The Fix-It Club is built on the premise that consumer items will last longer if you perform basic maintenance and simple repairs. We purchased our current car new and have followed these tips. It now has
The Fix-It Club is ready to help you troubleshoot and repair or replace household things that break. But before you disassemble an appliance, electronic device or other gadget, consider whether it’s actually the manufacturer’s problem or yours. Many consumer items carry a limited warranty that the item will function for at least the specified time after the consumer buys it new.
What is a warranty?
A warranty is a guarantee by a seller or manufacturer to a buyer that the goods or services purchased will perform as promised, or a refund will be given, an exchange made, or a repair done at no charge. Warranties usually become effective when the manufacturer receives a warranty application from the buyer (not necessarily at the date of purchase) and are effective for a limited period of time. Warranties usually include limitations that exclude defects not caused by the manufacturer. Warranties are included in the price of the product.
Almost every purchase you make is covered by an implied warranty. The exceptions are items marked “as is” and sold in a state that allows “as is” sales. Implied warranties include warranty of merchantability meaning the seller promises that the product will do what it is supposed to do. A warranty of fitness applies when the product package or the seller tells you that the product is suitable for the described purpose.
Extended warranties are really not warranties at all. They are actually service contracts sold at an extra cost that is typically quite profitable for the retailer. That’s why so many retailers ask if you’d like to purchase an extended warranty when you buy something. In some cases, the retailer makes more profit on the extended warranty than on the product it sold you.
What is covered by a warranty? Warranties vary, but typically repair or replacement, though there may be a charge for labor (not parts) or shipping/freight costs. The manufacturer or the seller may be the one required to honor the warranty. The warranty term may be for 30 or 90 days or a year or more.
As you shop for appliance and electronic replacements, open up the box and read the warranty card to find out how long the product or specific parts are covered for repairs or replacement. If the box is sealed, ask a clerk to open it and find the warranty information.
Won’t trying to repair something void the warranty? Maybe. Some warranties prohibit repairs not authorized or done by those authorized by the manufacturer. However, most things you buy will either not work as soon as you try to use them (they’ll be repaired or replaced under warranty) or the day after the warranty expires (fixing is up to you).
More than 15,000 consumer items, including many things throughout a household, are subject to recalls by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). A recall is an announcement from the CPSC that a specific product offers a significant risk to consumers. You should stop using the product and follow instructions in the recall announcement. That may mean calling the manufacturer for a replacement or some other remedy. Each recall announcement is for a specific model of product and the remedy is different for each product recalled. You can find out if products you’ve purchase have been recalled by contacting the CPSC at 1-800-638-2772 or online at cpsc.gov. You also can report unsafe products that you think should be recalled. The website is also available in languages other than English as well as TTY.
The Fix-It Club can help you repair hundreds of household things that break: appliances, bicycles, cell phones, computers, electric fans, hair dryers, iPhones, microwaves, plumbing, slow cookers, tvs, toasters, yard trimmers, and more. But there will be some things that you just can’t fix—or don’t want to pay to have fixed, or that will cost too much to fix. So what are you going to do with those things? Consider the many creative ways of recycling before you send anything to the landfill.
Because recycling is subject to local interpretation and budgets, you may find that recycling things and parts may be quite easy or relatively difficult depending on where you live. The best place to learn about recycling is to call whatever company picks up your trash. If you’re rural and must take trash and recycling to a landfill, transfer station, or recycle center, contact the company to find out what it can use and what it can’t, and whether there is a charge.
For example, many communities have curbside pickup for trash and recycling. The recycled things may be collected in a single bin or need to be sorted by type: metals, plastics, papers, and yard waste. Some communities have curbside recycling for small and major appliances while others don’t. And in some towns, there are private recyclers that will pick up just about any recyclable materials you put at the curb on a specified day.
Most major appliances are about 75 percent steel—and about a third of that is recycled steel. Other metals in appliances include copper, aluminum, and zinc, all recyclable. Refrigerators, freezers, ranges, ovens, cook tops, clothes washers, dryers, dishwashers, dehumidifiers, room air conditioners, trash compactors are all potentially recyclable.
Refrigeration appliances may require specialized recyclers to remove the Freon gas before recycling. That’s why some recyclers and landfills charge a fee for accepting these appliances. Others charge a fee for any large objects that they accept.
You also can find local recyclers in your local telephone book under headings like Recycle Centers and Scrap Metals. Many will pay you for aluminum cans, clear glass, PET plastics, and nonferrous (non-iron) metals. PET stands for poly ethylene terephthalate, a plastic resin used in many products–and easily recycled into new products.
There are many things around your home that you can reuse instead of recycling or tossing. Think creatively before you banish something from your household. For example:
- Unrepairable clothing can become fix-it shop rags or quilting squares.
- Broken or discarded kitchen cabinets can be used as work cabinets in your fix-it shop.
- Extra drawers from a broken dresser can become under-bed storage containers.
- Ugly but usable hairdryers can be put to work thawing frozen pipes or making small patches of paint dry faster.
- Old tires can be nailed to walls in tight garages to reduce car scrapes or used in the yard as landscaping material or as play equipment.
- Polystyrene packing (peanuts) and other packing materials can be used to pack around breakable gifts or any package you need to mail or ship.
Give it to Someone Who Can Use It
- Donate old eyeglasses to your local Lions Club.
- Some charities will accept operating computers and appliances.
- Old cell phones can be donated to groups that help homeless and/or low-income people to be used for emergency-only calls.
- Local charities may also accept diskettes, video tapes, polystyrene packing, compact discs, and holiday greeting cards.
- A senior center or homeless shelter may appreciate your old books and magazines.
- Packing peanuts and other packing materials are appreciated by your local mailbox/shipping store.
- Animal shelters gladly take donations of clean blankets and towels.
What You Can Recycle
Recycling rules are localized. Your curbside recycling collector will probably accept many recyclables. Check with your local trash collector and/or recycler and any local recycling center for more information. However, many recyclers and communities use these guidelines:
- Glass: Unbroken glass containers (not tableware, ceramics, Pyrex, windows, light bulbs, mirrors, or broken glass). Clear glass is valuable, mixed color glass is nearly worthless, and broken glass is hard to sort. Don’t bother removing labels.
- Paper: Newspapers and inserts (not dirty, not rubber bands, plastic bags, product samples, dirt, or mold). Some locations don’t recycle cardboard, others do. Not waxed milk or juice cartons. Some recyclers require that magazines be recycled separately from newspapers.
- Metal: Empty metal cans, caps, lids, bands, foil, (not full cans, spray cans, or cans with paint or hazardous waste). Many recyclers don’t even require that you remove labels.
- Aluminum: Lawn chairs, window frames, pots (not metal parts attracted to magnets, nonmetal parts); sometimes tin is recycled with aluminum.
- Motor oil: Call your garbage company or auto lube center. (Each year do-it-yourselfers improperly dump more oil than the Exxon Valdez spilled!)
- Batteries: Automotive (take to a parts retailer); alkaline and rechargeable, such as those used in cordless phones, camcorders, shavers, portable appliances, and computers (throw in the trash unless prohibited); nickel-cadmium (recycle).
- Ink cartridges: Send to a recycler or refiller. Your local office supply store may accept them.
- Household toxins (paints, oils, solvents, pesticides, cleaners): Call your garbage collector for advice. Do not dump them down storm drains.
- Plastic: Virtually everything made of plastic should be marked with a recycle code, but not all types can actually be recycled. You may be able to recycle plastic grocery bags at the grocery store; other plastic bags may have to be trashed. Any product made of a single plastic type should be marked and might be recyclable; those with mixed plastic types can’t be recycled.
- Things requiring specialized recyclers: Major appliances with Freon (chlorinated fluorocarbon CFC)require trained technicians to remove; other items that require special recycling include antifreeze, asphalt shingles, car batteries, computers, ink and toner cartridges, rugs, smoke detectors, and single-use cameras.
Other Recycling Options
What if the recycler won’t take it? Who will? In years past, organizations like the Salvation Army, Goodwill, and St. Vincent de Paul took nonworking items as donations for rehabilitation. The items were rehabilitated along with the people who fixed them. Broken things created jobs. However, the labor market has absorbed these workers into the mainstream, providing jobs in restaurants, retail stores, and factories. So, today, most of these organizations don’t accept nonworking items (except computers). In fact, such “donations” actually cost the group money because they have to dispose of the item. Goodwill Industries, for example, asks that donations be of “things you would give to a friend.”
Another option is to recycle broken things to repair shops. For example, small appliance repair shops may accept nonworking items and reuse the parts. Or they may refurbish and resell items. Most won’t pay you anything for the broken things–there’s just not enough profit in it–but they may bring it back to working condition and save someone some money. And you won’t have to pay to put it in the landfill.
If you learn to enjoy fixing things, donate something that breaks to your education. That is, put it on the workbench for a rainy day and disassemble it to figure out how it works. You may even be able to salvage and reuse an otherwise good motor, heat element, or switches. You’ll be a member in good standing of the Fix-It Club!
The Fix-It Club offers hundreds of free Fix-It Guides for repairing broken things around the home and garage. Occasionally you won’t be able to or won’t want to fix it yourself. That’s okay. There’s someone else out there who can perform refrigerator repair, bicycle repair, plaster repair, jewelry repair, or any other repair you need done. When should you consider hiring someone for a local repair?
- When it’s something you shouldn’t be messing with, such as a microwave’s magnetron or a freezer’s refrigerant
- When you can’t find replacement parts, but think maybe a repair pro may know how to make it work
- When it’s quite valuable and you don’t want to take the chance of perhaps damaging it during repair
- When you just can’t figure out what the heck’s wrong with it, but want it fixed
Who can you make a local repair? Depending on what it is, you can contact the manufacturer or service center. Alternately, check area telephone books for appropriate listings such as Appliances, Major, or Appliances, Parts & Supplies, and Automobile Repairing & Service. Retailers from which you purchased merchandise may be able to direct you to local repairs centers. Also, ask among friends and neighbors because they can give you value judgments on whether specific repair services are customer friendly.
First check to determine if local repair is covered under the manufacturer’s warranty. Even if it isn’t, ask the manufacturer to recommend a repair service. You’ll find many manufacturers have websites that include parts and repair information as well as referrals.
You can make sure you select the best local repair service for the job by asking a few questions:
- What experience do you have repairing this item?
- What training or certification do you have?
- Do you charge a flat rate or an hourly shop rate? What is that rate?
- Do you have a minimum charge?
- Is there a charge if you can’t fix it?
- May I see your shop? (You’ll see how your item will be treated.)
Remember to read anything you sign because verbal agreements are not binding. If the repair service says “$49.95″ and the service contract you sign says “whatever we want to charge,” you may wind up with a $500 repair on a $100 item. Most repair agreements include space for a do-not-exceed price; if not, write it in. And make sure the estimate includes both parts and labor. Ask what could happen to make the estimate go up. Ask if final bills usually come in under or over the estimate. Leave no room for surprises.
What should you tell the local repair person? Indicate the symptoms and list the things you’ve done to attempt to alleviate them. For example, “The unit won’t turn on. I’ve checked the electrical cord and it works, but I haven’t found any fuses.” Any information you can provide means less time the technician needs for diagnosing and should mean a smaller final bill.
Should you bring the unit in assembled or unassembled? That depends on whether you feel comfortable assembling the unit once it is fixed. Also, will the unit need assembly before the repair person can test it to make sure it’s fixed? The best advice is: Bring it in assembled. A pro may actually charge more if it comes in unassembled. You can also call the shop and ask which is more efficient.
On other option: Get the parts and tools you need to repair it yourself. The Fix-It Club is standing by to offer you free instructions and a wide variety of repair resources for fixing broken things around your home and garage. Visit the Fix-It Club often. It’s free!
The Fix-It Club helps thousands of people each day for more than a decade with free repair help. One challenge that keeps many people from repairing things is figuring out how to take things apart — and get them back together when done.
Disassembling things is an important part of repair whether you are performing toaster repair, motor repair, riding lawn mower repair, washer repair, iPhone repair, computer repair, car repair, and many other consumer repairs. You’ll want to be able to reassemble an item properly whether it’s done today, tomorrow, or once you’ve found some parts a month from now. Here’s how to take things apart:
- Find a place where you can take things apart and leave everything out for an hour or a day, if you need to stop and get additional parts.
- Make notes on disassembly and needed parts numbers.
- For tougher repairs or when you know it will be awhile before you can get replacement parts, use a film or digital camera to take photos of the disassembly process.
- If you know you will be reassembling everything within the next couple of hours, lay the parts in a line as they come off, left to right, and reassemble right to left.
- Use old muffin pans, empty frozen dinner dishes, clean coffee cans, clean plastic containers, or other containers to collect parts as they are removed.
Steps to Take Things Apart
Intimidated by what you see when you open up something to fix it? Don’t be. Most things are made of components, more than one part. And each of these components is replaceable. It’s just a matter if figuring how the thing works, which parts or components don’t work, and replacing the problem part(s). Many Fix-It Guides include photos or drawings that let you see what’s inside the device or object — you’ll know what you’re getting in to.
Most parts either twist on or plug in. For example, disassembling an appliance requires twisting (unscrewing) fasteners that hold the outside body together. Once inside, you may need to unscrew or unplug other parts. Many components are plugged together, especially electrical parts. For example, a couple of wires enter one side of a plastic plug and other wires run out the other side. To disconnect the part, find a tab on the connector and lift it or apply pressure to it and carefully pull the connector apart. Install the replacement component by plugging the two halves of the connector together. Most connectors go together only one way, so it’s relatively easy.
You’ll find that many consumer items are assembled using screws, clips, or other fasteners. In fact, if you don’t find a screw or clip, the manufacturer is probably telling you there’s nothing inside that the consumer can fix. You may be able to replace the entire component, however.
Some parts may be hard to remove because they are friction-fit (fit snugly) to a shaft. Don’t force friction-fit parts; they may break. Instead, use a wide-bladed screwdriver under the coupling to carefully twist and lift the coupling upward. If that doesn’t work, try heating the coupling slightly (try a hair dryer) to expand the part enough to pull it from the shaft. Or slip a pair of thin wood wedges under the coupling. Then push the wedges toward each other and lift. If none of these succeeds in separating the friction-fit part from the shaft, you may have to take the appliance to a professional.
If you want to teach yourself more about how to take things apart, find something that is obviously unrepairable and disassemble it for practice. You can sometimes find unrepairable items cheap at garage sales. Invest in your education and have some fun!
Some manufacturers use a pressure clip to hold a product’s case together. This is the preferred assembly method for many consumer electronics such as iPhones, tablet computers and laptop computers. If you plan to do many electronic repairs, consider an electronics toolkit available at Radio Shack and various electronic supply stores.
To disassemble, look for a notch along the seam and insert the tip of a straight screwdriver to push and turn the clip, opening the case. Make sure you unclip all of the notches and remove all screws before disassembling the body or you could break one of the small clips.
You can take things apart and reassemble them after repair if you plan out the job and take it a step at a time, as outlined in the Fix-It Club’s free Fix-It Guides.
The Fix-It Club offers basic information on a variety of household repairs. Most repairs require mechanical fasteners. In the photo are (left to right) nails, screws, bolt with washer and nut, and wall anchors.
Your home has hundreds of fasteners in it, holding walls together, binding appliance components, keeping the floor from moving underfoot, and even fastening sleeves on to clothing.
All fasteners have a single function: to hold two or more things together. When they don’t, something’s broken. That’s when you need free help from the Fix-It Club.
Nails are thin, pointed metal fasteners driven with a hammer to join two pieces of wood. There are dozens of varieties of nails, depending on the specific purpose. There are special nails for masonry, roofing, finishing, and other common applications. Nails are classified by the size of the shank and the shape of the head. Fix-It Guides refer to specific types of nails needed. The most common type is called common nails, with large, flat heads for secure fastening. Next is finish nails with smaller heads that aren’t so obvious if flush to or below the wood’s surface. Nails are sized by length, indicated by a d or “penny.” A 4d nail is 1-1/2 inches long; an 8d nail is 2-1/2 inches long.
Screws are pointed-tip, threaded fasteners installed with a screwdriver. The type of screwdriver used depends on the type of screw head: Round- and pan (flat)-head screws require a straight-tip screwdriver; Phillips-head screws require a Phillips screwdriver; and square-head screws require a square-drive screwdriver. Wood screws fasten wood, and sheet-metal screws fasten metal. Screws are sized by length. Screws are stronger than nails and easier to remove.
Bolts and Nuts
Bolts are flat-tipped, threaded fasteners that use a threaded nut to attach wood or metal together. A washer may be placed under the bolt head or the nut for a firmer fasten. Bolts are classified by the type of head. Stove bolts and machine screws (actually bolts) are turned with a screwdriver. Hexagon- and square-head bolts are held in place with a wrench while the nut is turned to tighten. A carriage bolt‘s head imbeds itself into the wood when the nut is turned. Bolts are sized by length and thread. Bolts are stronger than screws.
Nuts, usually square or hexagonal blocks of metal with threaded holes, screw onto bolts to hold something together.
Anchors are additions to bolts or screws that help anchor a fastener in a hollow wall or door. Other handy fasteners include lag bolts, which are bolt heads with screw bodies.
Thread is a fastener for clothing and upholstered furniture. Thread is a long strand of fabric installed with a needle, either by hand or by a sewing machine. Thread is sold by fabric (cotton, nylon, polyester, etc.) and thickness (Tex or T). Cotton-wrap polyester is used for jeans and poly-wrap polyester for a wide variety of clothing. T-18 thread is light weight and T-50 is medium weight. Thread needles are rated by the eye size, shaft length, and purpose. Thread is a fastener for clothing and upholstered furniture. Thread is a long strand of fabric installed with a needle, either by hand or by a sewing machine. Thread is sold by fabric (cotton, nylon, polyester, etc.) and thickness (Tex or T). Cotton-wrap polyester is used for jeans and poly-wrap polyester for a wide variety of clothing. T-18 thread is light weight and T-50 is medium weight. Thread needles are rated by the eye size, shaft length, and purpose.
Velcro can be used for many quick fixes. You can use it to fasten toys, fabric, shoes, wall decorations, and many other things. Velcro is a trademark name for nylon fabric that can be fastened to itself. The back sides of the Velcro are fastened permanently to the object to be fastened, and the front sides of the Velcro adhere to each other when they touch.
Things break. Everything we own, from air conditioners to zippers, eventually wear out or stop working. We can toss them and get new stuff — or we can try to repair them. Here are ten very good reasons to repair or recycle household things that break:
- You can be a smarter consumer by knowing how things work and what to do if they don’t: appliances, heaters, air conditioners, mowers, plumbing, electronics, clocks, paint, flooring and more.
- You can save money by not having to replace things that you easily can repair. It might just need a fuse, a new electrical cord, or a screw tightened. You can do that!
- You can buy better things that will last longer than disposables because you know you can probably repair them if they ever do conk out.
- You can reduce the environmental impact of having a replacement manufactured from raw materials and transported from a far-off land.
- You can learn how to recycle or reuse the things you just can’t repair.
- You can learn new skills and discover the satisfaction of repairing something that’s broken.
- You can spend some quality time with kids repairing things together — and teaching them the importance of recycling.
- You can keep that family clock or other heirloom running longer.
- You can justify the cost of expanding your collection of tools.
- You can impress your spouse, partner, and others with your new-found repair skills.
How can you repair broken stuff? The Fix-It Club offers easy-to-follow instructions. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a door chime, a barbecue grill, a child’s toy, or a computer printer. Figuring out what’s wrong with it is the most important task. Once you know what’s wrong with it, you’re well on the way to repairing it — or making an informed decision not to. Figuring out what’s wrong with something may sound obvious, but it’s often the step that keeps folks from repairing things easily.
- What does this thing do?
- How is it supposed to work?
- What isn’t this thing doing that it should do?
- What’s the possible cause(s) of the problem?
- What parts and tools will I need to repair it?
- What are the steps to repairing it?
- Once repaired, does it now work?
For example, a coffee maker, obviously, is an apparatus for brewing coffee. There are two types of coffee makers: drip and percolator. A drip coffee maker is designed to heat water then pump it to drip through the coffee basket and into a carafe. Most drip coffee makers also keep the carafe of coffee warm. That’s a drip coffee maker’s as-designed state; that’s what it’s supposed to do.
What does it not do? In our example, the drip coffee maker doesn’t keep the coffee hot, though everything else works. Knowing how a coffee maker is supposed to work, you will identify the problem to be within the warming element or controls. To check it you need a multimeter for testing these components. Then, following the specific steps in the Coffee Maker Repair Fix-It Guide, you disassemble, test, and, if needed, replace the part. Finally, you can brew yourself some coffee and know that it will stay warm.
So, that’s the fix-it process . You can apply it to every thing that’s broken. That’s because the fix-it process works for every thing. It’s a simplified version of a time-tested problem-solving system. If it’s repairable, you probably can fix it!