Trust Your Stuff

Let’s face it, before you can know everything about repairing appliances, you will have to run service calls.

Especially early in your career as an appliance repair technician you will have gaps in your knowledge and encounter repair situations you’ve never seen before.

All I wanted during this phase of startup was to do a “mind meld” with Uncle Harry and dump his entire 40 years of experience directly into my brain so I could be an instant expert.

Actually, Uncle Harry has done a spectacular job of packaging what he knows, but there really is no shortcut to becoming an expert, so I figured out three ways to give myself the confidence I needed to run service calls in the meantime.

1.  TRAINING AND SUPPORT

Train, train, train.  When a call comes in I’m not familiar with, for example an off brand, a difficult problem, or a specialized type of appliance, I use the opportunity to learn about it.  This way, I constantly increase my knowledge base.

A great resource for me in this area is Uncle Harry’s training library and ongoing support through his Nephew Club, expert list, troubleshooting repair wizard and every imaginable service manual.

I don’t take every unfamiliar service call, because some are way beyond my comfort zone at the time, but if I then study it, I’m more prepared to take a similar call next time one comes in.

I currently take all calls that I am comfortable with without thinking, calls that are one step out of my comfort zone on a regular basis, and a couple a week that are two steps out of my comfort zone, so I can keep advancing my technical skills.  After all, that’s how I came to know the ones I’m comfortable with now in the first place!

(If you’re not sure how to back off of calls you aren’t comfortable with, read, “Cherry Pick Till You Make It.”)

2. HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE

Actually, I have gained my hands-on experience basically by running service calls.  At the very beginning, I had to study EVERYTHING before I went out.  I would schedule my calls for the next day and study hard until I had a pretty good idea of what was causing the problem and a plan for a couple of likely things to try in order to fix it.

If I got out there and tried my plan and it didn’t work, I would hit Uncle Harry’s reference materials on my laptop, or call him personally to get his input until I could fix the machine.

It wasn’t long before I started seeing similar problems and similar machines, and could start to diagnose the basic issues myself on the fly.

3.  TRUST YOUR STUFF

The worst thing about not being an expert is not feeling like one.  It seems like if you were an expert, repairs would practically solve themselves before you ever touched a machine.  Wouldn’t that be great?

But I realize if I didn’t love fixing things, I wouldn’t be in this business to begin with.  After studying operating theory and seeing a few machines, I can’t do anything better than to just go out there and trust my stuff.

I tell myself, “I know this, I can do this!” and go through my troubleshooting routine, working my way through the problem step by step.

If it’s an electrical problem, I test with my multimeter to try to eliminate each of the suspect components one by one until I find the culprit.  But if I don’t find it right away, I follow my instincts.

If it’s a mechanical problem, I open the machine up, get in there and take a look to see what’s going on with the most likely components responsible and check them first.  But if it’s not one of those, I follow my instincts.

When you feel that panic that you are not an expert yet, step back and remember your natural ability to solve problems that led you to choose the appliance repair business in the first place.

Special Tools Needed for Appliance Repair

Special Tools for Appliance RepairI’m going to insist that you need these tools on your appliance repair service calls, even though you may not think so.

I would then ask you in a few months, after running your own service calls, if you still think some of these are not necessary.

The good news is, when I add up what I paid for everything listed here the total was under $30.  That’s quite a bargain for the essential role these tools will play in your work.

I’m not exaggerating, because many service calls would not get completed without them.

Security Bits:  $6.00 at Auto Zone
The first thing you will need is a complete set of security tool bits to open any fastener (a.k.a screws) you will encounter.  There is no standardization among appliances and brands, and I guarantee you will need more options than a Phillips, slotted or torx.  Try to explain to the customer that you can’t open up their appliance because you don’t have the right screwdriver with you!

Telescoping Magnetic Pick-Up Tool:  $3.50 on eBay
OK, mine was free, given to me by a grateful customer, and I loved the gesture at the time, but wasn’t sure how practical it was.  Turns out it can save your life when you drop odd sized screws down into hard to reach spots of the appliance.  Spend the three bucks, and save yourself hours of dumb retrieval time.

AC Voltage Detector Pen:  $4.00 on eBay
I already had this inexpensive item in my toolbox.  You will use this constantly to check the presence of AC current at different locations within the appliance.

(Yes, the multimeter does this too, but with the pen you can get a quick read without disconnecting any terminals and fiddling around with two probes.  Save the multimeter for when you need accurate voltage readings.)

The pen quickly reassures you that no voltage is present so you can avoid annoying and costly trips to the hospital for electrocution.

Fingerless Kevlar Gloves – $5.00 Online
This is the most subjective item in my list.  You may really find this unnecessary, and I won’t argue with you, BUT, I have finally gotten tired of all the nicks and cuts that come with the profession when you are sticking you hands in tight places to remove stubborn parts.

The combination of brute strength required and endless sharp edges of sheet metal surrounding your hands (not to mention exposed screws) adds up to continuous lacerations (mostly small).  Make up your own mind, I find it worth the five bucks.

Canned Air:  $5.00 at Wal-Mart
This is really handy on refrigeration repair to chill down any bi-metal thermostat so you can check it for continuity.  A 12 oz can will last a good long time…don’t leave home without it.

8’ Test Cord:  $3.00 Homemade
This is just a standard household extension cord with the female end cut off and insulated alligator clips soldered on.  If you don’t know why this is essential, you need to read more of my blog posts.

Turkey Baster:  $1.00 at Dollar Store
This will earn you hundreds of dollars on your service calls when you need to defrost the ice plug in a refrigerator drain line, the classic cause of “my refrigerator is leaking water all over inside.”

Empty out the freezer, pull off the back panel and start defrosting all that ice that has built up.  When you get down to the drain-through spout, the turkey baster will be the only effective way to run hot water over the iced up area until it breaks free.  Completing a $100.00 service call with a $1.00 tool – that’s why I love this profession!

Ok, that’s my short list of things you really need to add to your toolbox for a very small investment.  If it looks like I get most my stuff on eBay and at discount stores, you’re right.  I love to keep the money I earn and hope this helps you do the same!  Please post your comments if you know of any things else I may have missed.

Multimeter Basics for True Beginners

Digital Multimeter Basics for BeginnersA multimeter is an essential tool in appliance repair,  so you’re going to have to learn to use one.

The trouble is, if you don’t know ANYTHING about multimeters, you might not be able to even understand the books that tell you how to use them.

Believe it or not, it’s really hard to find information on basic use for a complete beginner – even “Electronics For Dummies” assumes some knowledge of the tool.

To help you out, here are some good introductory level resources:

  • This clear and helpful forum post is in response to someone looking for “An idiot’s guide to multimeters for dummies” and really breaks down the simplest concepts of multimeters for the uninitiated
  • This site has a concise, basic introduction to multimeters with a little more detail
  • This video on YouTube THOROUGHLY reviews multimeters that sell for $50.00 or less.  The reviewer is such a wonk, it’s funny when he complains about the quality of some of these, and you learn a lot just by watching him describe all the features, what does and doesn’t work with each model:

Appliance Repair – Good Business in a Bad Economy

Back when I first considered starting my appliance repair business not much more than a year ago, I couldn’t have accurately forecast what my experience would be.

I only knew that it seemed like a good idea, although maybe a little daunting to get the proper training and compete with well established businesses for a piece of the pie.

As I moved through the startup process with Uncle Harry training and my own efforts to market my services, I never stopped evaluating whether appliance repair was still meeting my original hopes and expectations for starting a profitable business.

These are some my favorite things about appliance repair that have convinced me what a fantastic business opportunity this really is:

  • You are not trying to sell a luxury item, it is much closer to a necessity.  Every household has major appliances, and when they break down people find the money to fix them.
  • This is truly a recession proof business, and the current recession is actually encouraging people to repair their appliances as opposed to replace them.  I hear their comments about the high cost to replace appliances a bit more each day as this sluggish economy continues.
  • You don’t have to sell the service too hard.  Most customers are ready to buy the service once they have contacted you.
  • People don’t comparison shop the service as much as you would think.  As long as your prices seem reasonable, they will usually have you come out if they have called you.
  • Most customers don’t have any technical understanding of what you are doing, so there is margin for you to learn as you go with various appliance repairs you have never encountered or have less experience with.
  • Although most customers are not technically sophisticated, they know when they are being treated fairly.  If you treat them with respect and don’t try to take advantage of them, you can easily win their loyalty and repeat business or referrals.
  • People don’t scrutinize your bill to the last penny, so this is an opportunity to make your profit margin.  But there’s a balance.  If you push it too far, you’ll get paid today, but lose in the long run when they call somebody else next time.

I have been self-employed most my adult life, and few other opportunities have been so easy to start up, manage, and grow.  I hope this helps you make your decision whether to get into the appliance repair business.

 

What’s So Great About Appliance Repair?

How Do I Like Appliance Repair?OK, I have been in the appliance repair business for over a year now, successfully running service calls and making money, but it’s time to stop and think, do I really like it?

I invested some time (3 months) and money (home study training, promotional materials, and inventory) into learning to be an appliance repair technician and starting my own business.

Now that I’m actually doing it for a living, I thought I ought to review my choice and see how I feel about it.

Well, here are some of the good things about it:

  1. I’m Running My Own Business.  I never liked working for somebody else and being subject to their decisions.  I would way rather be in charge.  I also want to keep all the money myself , and not be dependent on someone else for a raise.  The harder I work, the more money I make.
  2. It is Challenging and Keeps My Interest.  If I had chosen, for example, to becoome a handyman instead, the learning curve would have been quicker, but over the long haul it would have become routine.  I am always learning new things in appliance repair, and it is really satisfying to solve a technical problem successfully.
  3. I Love My Customers.  The people whose appliances I service are really, really nice.  Some of them give me tips on the way out the door, and I’ve had some even give me homemade cookies.  One of the best parts of this job is meeting people, solving their problems and making them happy.
  4. I’m Proud of What I Do.  My father-in-law is impressed by how I started up my own appliance repair business in just 30 days.  My brother and sister think it’s cool I am working for myself.  My wife, of course loves the income, especially in this terrible economy.  I actually amazed myself that I could do it so quickly (of course I took a shortcut with Uncle Harry’s training).
  5. It Gets Easier Every Day.  When I first started out, I didn’t even know the basics off the top of my head, and I needed to research reference material for the most common repairs.  Now I’m pretty comfortable with those same repairs (like I know a warm refrigerator issue is usually a defrost failure or sealed system failure) and I can get in and out of the call faster, and often in one visit if I have the part in my inventory.

Some of the things that need work:

  1. The Learning Curve.  With all the makes, models, types of appliances and years of technology changes, I couldn’t wait to get to that comfort point where I felt like I knew what I was doing most of the time.  I just armed myself with good research materials and support (Uncle Harry was a big part of this), until I had serviced enough machines to be more familiar with them on my own.
  2. More Control of the Call Flow.  Usually I’m wall-to-wall busy, and sometimes theres a lull in the action.  I love it when I’m slammed, because there’s no better feeling than making money.   Then there will be times when calls will taper off, and I’ll have downtime.   I use it to get a breather, for one thing, and study more about questions that have come up in the repairs I’m doing, or gaps I’ve identified in my knowledge.  Then I can use that information when I get slammed again.

I guess the point is, I enjoy appliance repair.  I would encourage anyone looking into it to read my startup blog to help them decide.

Paid Leads – Chasing the Dragon

I was nervous when I first moved my business to the big city.  How was I going to compete with all the other appliance repair service companies here?

I got some of my customers to write reviews for me and worked my way up to the first page of Google, but my website still hadn’t seasoned yet as far as search engines were concerned, and the phone was still quieter than I was happy with.

In my eagerness to get the phone ringing more, and fast, I decided to try a high-end paid lead generation service.

The way they work is this: they advertise all over the internet, capture a bunch of customers from my area, then refer them to me.

And because they didn’t have anyone else listed in my area, I was exclusive!  This was the break I had been looking for!

Well, the phone rang off the hook day and night.  It was like drinking from a fire hose.  My schedule was so full, I was running 6 calls a day 6 days a week, booking out into the following week, and barely had time to pick up my parts, let alone eat or sleep.

At first I was really happy the phone was finally ringing too much, which was a good thing, and excited that I was going to make a ton of money.  And I did…in gross receipts.  After a month of working my butt off, I sat down and analyzed what I was really paying per lead, and what I was netting per week.

The per lead charge was tolerable if I raised my rates to cover it on the calls that converted into repairs.  I also figured out with current gas prices, I was just about breaking even on my diagnostic calls where they opted not to repair.

But the real hidden cost was in the junk leads and the drop-offs.

I would get calls from “tire-kickers” researching price and trying to pick my brain for solutions they could do themselves.  And I still got charged.

Because I was so slammed, I would book a call two days out with someone who I could tell was barely committed, then call them the day of the appointment to say I was on my way and be told they already got it fixed by someone else.  And I still got charged.

Sure some of this had to do with city clientele, who demand same day service and can often get it by calling around until they find someone.  Back in the country I got spoiled because I was the only appliance repair service within 30 miles, and I converted nearly every lead I got, even though there were fewer to begin with.

But between paying for leads whether they converted or not, and maxing out the margin my market would bear, I realized after only a month that I was working for the lead generation service, and they were paying me a relatively small salary considering how hard I was going at it all day.

Even though they were responsible for the bulk of my business, somehow it drove me crazy that they were taking so much of my hard earned cash.  I had to choose between a quiet phone and having an unintentional business partner.  I decided to turn the service down to a trickle and see if I missed it.

So far, it has been a relief.  I had become so aggravated by the cost of the leads, I was not my old self on service calls.  I started getting less satisfaction from my customers because I was turning into that grizzled technician that has to charge high markup so he can make a profit despite his overhead.

I found a less expensive lead generation service, started working for home warranty companies, got more good reviews and some large commercial clients started calling.  Pretty soon I was able to drop paid lead generation entirely, but I’ll never forget those days – nothing is worse than the sound of a quiet phone.

The Customer is Always Wrong

A typical customer these days thinks they know a lot more than they do, but you can’t tell them that!  They have access to the internet just like you do, which means DIY forums, manufacturer’s websites and online parts suppliers.

They honestly start out thinking they don’t need an appliance repairman at all, and that they can fix their appliance themselves.  Sometimes this is true, but more often it is not.

By the time I get a phone call, the customer has usually tried the obvious things, replacing a few snap-in parts, cleaning out the dryer vent, etc.  It hasn’t worked, so they have called someone who knows what they are doing.  That’s the best case scenario.

In the worst case scenario, the customer imagines themselves to be far more mechanically and electrically inclined, and dismantles the entire appliance, or worse, busts it to pieces trying to get to the part they think is broken.

I’m sure in the back of their head they are thinking, “It’s worth a try, and if I screw it up, I can always call a service technician!”

By the time I get that call, the appliance is a mangle of bent metal and scrambled parts that takes me an extra half hour to put back together.

But the fact that the customer has finally broken down and called me to ride to the rescue doesn’t mean they have been humbled.  Oh no.  They are still going to help me do my job.

They know all the things that aren’t wrong with the appliance, because they’ve tried all of those, and they definitely know what is wrong with it, because they’ve narrowed it down with troubleshooting tips from fix-it answer sites.

If there is one thing I’ve learned in appliance repair, the customer is always wrong.

In fact, their misleading “help” can actually cause delays in the repair by requiring extra proof that the problem isn’t the issue they think it is.

You can also spend extra time explaining operating theory to these junior repair technicians in order to give good customer service, which also slows down the repair process.

Also, their misdiagnosis can cause them to omit important information that would help you with what the appliance is really doing wrong because they have “eliminated” it as a possibility.

And finally, their inquisitive interference can ultimately distract you from your standard troubleshooting routine.

But, it’s all part of the job.  Appliance repair is not necessarily conducted in a clean, well lit, whisper quiet environment where you have all the time in the world to get your work done.

I consider it a challenge of my skill to go in after a do-it-yourselfer.  I don’t prefer it, of course, but I am always a little prouder when I get those jobs done.

And smart customers keep me on my toes with my technical knowledge.  If I can explain it to them, I have to know it myself first.

Of course they are more impressed with my expertise if they have tried to do it themselves, which makes for a lasting impression and often repeat business.

So if your customer knows it’s the motor, or the belt, or the pump, remember they are calling you because you are the real expert.  Just be sure to take what they say with a grain of salt.

Cherry Pick Til You Make It

If you want to start an appliance repair business on your own, there is really no way around the hands-on experience learning curve.

I armed myself with good training to start with from Uncle Harry, and relied heavily on his support system, but at the end of the day I still had to do the repairs myself, alone, in real time, and there was no way around it.

I had to find a way to ease myself into the water, especially on the tougher calls, and get the on the job training I needed, but still satisfy my customers and get their appliances fixed.

What I finally developed was a “cherry-pick ‘til you make it” strategy using alternative referrals.  Let me explain how it worked.

PART I:  THE “ESCAPE HATCH” TECH REFERRAL

First, I had a friend who sounded like they actually might be a customer call around to my competitors. I had my friend ask about a repair job that could be a lot of things, and how much it would cost to get it repaired.

My friend took lots of notes about which competitor was the nicest, which was the most knowledgeable, and which was the best value.

Now, I obviously used the pricing information to make sure my pricing was in line with my market, but the key point of this exercise was to find my “escape hatch” tech.

I picked the nicest, most knowledgeable and reasonably priced guy to refer jobs to when I didn’t feel comfortable doing them yet.

For example, I got a call from a property manager who wanted me to fix a coin-op dryer in an apartment complex.  With everything else I had to study, I hadn’t gotten around to coin-op yet.

In order to get to the call in a decent timeframe, it would have taken me a few hours of study, and I was booked solid for a couple of days with calls that I already knew how to do.  Sure I wanted to learn coin-op at some point, but this wasn’t destined to be the time.

So I pulled out my trusty “escape hatch” tech’s phone number, and told the property manager, “I know of a guy who might be more familiar with your unit, and I have his phone number right here if you would like it.”  The property manager was delighted, took the phone number and went on his way.

Now everybody’s happy.  I pass a good lead on to the “escape hatch” tech, the customer has a knowledgeable resource, and I look like a real nice guy.

You may never need your “escape hatch” tech, but with his number handy, you just feel more prepared for anything when you pick up the phone.

PART II:  THE FACTORY AUTHORIZED TECH REFERRAL

It’s your worst nightmare.  You’re out on a service call and you’ve tried everything.  You’ve exhausted all of your resources.  You can’t solve the problem, and nobody else can either!

The customer is getting antsy.  You are beginning to sweat.  How in the heck do you handle this one?

You’ll need a strategy to deal with this situation ahead of time, because after one of these, you might become a little gun-shy going out on service calls, and that’s death to your appliance repair business.

Here’s what I do.

I carry the factory authorized tech contact information for all of the major brands with me out on service calls.

If I get in a dead-end situation, I tell the customer, “I have exhausted all of my resources, and at this point I recommend a factory authorized technician who is particularly familiar with this unit to take a look at it.”  I give the customer the contact information, they are delighted, and I go on my way.

Now everybody’s happy.  I pass a good lead on to a factory authorized tech, the customer has a knowledgeable resource, and I look like a real nice guy.

Once again, you may never need your factory authorized tech contact information, but with the number handy, you just feel more prepared for anything when you go out on a call.

Indian Head Gasket Shellac Changed My Life

Sometimes I do a repair precisely by the book, leaving absolutely no possibility for error.  Then, at the moment of truth (i.e. testing the machine after reassembly), my heart sinks straight into my belly as I stare in disbelief when the appliance behaves just as if I never touched it.

This recently happened to me on a rather complex washer repair – replacing a tub seal – that requires extreme teardown and reassembly.  You sure don’t want to have to do it twice, but you need to put it all back together it before you can test the newly installed seal.  When I did, ouch!  The thing still had a slow, constant leak like I never knocked myself out putting in the new seal in the first place.

I was so bummed that I was grateful the washer was located in a separate room outside of the main house so I had some privacy to work through my “frustration.”  There I was in that dreaded situation where I had done everything right, and it just wasn’t clear to me what else I could do.

I decided to call GE technical support for any possible clue they could provide.  As the tech walked me through step-by-step everything I had already done, I nodded continually on the other end of the phone.  At the tail end of the call, though, he mentioned a special industrial adhesive, made by 3M and sold by GE, that is often used to reinforce the new tub seal after you install it, especially if it is not a particularly snug fit.

Although mine was a snug fit, it still leaked, so I contacted my parts house to try to get hold of some of the adhesive.  They didn’t have it in stock, and said they would need a couple of days to get it in.  Did I mention they said it was $29 a tube?!

As I continued to research the problem, I stumbled on the best tip of the day!  Another technician said he uses Indian Head Gasket Shellac every time he puts in a tub seal.  The best part is, Indian Head Gasket Shellac is available at any AutoZone, and costs $3.99 for what is apparently a lifetime supply.

There was an AutoZone just minutes from my service call, and I was back with a spanner wrench in my hand within an hour.  Now, while this didn’t relieve me from a second teardown of the washer, I now I felt I was not just shooting in the dark.  And, of course the second disassembly is always faster because you’ve already freed up all the corroded connections.

I got the new tub seal back out, applied the gasket shellac to the edges and reinstalled it, then I had to have to give it time to dry before I could retest the washer for leaks.  I went on another quick service call, then returned to check the results.

Bingo!  Wow, live and learn!  Earlier that day, I had no idea that the stuff even existed, and it turned out to be a lifesaver.  It is fair to say that Indian Head Gasket Shellac has changed my life.  If you don’t think so, see if I ever go out again without it!

Country to City – Moving My Appliance Repair Business

Just as things were building up a head of steam in the remote rural town of 18,000 people where I successfully started my appliance repair business, my wife landed a job in a city with a metro area of 1.3 million people.  So, I moved my business.

Here I am in a completely new business situation, cashing in on the up side, and dealing with the down side.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison so far:

Parts Houses vs. the Internet:

  • IN THE COUNTRY:  Where I lived before, it was a 80 mile round trip to the parts house, so I had to stock a sizeable inventory, and everything had to be ordered online.  Fortunately, my customers were used to living in a remote area, and so were patient with a two or three day wait for the parts to fix their appliances.
  • IN THE CITY:  Here in the city, they expect same day repairs, but the parts houses are close by, and even cheaper on some items than the internet, which means I  don’t have to stock as much inventory.

Competition:

  • IN THE COUNTRY:  There was almost no competition out in the boondocks – customers were so grateful I even serviced their area, they asked for fistfuls of business cards to tell their family and friends about me.  I got tons of referrals and repeat business.  I was one of three companies that came up in a Google search on appliance repair for my town, one of the other guys was out of business, and I developed a partnership with the other one.
  • IN THE CITY:  For the first couple of weeks, I was on Page 7 of Google for appliance repair in my city.  This was one of the scariest feelings I had about starting up here, and I seriously thought I would have to start paying for internet advertising.  But first, I thought I would try the free approach and see how far it got me.  In order to get better page rank, I added content to my appliance repair website, which was mainly tips and tricks for customers on how to get the most out of their appliances.  I also was forced to do SEO for my site by adding keywords, metadata and tags.  Most importantly though, I started asking my customers to give me honest reviews on directory sites.  Before long, I was on the first search page again, so it can be done for free with a little hard work.  So far I haven’t paid for any advertising – I’m still waiting to see how it far the free approach gets me.

Opportunity:

  • IN THE COUNTRY:  The worst thing about the tiny population I was dealing with was, I would get 6 or 7 calls a day some weeks, and then it would slow way down other weeks.  It was like there was only so much business to go around, and I already had most of it.
  • IN THE CITY:   Once I get fully up to speed and the phone keeps ringing here, looks like I can do steady business every week.

Rates:

  • IN THE COUNTRY:  There was only so much I could charge in my remote, depressed economy, so there didn’t seem to be much room for increasing my rates.
  • IN THE CITY:  It’s a little early to tell, but if I undercut the competition I could be selective, and if I want to charge more, I could do less work for more money.  Or, I could work harder and make more money than ever, which sounds good to me!

Driving:

  • IN THE COUNTRY:  The calls were 30 miles apart, and return trips were to be avoided if at all possible, although that was often not the case because I couldn’t warehouse every part, and had to order online and come back later to install.  The GPS also sent me on a bunch of time and gas wasting goose chases.
  • IN THE CITY:  I have the luxury of being 15 minutes away from my calls, and the parts house.  I can do more calls in a day with less wear and tear on my vehicle and myself.  And the GPS works here – no more printing out Google maps!

Toll Free Number:

  • IN THE COUNTRY:  When I first started up, I decided to go with a toll free number, mostly because I was in a remote rural area where everyone who called me would be charged for a toll call.  I thought they might not hesitate to call if it didn’t cost them anything.
  • IN THE CITY:  It also occurred to me that if I ever moved, I wouldn’t have to reorder business cards, invoices, signage, etc.  Boy, is this paying off now.

It’s a challenge moving a business, and with the entirely new environment in some ways it’s like starting all over again, but I’m going to work hard to be even more successful here than I was in my old location.

Holiday Recipe for Emergency Service Calls: Self-Cleaning Ovens!

Self-Cleaning Ovens Can Create Appliance Repair Service CallsSimply put, a customer deciding to self-clean their oven just before the holiday is an invitation for a last minute disaster and an emergency service call.

Most customers don’t know that self-cleaning mode runs an oven at a temperature over 900 degrees for a long and  potentially harmful period of time.

If you think about it, the process naturally stresses the heating elements, sensors, thermostats, and thermal cutoffs beyond their normal operating temperatures.

That additional stress may be all it takes for a weakened component that is ready to fail to tip over the edge and leave the customer begging you, the repair technician, to come out on Christmas Eve to get them back to happy holiday cooking.  That is if you are willing to go out on that call!

I have been telling my customers to spare themselves the gamble, but if they feel they must clean that oven before aunt Jenny comes out for her holiday visit to do it well in advance.  That way if there is a problem, they have they have plenty of time to schedule a service call and save their stress for more important things.

Happy Holidays from Appliance Repair Startup!

My Ten Problem Call from Hell

Most of my posts are positive examples of overcoming challenges with victorious endings.

I wish every call could go that way, but sometimes I get that call where nothing goes right, and in the interest of keeping it real, that’s just as important to write about as all the cool victories.

The two-part customer complaint seemed simple enough: the fresh food cabinet was too warm (55 degrees), and the icemaker wouldn’t dispense ice cubes at the door.

PROBLEM #1:  THE DISTANCE  The location was 45 miles away (a 90 mile round trip). That’s 180 miles if I had to return (which I did).

PROBLEM #2:  THE DOGS  When I arrived I was greeted at the door by two hyperactive wiener dogs that would not give me an inch of privacy anytime I got on my hands and knees to inspect things.

The customer told me she had to leave but I was welcome to stay and complete the repairs.  All she asked is that I lock the front door when I go, and DON’T LET THE DOGS OUT  (More on this later.)

PROBLEM #3:  THE LOADED FREEZER  The refrigerator was warm and the freezer had the classic signs of a defrost system failure with frost built up on the back wall of the freezer.

The freezer was stuffed to the hilt with food, and I had informed the customer that I needed to take everything out of the freezer section to access the evaporator coil.

She had no ice chests so everything had to just get scattered about the kitchen.

PROBLEM #4:  THE MASSIVE ICE BLOCK  With everything out I removed the back panel of the freezer and saw the biggest block of solid ice encasing the top half of the evaporator coil I had ever seen.

I’ve seen lots of frosted-up evaporators, but I wasn’t sure why this one was had solid ice as opposed to the typical snowy frost.

The relevance of this is that a solid block of ice is 10 times slower to defrost than the snowy type, and manual defrosting took me and my steamer almost 1 hour.  The ice cream on the countertop was now just chocolate soup.  (More on this later.)

PROBLEM #5: THE PREVIOUS TECH  After studying the situation, I noticed that the defrost heating element was undersized, and only covered the bottom half of the evaporator coil.

It appeared to be working OK because the bottom half of the coil had no frost built up on it. That explained why the top half had solid ice.  When the unit went into defrost, it only partially melted the frost on the top half, and then that refroze into ice once the defrost cycle ended.

I investigated further, and saw that the previous repairman rigged a non-conforming defrost element in place and figured it would work good enough (he probably didn’t have the right part with him).  I did have the right defrost heating element with me, but now I had to go in behind him and clean up his technical mess.

First complication was that when he installed the element, he cut away 20 inches of extra wire he didn’t need.  Now I needed all that wire to make my factory authorized part mount where it was designed to.

Unfortunately I didn’t have any of that type of wire with me, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to make that connection.

After some frustration and head scratching, I remembered that part of this service call was to haul off an old dryer and electric range they no longer wanted. I could just take some wire from the old dryer and replace it later.

With that good idea, the heating element install was done quickly.

PROBLEM #6:  NO ICEMAKER PART   Now I moved on to the non-distributing icemaker. Everything was working fine except the motor was not turning. I diagnosed it may be bad but I didn’t have that part with me.

At that point I reluctantly accepted the fact that I was going to be driving 45 miles back again to complete this call.

PROBLEM #7:  THE ICE CREAM EXPLOSION  I started to put all the stuff back in the freezer, beginning at the bottom and working my way up to the top.  As I was finally finishing up the top shelf, the last thing left was the melted chocolate ice cream.

Normally I would have asked the customer if they wanted to keep it, but since she was gone I didn’t want to make that assumption, so I figured I’d put it back in and they could decide later to throw it out.

Looking for somewhere in the overwhelmed top shelf to put it, I see a small space toward the back and start to slide it into place. Like some bad scene from a sitcom episode, the bottom lip of the container snagged on something.

My forward momentum tipped and dumped the entire half gallon of sticky chocolate soup, which ran from shelf to shelf covering as much as it possibly could before pooling up on the bottom shelf.

Everything now had to be re-emptied from the freezer and hand washed INCLUDING the wire shelving and mounting brackets.

PROBLEM #2 CONTINUED:  THE DOGS  After what felt like a lifetime cleaning up the ice cream mess, I took the faulty icemaker out to the truck.  The dogs bolted out from under my legs into the yard.

Since this was a very open and rural location no fences to contain the freedom intoxicated dogs, they played “run from the stranger” for 45 minutes.

I finally caught them and got them locked back inside the house.

PROBLEM #8:  THE RAIN  Just to make things even more fun it started to rain.  I now had to load the dryer and stove onto the truck on the slick, steep driveway, so I proceed cautiously.

PROBLEM #9:  THE TRANSMISSION FAILURE  With the appliances secured in the back of the truck, I was ready to get the heck out of there.  It was then that the truck transmission completely failed, and I could only move in reverse.

PROBLEM #10:  NO CELL RECEPTION  Did I mention this call was in a remote rural area with no cell phone reception?  With the customer’s house securely locked, I ended up going to a neighbor’s house and asking to use their land line.  These nice folks helped me out, and I called for help.  Now I only had to wait an hour until my ride showed up.

But it gave me some spare time to think and review all that had just happened.  I ultimately decided this was truly an exceptional string of misfortune.

I realized just how good I have had it on other calls, and I went from feeling a bit sour about things to a little more grateful…hmmm…I guess it’s just a taste of the real world.