Friday, February 5, 2010

Department of Domestic Affairs

This is a story about heat, deception, and eventual triumph. No, I'm not about to reveal a torrid love triangle. My story is about laundry and a dryer that stopped working. It's also a cautionary tale about what can happen when you try to repair a simple problem.

On Monday, I needed to do laundry, lots of laundry. Not wanting to face the mountain of clothes waiting to be sorted, I decided to start with towels. I washed them, then put them in my Bosch Axxis dryer, left the room, and forgot about them. About two hours later, I suddenly remembered the towels, which should have been dry long before. But the dryer was still running and when I opened the dryer door, the towels were damp and cool. The heat had failed.

I quickly guessed the source of the problem. A damper that had recently been installed on the dryer vent had apparently not opened sufficiently to allow adequate ventilation. This caused the dryer to overheat, triggering a shutoff of the heater. At first, I feared that the heater itself had broken, but my Internet research suggested that most likely the dryer had a safety feature, either in the form of a reset button or a thermal fuse, that had acted to turn off the heat before serious damage occurred.

Further surfing on the Internet revealed that while older dryers had reset buttons, most newer models use thermal fuses—if the dryer overheats, the thermal fuse burns out and breaks the connection, preventing further heating. Thermal fuses that burn out require replacement. My owner's manual had no useful diagrams of the dryer's internal mechanisms to help me figure out what the thermal fuse might look like and where it might be located. Even E. was stumped. We finally decided to call a "professional."

The repairman arrived the next morning. E. had told the scheduler the nature of the problem, yet the repairman failed to bring a Bosch thermal fuse or any other Bosch dryer part with him. He glanced at the dryer, didn't open up the back panel, yet claimed to know exactly what part we needed. He said he would have to put in a request for the part and that, if it wasn't in stock, we might have to wait a week for the repair to be made. For showing up and doing absolutely no work, he charged us $100. He assured us, however, that there would be no further service charge when he returned.

The following day, not having heard anything from the repair company, E. called and learned that the part wasn't in stock and that it would be at least a week before the repair could be made. When he asked the cost, he learned we would be charged a staggering $300 for parts and labor. Most of that was for labor. The part itself cost a mere $12. Including the price of the original service call, fixing our dryer would cost us over $400.

Appalled, E. and I considered our options. It would almost be cheaper for us to buy a new dryer than to repair the current one. I was not quite ready to give up, though. In search of inspiration, I went back to the Internet, where I came across a discussion of Bosch dryers on a repair forum. The discussion concerned a Bosch Nexxt dryer, the big brother of our smaller Axxis model. A knowledgeable forum participant wrote that Nexxt dryers have a reset button, located on one side of the heater. Since our Bosch Axxis is virtually the same as the Nexxt except in size, the possibility that it had a reset button definitely seemed worth checking out.

It took a torx screwdriver to get the back panel off, but once that was accomplished, to our amazement and delight, we indeed found a red reset button. E. pushed it and the circuit was restored! As soon as we started the dryer, it heated right up. Problem solved. We did have to remove the damper from the dryer vent to ensure adequate ventilation, but that seemed a small price to pay to have our dryer back. And it's certainly a much smaller price than we would have paid the repairman to unnecessarily replace a part while no doubt surreptitiously pressing the dryer's reset button himself.

We realized we had almost been victims of a scam. Fortunately, we were able to stop payment on the $100 check we paid for the original service call, so the experience only cost us a little time and a little faith in the goodness of our fellow human beings. On the brighter side, I've finally finished the last load of laundry and I've never before appreciated the simple beauty of a well-functioning appliance so much. Precisely because it's full of hot air, the lowly dryer has earned my gratitude and respect.

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