ProjectLab: Andy versus the broken dryer
Is it better to fix something yourself or get a pro to do it?
Robert Pirsig touches on that idea early on in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”
I can't find a direct quote, but the competing ideas go something like this:
A: Professionals do a better job of fixing things because they know more about how to fix those things.
B: Problem-owners do a better job of fixing things because they are more likely to care whether a thing truly is fixed.
During my time as an apartment tenant, I had plenty of experience with idea B.
I once lived in a place where there were black flecks coming out of the kitchen faucet. I pointed out to the repair guy that there was black hose under the sink that appeared to be piping in the water. Maybe the hose was disintegrating? “No, there's no black hose there,” he said, without checking. Then he attached a screw-on water filter to the faucet.
Because a $15 filter is going to stop disintegrating plastic from leaching into your drinking water.
Later, in a different apartment, the washing machine was broken. The motor still was running, but the drum had stopped spinning. The apartment repair guy said he'd come over during the day and check it out.
At the end of the day, I came home. There was no note. The repair guy hadn't tried to call me. Nothing appeared to be different with the washer. I started it up, and what do you know, the drum still didn't spin.
I called up the repair guy: He said he came over, threw a load of towels in, left, and when he came back, the clothes were wet. Seemed like it worked to him, so problem solved.
This was a regular issue with the guy. Not only was it a mystery on whether he had fixed the problem, it was a mystery whether he had even been to the apartment. (At least give me a call to say, “Hey, I tried to fix those drawers again, but they are probably going to fall apart again soon because I used the same nails that didn't work last time.”)
Not all repair people are like this. My own experiences amount to an extremely small sample size, when compared with the whole world. But I like to point to these incidents as evidence to support my leanings toward doing things myself, if I'm able.
If we're talking fixing car transmissions, well, no way am I doing that. (Unless it was a hobby car that I didn't have to drive for a while. Then, maybe.) But if we're talking regular problems that can be looked up on YouTube, well, count me in. Not only is it money I'm trying to save, it's disappointing service that I'm trying to avoid.
A few months ago, I got to put my bias to the test. The dryer broke.
The problem: The drum no longer spun. I secretly hoped that it was something easy like a broken belt, not a burned up motor. Regardless, I had to take the dryer apart to find out.
The first step was research. Was this a doable project? My father-in-law thought so. And Abby was able to find a repair video for our dryer model almost immediately. The belt replacement process looked simple enough.
Abby and I next pulled the dryer away from the wall and unplugged it. Two screws on the front, hidden in plain sight, easily released the front panel. A socket wrench unbolted the front bracket. This revealed unfettered access to the dryer's innards.
I reached for the belt, hoping for an easy problem.
It was frayed alright. Frayed to the point of being broken! Excellent news.
I pulled out the drum anyway so I could check for other problems. Luckily, the bearings, pulleys and motor all sounded good when I spun them.
The next step was finding a new belt. No local place had one in stock, though Amazon did. That meant a two-day wait, but there was no other choice.
The belt showed up. I was a little apprehensive at this point. How would I hold the drum in while looping a belt around some twisted system of pulleys? I decided to procrastinate by oiling up the bearings, as recommended in one of the videos. Yeah, it felt a little weird to apply motor oil inside something that gets so hot. But I would be careful! I told myself.
Of course, as soon as I pressed down on the oil can's thumb lever, something snapped in the nozzle. The thing flew apart. Oil-covered oil-can parts went everywhere inside the dryer. I cleaned things up as best as I could, cursing myself for my perfectionist ways.
Finally, I got to the belt installation. This proved easier than expected. The bearings basically held the drum in place while I installed the belt. Even the belt pattern, which was tough to twist my mind around, wasn't impossible. During my first attempt, I missed a step, so the belt was extremely loose. Once I took a closer look at the diagram, it all made sense, and with a little bit of screwing around, the new belt was installed.
Reassembly was simple. I plugged the dryer back in. It sounded a little weird at first, but after we threw some clothes in and let it run for a while, the sound normalized.
Months later, the dryer still is running great.
I know house projects won't always go well. But this one did. I'm glad I tried it.
SUMMARY: REPLACING DRYER BELT
Difficulty: 1.5 stars out of 5. Pretty easy.
Skills required: Research. Troubleshooting. Ability to spin a wrench, turn a screwdriver and wrap your mind around a belt pattern. Some amount of contorting also is needed, but you don't need to be an Olympian or anything. Put down some cushions if your knees are bad.
Tools required: Wrench. Screwdriver. Oil can is optional. (If you're going to buy one, don't get that generic orange oil can you can find at most mechanical supply stores. Mine flew apart after barely any use. Try to buy an old, cleanish one from a consignment shop or antique store.)
Supplies: New belt. Motor oil, again, optional.
Cost: I paid $12 for my dryer belt. It now is $8 on Amazon. Your price will vary.
Was this worth doing? Oh yeah. Reinstalling the belt was the most frustrating part, and that only took 10 minutes. Plus, if I had taken the thing apart and discovered that the belt was fine, I would have had more information for a repair tech, reducing the chance that they'd get in there and try to lie about my "drum fluid levels" being low or something like that.
Have you tried to fix a dryer? Have any good or bad experiences with repair people? Let me know. Send me an email at email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @andrewreuter, follow me on Instagram at @reuter_andrew or leave a comment below.