Friday, June 22, 2007

Washer Repairs? No "Sears Suckers" here

After two and a half years living in my Byrd Park house, my front-loader Kenmore washer kicks the bucket. Last weekend, I was pulling a fully soaked load of clothes out and draping them over everything that I could find in my back yard. With the tub full of black soapy water, I paid a call to the Sears Repair hotline listed on the machine. The bottom line: $59 to come out and diagnose the problem and then X number of dollars to fix it. Immediately, I recall my last encounter using the Sears Repair guys to fix my parents' dryer. They quickly concluded that it was only a fuse that needed replacing. For $90 (+$59), the dude walked to the truck, grabbed a fuse, and stuck it in the slot, and closed the panel (five minutes total). "I can't believe I am doing this," I thought to myself as I made the appointment.

Four days later, my wet clothes are putrifying in piles at corners of my basement and a disgusting odor is coming out of the washing machine's tub of black water. So, needless to say, I was eager today when I came home early from work to meet the repair guy. After I spied the blue Sears repair van pass my house and park at the end of the block, I sat on the porch for 10 minutes waiting for him to get out and walk up the sidewalk to my stoop.

Once inside, he asked me what's wrong with the machine. "Won't drain. Won't spin," says I. "It won't spin, because it won't drain," he clarifies. And at first I start to take offense to this snide comment. But then it starts to sink in. Okay, this fact is part of his diagnosis procedure. After pushing buttons and turning dials, he blurts out, "Bad pump." Then he opens the machine and looks at the pump and tests wires with a little readout machine. Suddenly, he says that my pump is fine, but that I need a new timer. He walks out saying that he'll see if he's got one in the truck, leaving his toolbox behind.

Considering that this was moving along at a pretty good clip, I started to get excited about washing some clothes tonight. So, I paced around the house, got my checkbook ready, and made plans for dinner. But, time went by and before I knew it 30 minutes had passed and he's still sitting in his van at the end of my block. So, I called him up. And I got one of those, "Yeah, whatdya want?" kinda responses. It turns out that he can't find a timer for this model anywhere in Richmond.

Eventually, he comes back in and says he can fix my washer next week for $300 and follows up with, "Do you wanna do it?" I couldn't help but hear these words as either rhetorical or malicious, and my blood started boiling. "I'd be pretty stupid to take that deal." The old price tag is still on the washer and it says $349. I paid him his $59 and he leaves.

Immediately, my wife and I start trying to figure out where we'll get a new washer, how much we want to spend, how to move the old one out and the new one ion, installation, etc. The Sears repair guy did, however, give us a coupon for $65 off a purchase of a new Sears washer (over a $399 minimum) if we bring our receipt from this job in the next two weeks. Hmmm...

Consumer reports shows that the front loading washers are much more highly rated than the top loaders. However, they cost twice as much, starting at $700 and topping out near $1800. The top loaders are much cheaper, but maligned in all of the reviews. Lowes and Best Buy both sell an entry level Fridgedaire for $499, but the capacity is pretty small. So, off I go to the scratch'n'dent appliance store on Westwood Ave, hoping that I can get a bargain on something.

On my way to the car, I get another idea and in a couple minutes, I've pulled up to the Cary Street Appliance store at the Allen Ave intersection. I've always seen the place as kind of an eye sore on Cary. But, it can't hurt to look, I figure. At least I'll feel out what's available at the low end of the spectrum. Inside, a middle aged black man named Lynn sizes me up and points me to his shiniest previously owned washers. They're Whirlpools and they look like cheap-Os to me, since I was replacing a new-fangled front-loader. $225 he tells me and just a little extra for delivery, installation, and hauling away the old one. Hmmm... I tell him that I'm just getting started in my research and then I high tail it out the door. But I keep thinking about Lynn. I'd been in his place a few times, but never really trusted their merchandise. He gets it used and sells it for relatively cheap. Maybe he'll cut corners in other places. Warranty? Customer service? On the other hand, his shop has been there for years. They must be doing something right. With one discount store and three big-boxes on my agenda for the night, it occurs to me that maybe I shouldn't look any further.

Before I get two blocks away, I've got my wife on the phone and I'm pitching to her the idea of a working washer in our basement tonight for less than half the minimum price we were thinking of paying. She's game. So, I haul ass back to Lynn and we both look at the washer and then at the clock. It's almost 6pm on Friday. I make my proposal. "Lynn. $250 and we go install this in baby my basement right now and you can have my old Kenmore." He's game, but he wants me to know that he doesn't have any use for front loaders. The old-timer disdains the new design saying that they're hard to repair.

A minute later, Lynn is suggesting tomorrow (when I'll be outta town). It's his delivery/installation guy's birthday and he wants to go home sooner than later. I point out that I'm only 5 or 6 blocks away and we all smile. "Shoot, I didn't know this was a neighborhood gig," he says. "Let's do it." Something about me (tattoos?) must be screaming "Southside."

Within minutes, Cory, the very young appliance deliverer is cruising by my house in his pick-up, seeing me on the porch and smiling as he circles around to the alley. Once he's in my yard, I wish him happy birthday and offer him a cold beer. Alas, Cory does not drink. His only wish is to go home, shower, and then go to Kabutos with his lady. The two of us push heavy washing machines around for 10 minutes and talk about food. He urges me to try Kabutos and I counter by suggesting that he order something with wasabi. Since he doesn't drink, I figure he should get a rush by some other means.

One day and four loads of laundry later, my wife is telling me that I did a good job handling the washer situation. Since then, I've been beaming about my knack for bargains. Anyhow, if the moral of this story isn't clear, let me clarify: Sears repair guys run a real racket. Look to the small local businesses for used stuff that'll get the job done.


  1. My front loading washer died a quick and painless death about two years ago. What to do? I asked a plumber friend who works for the Department of Correctional Education what he would recommend.

    A simple washer, he said, one that has no more than three gears and is easy to repair. These new machines with 21 gears and computerized buttons cost the earth to repair if something goes wrong.

    So I went to a small Mom and Pop store and found the simplest Maytag appliance (brand new) for less than half the cost of the fancier models I saw at Sears. Even better, Mom and Pop threw the delivery charge in for free.

    Moral of the story: sometimes simple is better. Glad you solved the problem!

  2. Matthew9:25 PM

    I visited the place on Cary St. also and met Lynn. Next time I buy an appliance, I'll definitely go there. He seems honest, has good selection, and great prices. I hope they don't get priced out of the neighborhood with all the new "luxury" places going up around him.


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