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Appliance repair tricks to try before calling a pro

Your refrigerator is suddenly making a strange humming sound. Your dishwasher goes through the motions for 90 minutes, but your plates and cups are still filthy. Your Blu-ray spits the disc back at you like a baby tasting asparagus for the first time.

If you’re like me, your second thought when it comes to home appliance repair is the inconvenience. Your first is, “Oh lord, this is going to cost me an arm and a leg.”

Gary Dent has your arm and leg in his bank account. Dent is an appliance repair professional who made a six-figure salary before retiring five years ago. From humble beginnings as an apprentice with Rent-a-Center, then on to a few big-box appliance retailers, Dent has 33 years of experience in the trade.

Dent showed me exactly what was wrong with my vacuum cleaner, the two-dollar part I needed to fix it, which parts to snap on and off, and how to do it myself in under ten minutes. I was stupefied by how simple it all was. Still, if you’re like me, DIY may as well read “PhD.” I simply haven’t the aptitude, nor interest, in figuring these things out. But this simple mend would have easily set me back no less than $75 if I’d taken it somewhere. That explains Dent’s six-figure salary.

Dent said that most repair requests throughout his career were laughably unnecessary. There was the home visit where the clothes washer just stopped working. It was the kind with the knob you pull out in order to start. Dent only needed seconds to realize the woman had inadvertently pushed the knob back in when she banged open the washer’s lid. He remembers having to bill her $160 for that trip.

Another problem he saw regularly was dryers that took two or three cycles to get clothes completely dry. “The reason was always the outside vent was clogged. The heat backs up into your dryer and fools the thermostat.” Dent warns that failing to clean the lint filter regularly causes the same avoidable complication. I called appliance store chain Orville’s, and confirmed that this service call would indeed cost $160 in today’s market.

But how can non-handy homeowners avoid these steep and scary prices? Dent said it’s simple.

“You’d be surprised how much money you could save if you do this main thing: Read the manual! It tells you everything. The do’s and dont’s, when to change filters, what this or that color indicator light means,” he said. “Read the troubleshooting instructions before you call one of us. Believe me, it’s usually all in there.”

Can’t remember where you socked that manual away all those years ago? Most are online now – just search by appliance name and model number. In the meantime, bear in mind these common (avoidable) service calls.

Fridge woes

A sizeable portion of Dent’s pension money comes from the many avertable refrigerator calls he fielded. He recalls countless fretful customers bewildered by why it wasn’t cooling quite as it should. Typically, Dent said, the solution revolved around the kickplate at the bottom front of the fridge. Without regular attention, the coil it protects becomes caked with dust and debris. The kickplate snaps off, much like the part on my aforementioned vacuum cleaner, and a pass or two with a handheld vacuum will have the appliance running as well as the day you bought it.

In other fridge-related mishaps, there is an air intake vent in the back of the fridge that draws in air to cool down the coils and other workings of the apparatus. Often, Dent says, refrigerators are simply backed too close to the wall, causing subpar performance. (Upon hearing this, I had to interrupt our conversation and leave to reposition my own kitchen fridge.)

Air conditioner conundrum

Countless Buffalonians leave their window-mounted air conditioner in place over the winter, only to find the blades barely rotating on the next 70-degree summer day. Over time, dirt, sediment and grime accumulate on the air conditioner’s motor. A simple spray of WD-40 onto the motor’s housing (not directly on the motor itself, mind you) will save you a $200 visit from Dent and a frustratingly sweltering few days of waiting. Who knew?

Scandal in the washer

More than once, Don Streeter of Streeter’s Appliance Repair has arrived at a home where the washer has ceased to function — only to find an innocuous thong undie caught in the machine’s water pump. “For those who dare to wear,” admonishes Streeter, “use a garment bag for small items like that.” For just a few dollars, you’ll save his typical fee of $80. Although he jokes that on a good day, he might be inclined to just bill you for his gas and let it go at that.

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