Quick repair tips to save you money

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We all try to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle as much as we can, but it seems like we’re still forgetting something.

You could add Refuse to that list, as it’s important to turn down unnecessary waste like single-use plastic bags, straws, and cutlery.

You could add Rethink since so many forms of waste seem normal to us day to day, but don’t make sense when you think about them a little more. Did I really need that stir stick when I made my coffee? Did those hors-d’ oeuvres really need a feathered toothpick in each one? Do I really need a new toaster or am I just bored with how this one looks?

The fourth ‘R’ that I think is most important is Repair. Seen as a lost art or a nostalgic pursuit of a foregone era, people often lament to us at collection events about the good ol’ days of the neighborhood repair shop that could fix anything you had. We see people dropping off ancient mixers that have been rewired, re-motored and refurbished time-and-again before finally ending up with an un-fixable condition and a trip to the recycling depot.

The days of cheap products and irreplaceable parts have made repair shops an endangered species and shortened the life-span of our products to the point where something will be deemed “broken”, when a better description might be “not working quite right”. Needless to say, a little repair could go a long way and prevent a lot of unnecessary waste.

So here are some repair tips that could save you a trip to the depot, and most importantly, save you money.  I’d also like to extend a huge thanks to our friend from BC’s STEAMtruck, Farrell Segall, for assisting on the technical tips listed below.

  1. Google it. If you search the product’s name and brand on Google, the problem you are probably having is the product’s most common problem and there is likely a video explaining how to fix the common issue. There are hundreds of great YouTube videos and website’s like familyhandyman.comwww.doityourself.com or Wikihow to guide you.
  2. Open it up. Most small appliances and power tools can easily be opened-up or partly disassembled to get a better view of what’s going on. Take off the outer shells, the metal caging or the bottom fan vent and take a look. However, please be careful when poking around inside an electrical product and please unplug it before you try anything.
  3. Take pictures. You think you’ll remember how to put it back together, but things often don’t fit back the way you thought they would. It’s best to take pictures every step of the way. Take pictures of the location of mounting screws before removing covers, loosening components, motors, controller boards etc. This will serve as a reminder to locate where they go as well as where wiring is routed, and the correct alignment of items when putting the product back together.
  4. Clean it. So many issues are caused by the ordinary dirt and grime that small appliances and power tools can build up over time. Once the product is opened up, any dirt, hair, or burnt-on residue could be causing electrical problems or restricting motor movement. For example, toasters need to be thoroughly emptied of crumbs, coffee machines need to be rinsed and cleansed correctly and vacuum cleaners might need an occasional haircut. Special tip: rubbing alcohol is a great way to make your items work like new, especially on things that can get clogged up like the ink heads on a printer.
  5. Lubricate it. I know it is almost cliché, but WD40 is the “turn it off and on again” button of the small appliance world. Make sure that the parts that need to turn, twist, lift or lock can do so smoothly and without resistance. While WD40 is great for sticky actuators, (any component that moves a part of the machine), Contact Cleaner aerosol spray is often a useful aid in repairing intermittent switches. If contact cleaner does not work it’s possible to open switches and use 1200grit water paper between contacts to clean arcing caused corrosion.
  6. Test it. Mainly, test the electrical components.  This can be done with a multimeter (also known as a VOM or Multitester).  You can get one of these for around $20.00, which will pay off in no time if it saves you from buying a new coffee maker or blender. This will help you pin-point where the problem is by seeing where the electricity is getting cut off. Before opening up appliances and power tools, check for some continuity between the power terminals at the plug end of the power cable with the unit switched on. A continuity test tells us whether two things are electrically connected: if something is continuous, an electric current can flow freely from one end to the other. Often, there is a break in the continuity at the back of the power plug or where the cable exits the appliance. You can simply shorten the cable and replace the plug if this is a problem, or replace the cable if the cable is old or in poor condition.  Once the unit is open, check for continuity of the power cable from the plug end through to the switch, or fuse in the unit to prove the fault is not with the cable.
  7. Test the Fuses. Many motor driven units have a thermal fuse tied to the internal windings. These fuses blow when overheated but can be replaced. DO NOT try to solder them, but instead twist or crimp bare wires together and cover with shrink sleeving to insulate. Fuses are designed to break and be easily replaced. They are often standardized and can be bought at any hardware store. There may also be a breaker in the device which you can quickly reset.
  8. Rewire it. Wiring is often the first thing to go, and although people complain that companies don’t make parts for their products any more, you can always find a cheap replacement for any wiring issues. Look for bald spots on wire casings or even wires touching the wrong place. Sometimes a wire just needs to be moved back into its correct position to get it working properly. You can inexpensively rewire lamps, fans and heaters usually without anything more than a pair of wire cutters, wire strippers and a screwdriver. (Again, I feel obligated to note: be careful and please don’t try this while the product is plugged in). Just make sure you check the gauge of the wire first and be sure the replacement can handle the voltage.
  9. Find the right part. Believe it or not, the most common reason we see people recycling small appliances and power tools has nothing to do with the electrical components. It’s often that the attachments and accessories are the problem. For example, missing hoses on vacuums, loose blades on blenders, and chipped lids on kettles. It turns out most companies do offer replacement parts for their products, even if they make them hard to find. The first place you want to look at is your owner’s manual to identify the model and part numbers. You can call local retailers or thrift shops to see if they have the part you need. As a last resort, you can write to the manufacturer or tweet them. In most cases, they will refer you to an appliance-parts dealer. It’s always good to do a side-by-side comparison with the replacement part to double check that they match before you purchase it.
  10. Don’t be afraid to solder. Okay well maybe be a little afraid because it could burn you, but don’t be afraid to learn to solder. A loose connection or broken wire might be the only thing wrong with your product. You can learn how to use an inexpensive voltmeter to test were the electrical current isn’t getting through and if you feel confident with your soldering iron, it could be that simple a fix. Pencil irons are the best to use on electronic circuits. DO NOT use soldering gun type irons on electronic circuits.

Other tips

  • Coil it right. Cords are important and as you might have noticed, they are often the first thing to go on an electrical appliance. Most people coil the cords of their vacuums by vigorously wrapping it around their arm or in a tight circle around the device. It seems like a frivolous thing, but learning the “Inside Outside Method” could double the lifespan of your product. Plus it’ll save you time every time you unwind the cord because it follows the contours of the cord rather than twisting the cord internally. If you’ve ever marveled at someone’s like-new , it’s probably because they coil it right.
  • Find the right tool. Often security screws and special fasteners are used on modern appliances. Tools for working with these items are often available in sets at your local hardware store.
  • Find an expert. Beyond checking the warranty, taking it to a local repair shop, or calling your parents, there are lots of people who still know how to repair appliances and power tools. Local thrift shops may have a staff member or two on hand who are handy with repairs. Try asking at a thrift store if they know of anyone that could take a look. Also if you’ve never heard of a Repair Cafe or Fix-it Fair, they are a life saver. People in communities around the world have been organizing events to offer free, or by donation repairs of small appliances, power tools, electronics and even garments, textiles and ceramics.

Also, stay tuned with these great organizations for upcoming events yet-to-be announced!

Thanks for Reducing, Reusing, Recycling and Repairing all your broken small appliances and power tools!

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