Thursday, October 30, 2008

Repair, Restore, Rejoice!!

The object on the left, a "burner knob", does not look like it would cost $800, but a decade back, it did. Our island cooktop's control knobs broke, one by one. The first one, I ignored, since I never needed 4 burners at the same time. But when the second one broke, I called the appliance company. They could not have been less helpful, and indeed suggested I should be grateful since the industry standard longevity for appliances is - get this! - 5 to 7 years. Needless to say, the burner knob for our stove model was not available through any channel I could find. To our dismay, the solution was REPLACING THE WHOLE COOKTOP UNIT - at a cost of $800 + labor. I am still steamed about this, so many years later.
Recently I was reminded of it when trying to turn our toe heater on this fall. (No, a toe heater is not something used to warm your feet. It is a heating unit which slides under a counter, in this case a kitchen sink, so it doesn't take any wall space.) Its knob had gone missing. I had noticed it was loose; apparently it fell off and was swept into the dustbin of appliance part history. Bracing myself, I dug out the information from its installation. The manufacture, still in business in South Carolina, was not interested in tracking down a part from the 1980's, no surprise there. In a moment of grace, I emailed the right question, which opened up a whole line of possibility. "Do you manufacture your own parts, or is there a knob supplier I could contact?" They sent me the name of Carroll Parts in Kansas City, Missouri. Armed with the original heater model number, I called, and bingo! Their superb customer service fellow, Nate, called the next day to tell me he had located it. The part cost $2.90 and the shipping was $9.95. It slipped right into the knob groove, and I am pleased as could be.
Here is my advice for finding parts:
1) Save all the original information from household appliances. Clean your file out every few years, so you're not burdened with paperwork for items long gone.
2) Nose around online until you find what the replacement part is called in the trade. For example, knowing that the stove part I needed is called a "burner knob" would probably have helped find one. It was before the internet, but a hardware might have stocked it, had I known to look for a universal burner knob. No one suggested it, and I didn't think of it. Doing an image search can be helpful, too, to verify what parts look like.
3) Call a small company where you can talk to an experienced customer service rep and don't take no for an answer. (My mistake was calling Magic Chef, not a place like Carroll's.) Find out where they source their components, ask a lot of questions. My experience is when you actually speak with people, they are usually knowledgeable, and even if they can't help you, they are inclined to help you problem solve. "What would you do if you were in my situation?" is a question many people cannot resist!
Don't put up with planned obselesence. Our planet deserves better!
Any success or traumas to share, when trying to repair old appliances?

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