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 outputting 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 know 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 upside, and dealing with the downside.

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

Parts Houses vs. the Internet:

  • IN THE COUNTRY:  Where I lived before, it was an 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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!


  • 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 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.

The 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 landline.  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.

Looking Back at My Appliance Business Startup

First Call (Almost)Business has been very good for me.  In fact, it is growing much faster than I originally predicted it would be at this time in my first year. I have gotten so busy that I really haven’t had time to blog, and that’s the simple answer as to where I’ve been.

I have been astonished to see how many people have inquired about new content on my blog site, and I’m flattered and pleased that so many readers are actually following my journey and have expressed interest in hearing more.

I am not a professional writer (maybe that’s obvious once you start reading this stuff), but I started this blog with the specific intent of simply documenting the process of starting an appliance repair business from scratch with no previous training or skill in the industry.

I have been self-employed for most my adult life, and I know how difficult things can be to get started in a new business.  I felt like there were others out there with the same concerns, and that my real world chronicle might help them weigh the pros and cons of taking on such a venture.

Starting an appliance repair business felt like a huge challenge to me, and I was battling the fear of not being able to learn enough fast enough to earn a decent income within a realistic timeframe.  I actually succeeded much more quickly than I ever thought I would.

Originally I thought I would just share my first six months of experiences so others could have some perspective on the startup process for themselves.

It turns out the story of my ongoing business is becoming of so much interest to everyone, I am going to continue blogging about my repair business experiences.

So far this blog has been very successful in telling my story, and I believe it can help many others trying to make the decision whether to pursue this field or not.  I will continue adding as much useful information as I can, and I hope it continues to help.

2017 Note –
Looking back now to 2011, it seems like forever ago, but boy have I grown in my knowledge and ability to make a great income while still maintaining my goals of having family time and freedom.  Like every startup guy, I had my difficulties but persevered.  You can review my many other posts to see how I have changed my approach and gotten better at this great business.

Six Month Review

Appliance Repair Startup Six Month ReviewI can’t believe it’s been six months since I successfully started my appliance repair business!

I am surprised at some of the things I have learned along the way.  Many things have been easier than I thought, and a few harder.

Here are a few things I have observed so far:

  • Overall I have surprised myself at how well I have been able to perform at the customer’s home. The first few calls were absolutely nerve-wracking, but I still got a very good response and compliments from those customers when finished.  They really had no idea that I was brand new at this.
  • I can raise my rates. I started out with the thought of keeping my rates a bit lower than my competition to attract new customers.  I found out that people don’t comparison shop the service.  They certainly want to know what you will charge them, but as long as you are you aren’t well above all the others, it works.
  • Calls are very diverse. I originally thought that there would be a pattern of typical repairs and failures peppered with the occasional esoteric problem.  Nope, things are all across the board and that forces me to learn as much as I can about everything.
  • I hit the flashpoint. This is when I started to see the commonality between all appliances.  This was a helpful turning point because when I first started out I was daunted by the diversity of makes and models.  It felt like it was going to take forever to learn all the quirks and features of all this stuff.  Soon, though, the commonality of things became more apparent.
  • Other technicians aren’t supermen. Because I was so new, I entered this business with some insecurity about my abilities.  I imagined all other service technicians were fast, single-visit repairmen that never made an incorrect diagnosis.  Turns out that’s not entirely accurate.
  • Customers love communication! I tell people as much as I can about what I am doing and what to expect from the process.  I tell them as much as I can about my diagnostic approach and how I got there.  I think people are a bit suspicious of the tight-lipped technician, and that sets them up for unfavorable scrutiny.
  • This is an efficient, low cost, high paying career choice. I can’t believe I was able to start running service calls after 40 days of initial studying.  I still study, and I’m still learning (and always will be), but most of my experience is out in the field now.  I just needed that startup level of training to get me out into the real world.

Getting Past the Fear of Running My First Service Calls

Getting Past the Fear of Appliance Repair Service CallsWith a few service calls under my belt, I am finally starting to get past my initial fear of going into other people’s homes and fixing some appliance that I have never seen before.

Honestly, I have a long way to go before I feel totally comfortable, but I was surprised at just how nervous I felt on those first few calls.

Confidence can’t be learned in the classroom, and there is no substitute for the real world.  But being prepared by scheduling calls for the next day and doing my research ahead of time was actually my best defense for those first call yips.

I service appliances in a rural area and people around here never have a problem with me scheduling their repair for the next day as long as it isn’t an emergency like a non-cooling refrigerator or freezer.  In fact, they consider that very good service.

I think keeping the calls within a 24-hour turn around will be acceptable in most service environments.  It actually projects a busy repairman.  People want a technician who is busy but not too busy for them, so I go ahead and play that hand.  That then gives me time to research the customer’s problem.

I start by getting the service manual for that particular machine.  Fortunately, Uncle Harry has a library of 5,000 manuals online that I have access to which came along with buying his course.

Once I get the manual, I review Uncle Harry’s videos on that particular repair.

I will then search for various online repair forums to see if they have anything on that subject.

When I arrive on site, I have a clear idea of where I’m going to start troubleshooting.

When you first ring that doorbell, although the customer assumes you are going to be a competent and experienced technician, they then spend the next ten minutes scrutinizing that assumption until they feel confident that they have made the right choice hiring you as a repairman.

Having a fresh review of that particular appliance and its problem gives me something intelligent to say to the customer when I enter the house and keeps me ready for their questions.  I think that makes me look like an experienced technician to the customer.

I always try to have my meter out and working on something as quickly as possible.  People are watching you the moment you walk in the door even when they are in the other room in front of the television or a computer.

The lesson is simple to me.  Always be prepared, and that will defuse the nerves and fear.  Get that new customer confident in you early and it will pay off big in a smooth running service call.


The Random Nature of Service Calls

The Random Nature of Appliance Repair Service CallsOK, I admit it, I’m a bit of a control freak.  I spend my life organizing and planning the events of my day.

When studying appliance repair, I found myself choosing to study the appliances that I thought would be most in demand for repair FIRST and the least likely to get service calls LAST.

One problem – I didn’t know enough about the business to make that call accurately.

Once I hung my shingle, I was no longer in control of that variable.  People would call for stuff I thought I would hardly ever be servicing.

For example, I concluded that I didn’t need to study microwave repair early on because, heck, people just replace a $100 microwave when it breaks.  Well, that part is true, but I never accounted for the high-end appliance or the oven/microwave combination unit.  That’s much more costly to replace if the microwave dies, and that was one of my early service calls.

I found the random nature of service calls to be an eye-opening experience.  It reminds me there is a lot yet to learn in this business and this is no time let my guard down.  It’s a reality check that keeps me from slipping into a distorted view of what I think I need to know.

I have learned to embrace the random nature of calls.  It gives me diversity in my studies and keeps the learning process energized.  Each call is a new lesson and an exercise in the theatre of customers.  Right now that’s just as important as the paycheck from the completed job.

Now I look forward to the random nature of service calls, and I know I’m gathering valuable experience to be that service technician I’m meant to be.

The Customer So Nice, I Got Called Twice

Repeat Appliance Repair CustomersNot only did I get my first repeat customer call, but it came from my first ever customer

It was for the same appliance that I serviced just a few weeks earlier – the good news is the problem was unrelated to my first

After the first call, this guy thought I was a genius, and I wanted to reinforce his opinion.  He said his Maytag Duet was severely out of balance and sounded like it was falling apart when you ran it.  I told him it seemed like he had a suspension problem and I would be happy to take a look at it.

Once in front of the machine, I was not sure exactly what I was looking for.  Wow, it made a huge racket when I tried to run it!

I took a deep breath and reminded myself that this is a mechanical failure, and so the problem should be physically identifiable. Sometimes I struggle with tracing electronic circuitry, but this should be very different to diagnose.

I opened up the bottom panel to look around. Bingo!  Right off the bat, I noticed a shock absorber dislodged and just hanging off the suspension.  It just clipped back into place and looked perfectly good and undamaged.  That was easy!

I continued to look around and hey, another one was dislodged and hanging off in the back.  Wow – two of three dislodged from their connectors.  No wonder this thing sounded like a couple of buses in a demolition derby!

I told the customer that they indeed had a suspension problem, but it was immediately repairable and wouldn’t need any expensive parts.  A suspension problem must have sounded bad because he was so relieved I could tell that he had been sweating it.

I went back and finished reassembling the washer.  I also cleaned out the filter basket in the pump, which had an assortment of coins, paperclips, and stuff.  I asked him where I could throw out the items just so he was aware that I had even done this extra step.

With everything assembled, I ran a test load and voila, running smoothly as a Swiss watch!  Now all that was left was to write up my invoice and enjoy feeling like that appliance genius that this customer thinks I am.

It’s Not What You Study, It’s What the Customer Needs Fixed

What the Appliance Repair Customer Needs FixedAnother service call came in, but this one threw me way off!  Customer says she has a GE microwave that is dead and wants to know if I can come to take a look at it.

I kept a cool tone, but my stomach was in a spin.  I knew I hadn’t touched ANY of the materials in Uncle Harry course about microwaves because I figured those would be obscure and unlikely calls.  I figured wrong.

I couldn’t help but think, of all the stuff I studied what are the odds I get this call now?  Why couldn’t it just be a nice direct drive washer or side-by-side with a defrost problem?

One of the reasons I postponed the study of microwaves is they are really mostly about electronic circuitry and that is not my strong suit yet.  I guess in the back of my mind I hoped those calls would come later when I knew all about that.  I told myself I had other priorities in my study list and I would get to microwaves in due time.  Well, due time is right now.

I did my standard scheduling for the next day (so I could study that problem today).  Got the model number from the customer and looked it up in the service manual.  Oh, no…this is a fancy oven microwave combination built-in.  Now I’m starting to panic because I never opened up a microwave before let alone pulled out a built-in unit from the wall.

How am I going to do this?  I’m just one guy and this thing may be heavy!  No wait a minute, somebody installed this thing, probably by themselves, maybe there is some special dolly or stand I’m supposed to have to remove this thing with?  Now my mind is racing – I don’t own that equipment!

I’m desperately rifling through the service manual and I spot the answer.  The upper microwave detaches from the lower oven once the trim and assorted mounting screws are removed.  PHEW!  Suddenly this sounds do-able again.

I continue to cram on the subject.  Hmmm…not too bad, not as much as I thought inside one of these things.  The biggest problem is I may need to trace the voltage or continuity through the circuits – I guess this is as good a time as any for that hands-on lesson.

There is an unexplainable fear that comes with working on any type of appliance for the first time.  I mean like, the first gas stove, first dishwasher, first microwave.  I can’t wait to get that base level of experience behind me and get past this stage of my development!

I get as prepared as possible and go out on the call.  I arrive at a nice weekend home on the lake.  The customers are very nice and comfortable to work with.  I’m looking at the microwave trying to remember the order of disassembly to get the microwave out from the wall.  I’m very nervous and trying hard not to act it.

I had started keeping a file of relevant printed pages from the service manual in my toolbox just in case I needed it.  OK, this time I need it.  Along with the instructions for disassembly (which would make me look inexperienced to the customer), I have all the wiring diagrams and technical illustrations in that file.  I keep those on top so I can sneak a peek below at the basic stuff I need to refer to.  Turns out there is a fair amount of disassembly, and because it’s my first time I can’t remember all the steps in order.

I push forward and get the unit out of the wall and onto the kitchen countertop.  The first thing to check – are we are getting 240 VAC from the wall?  From what I’ve read, most electric ovens have a terminal block on the back where you can easily test this. Nope, not this one – the line runs straight into the unit and terminates somewhere not immediately accessible.  I’m going to need further disassembly to get to wherever the source is readable with my multimeter.

Because I don’t come from a technical or electrical background, this sort of thing does not come naturally to me.  I was naive enough to think that if you study technical manuals they will tell you exactly what needs to happen.  I never factored in the process of technical interpretation.

It’s becoming apparent to me that all the studying in the world will only get you the guidelines of what you need to do.  There is still an element of thinking on your feet and creativity that is going to be the biggest tool in your box.

With additional tear down, I gain access to the 240 VAC line inside the oven.  It’s time to get started.

Hey, L-1 and L-2 aren’t reading 120 VAC!  Problem is voltage supply and not in the unit.  Customer is going to need a licensed electrician for this one.  Gee, I was just getting started here.

OK, I put everything back together and tell the customer where the problem is.  I pepper it with “Good news, you don’t need an expensive control board.”  They happily write me a check, and I feel like I got paid for another day at school!

Ever Have That Feeling You’re Being Watched?

Being Watched on an Appliance Repair Service CallIt was a conspiracy of ironic bad luck that sent me on my second ever service call.  I had no idea when I rang the doorbell just how challenging fate was going to make my next experience.

It was not because the customer was some terrible jerk that demanded unreasonable results with no intention of paying for my services.

No, it was because they were nice, really nice!  Too nice…and too “hands on” involved with the repair of their Maytag Neptune dryer.

My second customer was a retired diesel tractor mechanic of 27 years and knew a whole lot about how to tear things apart and put them back together again.  He called me because his attempts to locate and repair the no spin problem of his Maytag dryer were somehow beyond his mechanical capabilities and he needed an EXPERT in on this one – me!

He thought he would just hang by my side watching every move I made and learn a thing or two.  After all, we’re fellow mechanics, right?  Holy smoke, I needed this like a hole in the head right now.  It was show time and the curtain was up.

I must stop and say I would normally welcome nurturing the customer/technician relationship, but this was my second call…ever!  I was nervous, unfamiliar, a little unsure, and grasping at anything that smokes screened my baby fresh newness and projected confidence and experience to my customer.

Now Bob was a very nice guy, and not even being a nuisance. The problem is I didn’t really have what he was expecting from me – lots of war stories about other machines with similar problems or possibly some editorializing about the good ole days before all this PCB technology took a stranglehold on the future of appliance design.  At the very least maybe he was hoping I could just chat about what makes some appliances better than others and how to avoid these costly problems in the future.

Nope, can’t help there.  Those gems all come from years of experience.  All I have to offer is that I know I can diagnose and fix this dryer, and charge a reasonable price to do it.  That is all I know my friend, and I never said it would be pretty getting to that result.

I had just studied the specific problem in its entirety in the Uncle Harry video course and the Maytag service manual.  I only hoped to not be too distracted as I fumbled about to find all the relevant parts in 3-D.  I only hoped to disassemble the dryer in a manner in which I could remember to reassemble it without much noticeable head scratching or any parts left over. I did not expect to do this in front of a qualified audience, one who had enthusiastically taken on the role of my assistant, ready and eager to help me fetch a torx 20 driver or extra flashlight if needed.

OK, so with Bob tightly welded to my side I now needed to open this unit up and get to the prime suspect, which was the wax motor.  My research had told me that historically the Maytag Neptune has problems with the locking mechanism failing and that results in the dryer not advancing into the high-speed spin mode. I needed to check the operation of the wax motor, but there were a number of panels that need to be disassembled to get to the section that exposed the wax motor for service.

Now bear in mind that I have NEVER disassembled a dryer before, and this was my first opportunity to do so.  Bob was busy being very social and telling me stories of various tractors he has repaired and kind of waiting for my responses, but I could not really focus on his banter.  I could only try to focus on the flow chart in the service manual regarding this repair.

It was at that point that something clicked in my head.  I became very aware that this is all part of the process.  It’s unrealistic to expect to enter into somebody’s home and always be given lots of space and uninterrupted privacy.  On some jobs, I’m going to be left very much alone (like my first repair job) and others are going to be much more socially interactive, like this one.  It turns out that this is very much a people business, and those skills need just as much development as the technical skills.

Finally getting access to the wax motor, I could start the spin cycle and observe its operation.  Lo and behold, just like my research said, I could see that the actuator was not making full contact with the door lock microswitch.  Looked like a classic wax motor failure.  I got the bright idea to shim the actuator so it could make good contact to test my results.

Oops, the dryer was still not advancing to high-speed spin.  Now that pointed to the control board.  After I thought I was going to get out of this one neatly, the fact was that I was not done here.  Deeper disassembly and more diagnostics would be needed just when Bob was getting ready to make more coffee and get distracted with his police scanner.

Visual inspection of the board showed charring on the R-11 resistor and that spelled a much bigger expense for Bob.  I explained that typically the failing wax motor sends a bad signal to the control board and is responsible for frying its circuitry.

Bob looked frustrated and told me that he only paid $250 for the entire unit and didn’t want to spend what the control board would cost on the repair.  I told him that I could understand his frustration but it may be hard to replace a stacking washer and dryer unit for any less than that.  He agreed with me about that but said he wasn’t very happy with the darn thing anyway and chose not to repair it.

I told him I understood perfectly and he would only be responsible for my diagnostic fee since he chose not to do the repair.  With many thanks, he wrote me a check for my diagnostic fee and even added $10.00 as a thank you for my terrific service.

I was pleased enough with that.  After all, I had a chance to test my diagnostic skills, physically tear down and rebuild a complex stacking unit, season myself with the social side of my new career, and even get paid for all that experience and education.  I even survived the stress test of having an experienced mechanic shoulder surf my entire service call.  I’ve never been paid to learn stuff before, so that’s a good deal – I can’t wait for the next call!

My First Service Call (For Real) Part 2

Getting Paid for Appliance RepairThe part came to Fedex at around 1:00 PM the next day.  I called the customer and arranged to come by at 2:00 PM.

When I got there, the customer let me find my way to the laundry room – we were old pals by now.

There was a load of unwashed laundry in the washer waiting impatiently for my repair.  I took the clothes out of the washer and went to work.

The door hook was easy, but I realized in order to install the door latch, which was electronic, I couldn’t really unplug the washer the way they had it stacked in a tight little alcove.  I would have had to remove the dryer from on top, and I wasn’t about to do that.

I made a calculated decision.  Knowing that the door latch plugged into a wiring harness, it wasn’t about to blow out the entire system.  I’d have to repair it without unplugging it at all.

First, I detached the boot.  It had a retainer spring under it that I could get off well enough, but I worried about getting it back on and making a tight seal later.  I figured I probably could do it and kept on going.

Once I had the boot out of the way, I removed the old door latch, and simple enough, installed the new one.  I thought to myself, I got pretty lucky on this first call with something so cut and dried.

With a little struggle, I got the retainer spring and the boot back into place, but I was still nervous if I had gotten it back right.

OK, now I had to test the machine.  I will admit, I am not a wizard with electronic gadgets.  But I loved this washer because it had an analog selector knob that ran all the electronic controls.  I closed the door, and turned the selector  to “Normal” and pressed “Start.”

A bunch of the display lights came on.  I heard the door click and the water started.  So far so good…

Then it stopped.

Uh oh…

What the…?!?

I turned the machine to “Drain,” waiting for it to drain, and tried again.

All the time, I was having a small cow.  I kept thinking, what if they sent me a defective part??  I know I installed it right…at least I think I’m sure…

Back on “Normal” went the selector.  The door clicked.  The water started.

Then it stopped again.

I stood there in a daze for a moment,  not exactly sure what I would have to do next.  Apparently, it was just long enough, because the door clicked locked and the water starts flowing again.


At this point, I figured that must be part of the locking cycle, but wasn’t at all sure about that.  I drained it out again and put the unwashed load of laundry back inside.

I admit I looked over the washer for a couple of minutes just to explore it.  I had never had my hands on one, so I thought I’d familiarize myself a little bit while I had the chance.

After packing my tools, I went out to write up the invoice.  Actually, I already had it written up.  I just fiddled around with my clipboard for a minute or two, then came back inside.

“Looks like this is the damage,” I said handing the customer my first invoice ever!

“Who do you want me to make the check out to?” he asked without batting an eye.

There it was, my first ever paycheck in appliance repair!  I was so far up in the clouds, I forgot to leave him a business card.

When I got home, I celebrated.

I made a copy of the check to keep in my “files.”  A couple of days later, I was in town and deposited the check in my brand new business account I had opened a week earlier at the local bank.

The other day I was glancing through the repair manual for that model and it clearly states:



The Door Locking Routine will only start if the door is securely closed and the Door Switch Contact is CLOSED.

1. The Door Lock Relay is energized whenever a wash cycle is started. The relay is operated for 40 milliseconds.

2. During the next three (3) seconds, the contacts on the door lock are checked by the central control unit

a. If the contacts are CLOSED, this routine is finished.

b. If the contacts are still open after 3 seconds, the Central Control Unit energizes the Door Lock Relay for 40 ms and then checks the door lock contacts for 3 seconds. This will occur a maximum of 6 times. If the door is not locked after 6 trials, the Central Control Unit will enter a failure mode and the digital display will show FdL.