True Story No35

 

I hate repairing white goods!

Of necessity I fix things around the house that I refuse customers point blank. These are so-called white goods….. washing machines, dishwashers, fridges and the like. They are heavy and cumbersome and spare parts cost too much.

The other day our washing machine started to make a bit of a rumble. Then it sounded like a Morgan and now it sounds more like a Harrier taking off. We shouldn't use it after 9pm otherwise the local pressure group will be ringing up Bournemouth Airport and complaining about late aircraft movements.

After considerable nagging I bought a spider and bearing kit but it's still lying on the floor somewhere where I unpacked it.

Not to be outdone, the Bosch dishwasher which stands next to the washing machine, and which has stood us in good stead for something like 28 years suddenly stopped working. When any program was selected it made a noise like a machine gun and rapidly went through all its settings in about 30 seconds. Like the washing machine it stood there unattended. I kept getting asked to take my turn and wash the dishes but my excuses were wearing a bit thin, "I can't I've got a bone in my arm", etc. and then I couldn't find a clean beer glass.

If you've never had a dishwasher then you wouldn't realise that you need at least four times as many knives and forks, spoons, plates and cups etc. This is so the machine can be filling up for a decent load. So when I say there weren't any clean glasses you can imagine the size of the heap of dirty dishes!

After having exhausted my repertoire of excuses I finally wheeled the dishwasher out of its cubby hole.
I'd repaired it twice before. In 1970 something and 1980 something. Unfortunately it was so long ago that I can't remember exactly what I did so I had to start from scratch again. When I removed the door front I was faced with the usual mass of strange looking bits and of course the ubiquitous, pre-microprocessor, program unit with its two small motors and into which a jumble of wires disappeared.

First I took some pictures with our digital camera so I could see how everything fitted back together, then I wrote copious notes on where the dozens of various wires went on the controller. As I recall having had some trouble in the past, when I ended up with a couple of wires left over, I called my better half to check my scribblings and call out the wires, "blue with red stripe goes to the back row 4th down; white with black hoops goes second to front 2nd row down etc.", but as all was well I removed the controller and disconnected it. Usually one finds burnt contacts inside these things but I couldn't remember how it came apart and after some abortive attempts, when a load of little cog wheels almost broke free and flew into the air I remembered that the set of half a dozen or so changeover contacts are demountable. I removed a fixing, took them out and pulled them apart. Inside were lots of burnt looking contacts. I cleaned them all up using a phosphor bronze brush fitted in a small electric drill until they all gleamed like new. Then, after studying the pictures from the camera, it all went together and I even had the confidence to fit a new mains plug, as the other was in a dreadful state, and to screw up every loose bit in sight.

I wheeled it back into its cubby hole and confidently switched on. It made one click and stopped. This was different. I pressed the go button again and it made a noise like a machine gun and stepped through all its programs in 29 seconds. Groan!
I thought for a minute about packing in and having a lie down but then I thought about having to wash the dishes and rough red washday hands so I pulled it out and started all over again. I removed the controller, detached the relay contact sets and checked them by pushing the operating spring by hand and measuring the resistance with a meter. All were OK except one which didn't feel the same as the others. I checked and found I'd fitted its return spring in the wrong place. I fitted it in the right place and put everything back together, carefully making sure the million wires went to the right places again. This time I didn't actually fit the front and I didn't push the machine back into position. At least, if it didn't work this time, I wouldn't have to take the front off, I thought as I switched on. It made a noise like a machine gun and went through its programs in 30 seconds. It was now exactly as it had been when it had first gone wrong!

I thought about giving in and saving up to buy a new one, but then imagined how many TV sets I'd have to repair to make the money, and decided this was not a good idea and I should look under the front panel. This is at floor level and hides all the major bits. I tilted the machine backwards at 45 degrees, propped it on a log and unscrewed the panel. Peering in I could see what looked like a big relay, a motor, a couple of solenoid operated water valves and several other, but unrecognisable, bits and pieces. Well, on the principle that if the controller contacts had been burnt, the relay contacts were probably in the same condition, I noted the wiring, removed the relay and prised it open. A little spring fell out and I found the contacts were dreadful and the plastic in which they fitted was melted and burnt. After cleaning the contacts up I reassembled the thing and refitted all the wiring. I left the front off and the small lower panel as by now I was getting a little pessimistic to say the least. I plugged it in and switched it on. There was a noise like a machine gun………..

I scratched my head yet again and peered for inspiration into the space wherein resided all the major bits. With vast intellectual effort, and just about exhausting my power of logic, I recalled I'd never heard the relay operating when I'd poked the "on" button; so after unplugging the machine yet again I traced the wiring from the relay coil. All the wires in the machine seemed to have unique colours so tracing them was easy even though they disappeared from one harness into another. Two wires, a blue and a pink, were connected to the relay coil. One wire went to the controller via the door safety switch (which I'd tested), the other went to one of the pins on the controller next to its small, mains powered motors.

I checked continuity of the blue wire and was rewarded with a squeak from the meter. I checked the other, admittedly without much enthusiasm, and got no response. Odd, it must be the wrong wire. From the relay the substantial pink wire went across the bottom of the machine, up through a plastic tube to emerge inside the drop-down door and then go, via a harness, to the controller. Were there any other pink wires? No there weren't so I decided to pull the end of the wire and see if the other end moved as well. If it did it must be the same wire. I gripped the pink wire and pulled. Not far! It had only exited the plastic tube half an inch before a raw end was revealed! I poked around in the tube and found the other end. After pulling hard on this I was able to withdraw it far enough to be able to solder it to the controller end. Opening and closing the front door for 28 years had taken its toll. The wire had broken from metal fatigue.

I plugged in the machine and was, thankfully, rewarded by a reassuring clunk from the relay followed by the sound of motors whirring. I screwed all the panels up and pushed the machine back into its place. What a relief … I didn't have to wash the dishes after all. Now for the washing machine….no, I'll have that lie down, I'll fix the washing machine tomorrow.

Tomorrow arrived.

Wife from the utility room... in front of the dishwasher.

"There's something wrong with the door... it won't close".

"What door?"

"The dishwasher door".

I groan and plod off to see what's she'd done to my newly repaired machine... this time.

The door certainly wouldn't close. It hinged upwards and just before it clunked into place it stopped hingeing and stuck. I tried a little harder and it still wouldn't close. I tried very hard but something really strong was stopping the door closing. I muttered some rude words and went back to watch the TV.

The next weekend after a kitchen perpetually full of dirty dishes I unscrewed the door cover. At the lower edge of the door are a couple of powerful hinge assemblies with counterbalancing arrangements. I just couldn't see what was wrong so I unscrewed the hinge that was causing the problem. I peered at it but I still couldn't figure out what was wrong. There were several chunky bits of metal and a very strong spring all jammed together and covered in gunge. I clamped it in a large bench vise and attempted to operate it. Naturally it hinged to about 80 degrees then jammed solid and wouldn't go any further.

I attacked it with a large hammer but it just bounced off. I prised it with a large screwdriver but it just wouldn't grip anything. The problem was the large spring which was somehow holding things together but not properly together. I tried to compress the spring but the vise jaws kept slipping off it.

It reminded me of one of those chinese puzzles that just drop apart if you twist them the right way. Finally using the bench vise, a clamp, a screwdriver, a large nail and a lot of fiddling the spring finally gave up its hold and I was rewarded with a collection of metal parts and a large spring. I went back and had a look at the other hinge, still in-situ in the machine. Using a mirror and a flashlamp and after several visits to compare the working hinge with my collection of bits I discovered that a piece of metal had broken off the main body. My son who was busy rebuilding his latest Land Rover was consulted. "I can weld that", he said. I left the thing clamped in the bench vise and went back to watch TV. An hour later, after he had found a few minutes to cart his welder out, I was called to view his handiwork. Now all that remained was to fight with the spring and put the hinge back together. It's one of those jobs where you really need to make up a jig to do it, but after about and hour of fiddling and a large bloodblister I had managed to fit the spring and it seemed to work when clamped in the vise.

I fitted it back to the base of the dishwasher door and tried it out. The door now seemed to be more or less counterbalanced, something I'd noticed had been missing for a few years.

"It's done", I called out to no-one in particular and collapsed in front of the TV.

Later that evening there was a shout from the utility room; "There's water pouring out the front of the dishwasher all over the floor".

I pretended not to hear.

The next day there was the usual pile of dirty dishes in the kitchen.

I didn't rush to look at the machine and for some time things were a little strained.... until the next weekend. I'd been thinking about what had gone on. The door had been pushed rather hard against the broken hinge and had probably distorted somehow and the door seals had possibly been damaged or most likely the door framework had been bent out of place. I thought about this on and off for most of the morning, until later when I opened the door and checked the seal. It was certainly frayed at the bottom on both sides and I found, after I had positioned a piece of paper in one side and closing the door, that I could pull it out easily with no resistance. Certainly the right side of the door above the newly repaired hinge was not shutting tightly. By now, in the well at the bottom, had collected a lot of evil smelling water so I decided to flush it out by running the machine in a quick rinse cycle before I started work.

I settled down in front of the dishwasher and turned it on. There was the sound of pumps whirring and water gushing. I mused about things in general until water began to trickle onto the floor from the base of the door. I was still musing when water started to gush from the bottom of the door, so I stopped musing and gathered an old towel with which I commenced to mop up the spillage and wring out of the back door. After several minutes I decided to find a bucket. After quarter of an hour I began to think somethink was amiss. Water was still gushing into the machine and there was an echoey sort of sound which I recognised was a half-full dishwasher.

My bucket had been filled and emptied more times than I could recall.

Now I don't think that these machines are supposed to get full of water. For reasons of economy only a few litres are used and these are circulated by a pump. Something other than a leaky door was the problem. I seemed to recall this event before when the washing machine did the same thing. Then one could observe the water level rising to the top of the glass window. Here one could only imagine the inside becoming full, as there was no window.

After a lot of switching off and on, and thumping the front, I managed to get the draining pump to operate and the machine finally emptied itself.

I opened the door and removed its front to gain access to the works. There were two pressure sensors, connected to the base of the machine by plastic tubes, clipped to the door top. I closed the door and pulled off one of the tubes. Switching the machine on, I blew into the first sensor. Immediately the water gushing sound ceased and the machine started its program. This was certainly something I hadn't heard it doing for the past hour squatting in front of the thing. I reconnected the first sensor and tried the second. Blowing into it also produced lots of motor activity and switching noises.

I removed tbe lower inspection panel, after making sure the dishwasher had drained, and pulled off the first tube from the large plastic container underneath the machine. It popped off accompanied by a dribble of water. I poked a small crochet hook into the tube and extracted some jelly-like gunge. I also found a similar quantity inside the plastic fitting to which the tube connected. I pulled off the second tube and found a lot more of the greyish-black stuff. After making sure all was removed I reconnected the tubes and for good measure looked at the repaired hinge. The thing seemed to be about quarter of an inch different to the one on the left so the door wasn't closing tightly on that side. As there were no adjusting screws I decided to batter it with a hammer. This proved to be a fruitless action so I went off in search of something different. I came back with a Land Rover high lift jack capable of raising several tons. Inserting it under the right hand hinge I commenced to crank it upwards expecting the assembly to slip into place. All that happened was the dishwasher lifted off the floor. I decided to call upon the services of my better half. "Stand on top please but mind the live connections as you scramble up", (the door front was still detached and all the mains wiring was there to be touched by an unsuspecting knee). She climbed up and sat on the machine. I cranked the jack handle and this time I was rewarded by the hinge slowly moving into place. For good measure I bashed it with a hammer. After removing my wife and the jack I inspected my handiwork. The quarter of an inch discrepancy was now three sixteenths.

I screwed up the door front and slid the machine back into place and switched on. There was a familiar sound of the main relay operating followed by water gushing into the machine.... then, after what seemed an interminable wait, there was a clunk and motors started whirring. After the cycle had completed there had been no overflowing and all seemed well. I wandered off and collapsed in front of the TV muttering something about, "the last time" and, "I was going to buy a new one if it went wrong again even if it did mean having to fix an extra 20 TV sets".

Post script....

Well it did go wrong again about 3 months later. One morning I came down and heard the machine filling up with water. It seems it had been doing it's rinse cycle continuously since 11pm the previous night.....

I was quite prepared to set to and fix it again but the boss said she wanted the washing machine fixed before low flying aircraft heading for Bournemouth Airport reported us for being in breach of noise abatement regulations from the noisy bearings.... see story 36.

Post post script....

Suddenly the dishwasher went dead. I pushed the on off switch to no avail.

There was a clue....

For the past week there had been a smell of rotting fish and I had been trying to place it. I imagined it was something the cat had dragged in and hidden and was saving till later when it got really hungry.

I didn't immediately associate the smell with the dishwasher which had been working OK but now I found the mains plug, which went into a two way socket behind the machine had a blown fuse and the pins of the plug looked rather tarnished. I imagined the plug had been overheating and emitting the funny smell. I fitted a new plug with a new 13amp fuse and all was well for a day or two, then the power went off again. The two way socket, into which it was plugged, was at the end of a short cable which plugged into the wall behind the washing machine. Many years ago this had suffered from a leak somewhere in the water outlet piping from the two machines and I had stopped using one of the two wall sockets. Anyway when the power went off again I'd fitted a new fuse and was rewarded by a sharp bang from the rear of the washing machine and a shout that the TV had momentarily gone off and come on again.

I wheeled out the washing machinme and removed the mains plug feeding the dishwasher via its intermediary cable. There was a black sooty mark between the earth and live holes.

I waited until the next sunny day, switched off the mains power to the house wiring and removed the double socket from the wall. Inside I found the cause of the rotting fish smell. There was a large hole in the bakelite fitting at the back of the sockets. After fitting a new double socket we were back in business. Next I'll have to fit some sort of shield over the sockets to prevent water from getting into the wiring. Better safe than sorry!

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