well as how it’s supposed to), you should have little problem staying abreast of its condition. When things start changing – sounds, puddles, vibrations, the strength of the motor – then you need to start your troubleshooting process and work your way through the possibilities. As soon as you narrow down the problem, when there really is one, you will make any repair or component replacement a more straightforward, and therefore less costly and problematic, affair.