So I poked at the internet some more, and discovered that I could get a new washer and dryer of excellent quality for about two grand, with tax and installation included. (Yeah, I’d have to get rid of the dryer too, because you can’t mix-and-match stackable units.) That’s some serious cheddar. I could also get a used set from craigslist, and haul it across town and manhandle it into place with some help, and scrap the old one. I’d need to fetch my van from SoCal but it could be done. To get a used set that I’d be happy with, I figured it would cost a little over a grand. That’s still serious cheddar, and some rough labor as well.
Then it occurred to me: If I’m going to get a replacement in any case, what’s the harm in taking the old set apart, out of curiosity? I really would like to know what the problem is... And if it turns out to be something I can attempt to fix cheaply, I might try it out, and if not, it will be easier to carry away parts than to haul away a big heavy box, right?
So on this flimsy excuse, I went to work, using a few youtube videos as a guide.
First I had to unstack the dryer, which was really not easy. Take the lid off, remove some fiddly pins, take the front off including the control panel, unbolt some metal tabs, remove some more tabs from the back, lift the thing off without damaging your spine… And now we’ve got the top of the washer exposed.
Unscrew about 20 screws (thank goodness for electric screwdrivers) and remove some plastic tabs, pinch some wire hoseclamps with vise-grips to remove the hoses... Yadda yadda, badabing badaboom...
Here’s the source of the slow leak. A thoroughly corroded electric water valve. How much does this part cost, straight from the manufacturer? Wow, only 12 bucks.
With the back off the washer you can see how most of the inside is occupied by a huge tub, hanging freely from some heavy-duty springs. Yes, that is an actual concrete brick, bolted to the back of the tub there, as ballast. There are other concrete bricks on the front as well. They are there so your off-balance laundry doesn’t make the tub swing around the room like an orangutan every time the washer spins up.
Yes! Your washing machine is full of concrete!
The cat never uses these beds anymore. She prefers to sit on the armchair, or on laps when she can get them to stay in one place. So instead of beds, they are now padding for the electric motor, while I grunt and strain and unfasten those enormous steel springs from the sides of the tub, and drag the tub out into the garage to continue disassembling it.
I had to make another run to Home Depot for supplies. Those very long pliers in the middle there were an impulse buy - they look totally badass, and they only cost nine bucks!
When I removed the pump from the bottom of the machine, I discovered that it contained ancient treasure. Somehow these coins made it out of the metal basket inside the tub and down into the pump. Dude! 60 cents could buy me 6 minutes parking downtown!
I had to remove over a dozen long hex screws before the tub came apart in two halves like an eggshell, revealing the metal basket inside. The basket is the thing that actually holds the laundry and spins. It’s got an axle attached. You can see it resting on the floor in the foreground.
Does something about it strike you as odd?
That’s right! It’s horribly, horribly corroded. In fact, the steel drum is in good shape, but the metal spider-arms that hold it to the axle are so badly corroded that the metal has actually cracked in several places. This metal was constantly immersed in the same water that my clothes were being laundered with. Delicious.
Meanwhile, on the outer tub, you can see that the seals around the bearings were in fabulous shape, simply fabulous. Not.
Between the broken spider-arms making the drum spin way off balance, and the bearings being corroded by ancient seals, no wonder the washing machine was spinning itself to pieces.
So then I had some thinking to do, and some information to gather.
Turns out that the seals and the bearings can be replaced. Even though the manufacturer doesn’t sell those parts, you can buy equivalent parts from a variety of sources. I found several companies willing to sell me bearing and seal replacement kits through Amazon for about 30 bucks. Okay, new valve, new seal and bearings, total of about 45 bucks, this is still in the realm of "hobby" money... How about the spider arms on the metal basket?
Bad news: The only way to get them is to buy an entire replacement basket, with the spider and axle attached. That’s three hundred smackers, right there. That’s big-time money. Whoo!
So at this point, I had an inner debate, which took a few days while the washing machine lay in parts all around the basement and the laundry began to pile up. Do I spend almost 400 dollars, follow the online instructional videos, take another five or six hours to reassemble and re-stack the machine, and hook it up, even though I’m pretty likely to end up with a machine that’s still broken?
I don’t know if these parts will really solve the problem. I’ve never done this repair before. If I screwed something up and had to take it all back apart, I don’t think I’d have the patience for it. I might be throwing good money into a bad machine, based on an inflated sense of what’s possible. The online tutorials all claim that bad bearings are the single most likely cause of my problem, but I personally don’t think the washer could possibly run right without replacing those busted spider arms too.
Right around the time I ran out of clean underwear, I decided to order the parts. "It’s a challenge to my own repair skill," I told myself. "I don’t feel like walking away from this. And hey, when I test the machine and it goes haywire, I can still just disconnect it, get on the phone, and buy another washer and dryer, just like before."
Oh, the justifications. Really, I just did it because I was too stubborn to stop.
The new metal basket arrived in the middle of a truly impressive amount of recycled packing material.
Sadly, the spider arms seem to be made out of the same aluminum/iron pot metal as the earlier set, instead of corrosion-resistant steel. I’ve no idea why. Seriously, Kenmore - why?
Also, what do these things mean?
At least the axle is all shiny and new.
So, I replaced the seals, put the new basket inside the tub, replaced the corroded valve, oiled the motor, put everything back together including the aggravating shock absorbers with their plastic pins, re-stacked the units, drove back in about 45 screws, and moved the appliances back up to the wall. It took two evenings, about eight hours time total. If I was paying myself the same wage as a repairman that I was earning at my "real" job, plus parts, I’d be breaking even.
I even vacuumed the lint out of the inside of the dryer. (Good grief what a mess.)
But finally, I hooked up the hoses, plugged in the cord, threw in some sacrificial rags without any soap, set the controls, and stood back.
The damn thing works.
I think I've actually succeeded with this repair! It's been about ten days now, and the washing machine has not leaked a singled drop of water, and run through every spin cycle without trouble. I’ve washed all my laundry and sheets, and the housemate has run four or five loads as well. You can bet I watched it like a hawk when it was doing the first new load, but now I've started to relax. It looks like my washer has its mojo back.
And I'm still not completely 100% convinced, but it looks like I've saved myself upwards of 700 bucks.