Dishwasher Saga: Part I, The Demise of the Dishwasher

Sometimes there are sagas so incredulous, you just can’t make this stuff up. The saga of my dishwasher is one of them.

It starts with how the dishwasher died.

ImageI loved my little Maytag dishwasher. What a workhorse! When we got it 13 years ago, it was a fully featured, water saving marvel. It had a countdown timer, a pot scrubber option, fully adjustable racks, and a delay start. It was much less noisy than its predecessor, a nondescript machine that failed shortly after we moved into the house. While the shiny, new Maytag was quieter, it still was noisy enough that I used the delay start feature. If I was wide awake at 2am, the gentle sounds of the dishwasher could lull me back to sleep (despite the fact that my bedroom is on the floor above and on the other end of the house).

This little workhorse never failed. It was involved in a recall in 2007, requiring a new plastic cover on the inside of the door so the rinse aid dispenser wouldn’t leak onto the wiring, which apparently set a few dishwashers on fire. The recall promised to eliminate the risk of fires.

To indicate that the recall repair had been made, a 2” green dot was stuck to the frame, which peeked over the top of the door when it was closed. You can see a little bit of it in the picture, but it was far more visible from eye level. The bright, emerald green didn’t go with either the pink and gray wallpaper nor the sagey greens I repainted the kitchen with after doing away with the 90s wallpaper. But it became part of the character of my little dishwasher.

One Lazy, Saturday Afternoon

We were home on a Saturday, and for some unknown reason, I opted to run the dishwasher during the day while we were home. Perhaps I thought that the noisy machine would drive us to do something outside the house. Maybe I just wanted clean dishes for dinner. I don’t know why I did it, but I’m glad I did.

My family and I were sitting in the adjacent family room, when we heard a series of three pops, then three or four more coming from the kitchen. I looked over and saw a bit of smoke, so I got up to see what was going on. There was thick black smoke and a flicker of flames coming from behind the controls on my dishwasher! I opened the door to stop the cycle, hoping that it would stop any electricity to further fan the flames. It quickly extinguished itself, but not before filling the first floor with an acrid aroma of burning plastic and electronics.

My husband flipped the circuit breaker and proceeded to disassemble the dishwasher to see if there was an easy way to fix it. It was pretty obvious that two components on the circuit board were charred. After a little Googling, we remembered the recall. Instead of attempting to fix it ourselves, we decided to call Maytag.

Customer Service and Rambling Repairmen

Maytag customer service is not open on Saturday or Sunday. I had to wait until Monday morning to contact them. I spoke with Elaine, who was wonderfully cheerful and helpful, and spoke with a distinctly American accent (what a pleasure!). She listened intently, took my information, and assured me that they would try everything to help me keep my beloved dishwasher. She told me they’d send out a service technician on Wednesday to see what could be done. She also made sure I had her name and her direct number, and instructed me to call her when he left so she could follow up on the work order.

The service tech came out on Wednesday as advertised. He was a nice guy who got right to work opening the dishwasher and determining that the fried circuit board was not at all related to the recall issue. He explained that he could replace the board, but the board could have fried because the pump had seized or other problem. If he could get the circuit board for such an old machine, it may not fix the whole problem, and the total cost of the repairs could exceed the cost of a new one.

I asked him what brands might be the best from a repairman’s perspective. He said that GE, Maytag, Kenmore, Whirlpool – they’re all the same. Just don’t get one with the fancy electronics display with the touch screen buttons. Those go out quickly, sometimes within the warranty period, sometimes not. They’re expensive. Also, recommended against one brand only because if they need service, they have to be taken out and turned upside down to work on, increasing the cost to repair. He recommended against some of the foreign brands because parts are hard to come by. (Note: I’m not naming the brands because I can’t verify his information. I’m just passing it along the things to think about when buying a new machine.)

Then he started drifting topics. Apparently the commercials are right: Maytag repairmen really aren’t very busy (well, they’re now Whirlpool). He talked about being a plumber in NYC after 9/11, unions, the right to bear arms and how he uses his weapons, current events, local restaurants, and several other topics. A nice guy, but it was a rather surreal conversation! He finally wrapped up and promised to call me with the cost to repair. I told him not to bother if it was over $200 – half the cost (I thought) of a new machine. He called back anyway to tell me that it would be $250, if nothing else was wrong.

After he left, I did my duty and called Elaine back at Maytag. I had to leave a voicemail. I never heard back from her, so I guess that the recall to eliminate the possibility of a fire only meant a fire from that cause, and all other fires are the problem of the owner. But it would have been nice to hear that from Maytag. Oh well, that’s “customer service” these days. I guess I should be glad that they even sent someone out.

We now had to face up to the fact that we needed to buy a new dishwasher.

More on that in the next post!

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