The Art of Troubleshooting

A long, long time ago, people did things like read books instead of surfing the Internet or had thoughtful discussions about complicated topics instead of yelling political slogans and sound bites at each other. Most folks also had at least a conceptual understanding of the process of troubleshooting: the logical, step-by-step progression of tracking down the cause of a problem.

To troubleshoot an appliance, you first need to have a basic understanding of how that appliance is supposed to work both from the operator's standpoint and how the components inside are supposed to work together. In other words, to figure out what's wrong, you first have to know what "right" is. Then begin troubleshooting right at the problem and step through, checking inputs and outputs, whether mechanical or electrical.

For example, an oven electric bake element isn't getting hot and is not visibly damaged. The element needs 240 VAC to get hot, 120 VAC at each of its terminals. The voltage at the terminals is controlled and delivered by different circuits or components inside the oven. Many people would just immediately replace the element, not even considering how the element works or checking to see if it's getting the voltage it needs to operate. Maybe they get lucky and fix the problem, but that's not troubleshooting. That's changing parts like a monkey.

Appliance repair servicers who practice their trade like that are not technicians or Professional Appliantologists; they are called "parts changing monkeys."

Parts changing monkeys can cost you a lot of time, frustration, and money.

What's a parts changing monkey, you ask?

He (or she) is someone who knows how to change out parts on your appliance, but doesn't know how to actually troubleshoot the problem. Based on your problem description, he will change out the most obvious part involved and hope that fixes the problem. That works just often enough to get by in many repair situations, but there are other times it results in a major rip-off of the customer.

Here's a repair saga where I went in batting cleanup behind a local parts changing monkey (PCM) who tried to fix a problem with a front loading washer that overfilled by blindly replacing parts, hoping to get lucky.  Of course, he failed miserably but that didn't stop him from charging the customer anyway.  The customer called me out of frustration and desperation and, as usual, The Appliance Guru delivers another appliance ass-whuppin'!

The other thing this video illustrates is the importance of understanding how the components inside an appliance are supposed to work together.  How else can you troubleshoot?  In this case, with the washer overfilling, starting troubleshooting at the water inlet valve is not a bad idea BUT what are you looking for?  The PCM simply guessed and hoped to get lucky.  But there's no need to guess if you understand how the valve is supposed to work and can make a simple voltage measurement.  

In this case, you would use your meter to see if the valve is still getting voltage when the drum was overfilling.  If so, then the problem is NOT the valve, but in the component that controls the valve.  Here, the pressure switch controls the valve and this is the next thing the PCM replaced.  But, again, there's no need to guess because the switching function of the pressure switch can be tested using your ohm meter and gently blowing into the pressure tube to see if the pressure switch contacts change.  

Actually, in the process of gaining access to the pressure tube to test the pressure switch, you would have discovered the chaffed pressure tube in the course of doing simple troubleshooting like a real technician and not just blindly thrashing about, throwing parts at the machine and ripping people off.  

So, putting this all together, here's a simple operational description of how these parts work together inside the washer:

As the water level in the drum rises, the pressure inside the pressure tube increases.  This increased pressure is felt by the pressure switch which is calibrated to switch contacts at a specified pressure corresponding to a design fill level.  The pressure switch, which was sending voltage to the water inlet valves during fill, then cuts voltage to the water inlet valves and the wash cycle begins.  

Is that so hard to understand?  How is it that someone who repairs appliances for a living does not understand this?

The Appliance Guru provides prompt, convenient service in the following towns in New Hampshire: New London, Elkins, Wilmot, Springfield, Georges Mills, Sunapee, Mt. Sunapee, Newbury, Sutton, Bradford, Warner, Grantham, and the Eastman Community.  Call 526-7129 anytime for service.

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