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The High Cost of Small Appliance Repair

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Our microwave recently went out of commission. It’s funny how you don’t notice how much you use something until it is gone! The microwave itself was still functioning, however, the door button moved freely, but didn’t release the door. Thankfully, there wasn’t any food in the microwave, otherwise it might have gotten ugly if I couldn’t get the door open quickly! As it happens, it took me almost two weeks to finally repair the microwave. I could have called a repair man or taken it to a repair shop, but I expected both of those options would have been very expensive. Small appliance repair is not my specialty, but I knew this was something I knew I could figure out, even if it took me awhile.

Step One – Research

small appliance repair - KitchenAid KCMS145JSS1 microwave

The first step was to remove the faceplate to gain access to the part number.

The first thing I did was search the trusty internet for answers. To do this, I needed to get the make and model number. Easy enough. Our microwave is a built in unit that was custom installed in the island in our kitchen. All I had to do was remove the cover and I was able to get the make and model – a KitchenAid KCMS145JSS1.

I researched the microwave in a few small appliance forums and I realized finding specific instructions for individual items is very difficult. Model numbers are often referenced in the threads, but the repair instructions often leave a lot to the imagination. A good example would be, “remove the control panel, remove the broken part, install a new one, put it back together.”

Very helpful, thanks.

After two hours of reading forums and looking for answers, I realized I wasn’t going to find what I was looking for. So I put the faceplate back on the microwave and went to bed.

Step Two – The Waiting Game

A couple days passed before I was able to look at it again. I have a three year old daughter, and trying to work on a small appliance in the kitchen while she is awake is not a good idea. So I had to wait until she was in bed, and I had to wait until I had a free evening.

Based on all the research, I was pretty sure the problem was a broken release lever. I even had the part number from an illustrated breakdown on a small appliance parts site. But I didn’t want to order the part until I was certain that would fix it.

Step Three – Use the Right Tools

torx security screw

Hmmm, that looks different.

I had attempted to remove the control panel without removing the entire microwave casing, but that didn’t work. So I removed the microwave from its setting with the intention of removing the case and control panel to verify the release button was broken.

Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize the screw in the back of the unit that held the case in place. So I took a photo with my smartphone and took a trip to Home Depot (a great reason to have a smartphone!). After 20 minutes in the store, I was able to track down an employee and ask him about the star bit with a pin in the middle.

Did I need a special tool to open it?

Oh, no, he said, any star bit should be able to open that.

Really, I asked, even with the pin in the middle?

Sure, no problem, he replied.

Awesome. All was good with the world again.

Until I got home and dug out my drill bits, failed to remove the microwave cover, and realized that, yes, you do need a special bit. But by this time, it was already late and I didn’t feel like make the hour round trip to visit Lowe’s. So I put it off for another day.

A couple days later, I went to Lowe’s. The folks at Lowe’s were helpful and one of their employees took me to the correct tools. 6 Torx security bits – $10. Perfect. I went to work once I got home, and in 5 minutes I had the microwave out of the built in island, on the counter, and the cover removed. It’s amazing what the proper tools and knowledge will do for your productivity!

Step Four – Diagnose the Problem

microwave broken door release latch

The release latch (circled) was broken. It goes where the arrow points.

It took me all of 30 seconds to recognize the problem once I got the cover removed. The tab on the door release button was broken. I tried using super glue to make a temporary repair, but the glue wasn’t strong enough.

I decided against using a plastic epoxy to repair the item as I didn’t want it to fail when there was food in the microwave. Because the microwave is a built-in unit, I have to completely remove it from the island to be able to remove the outer casing and then open the door, should the part fail again. The last thing I wanted was to have to do this when there was soup or some other food item in the microwave. The best choice was to buy a replacement part.

Step Five – Order Part, Perform Repair

Thankfully I kept good notes from my previous research. I was able to locate the part number from an illustrated breakdown. From there it was easy to type the part number into a search engine to find the item for sale. The total cost, including shipping, was $20. It took two days to get the part. Once I had the replacement part, I was able to remove the microwave from the island, take off the casing, and install the part in about 7 minutes. Putting everything back together took about the same amount of time. All said and done, the total part replacement, including cleanup, was about 20 minutes. A far cry from the hours of research and trial and error I had already gone through.

Total Cost of the Microwave Repair

In all, I spent $20 on the part + shipping, $10 on the drill bits to open the microwave, two hours on trips to Home Depot and Lowe’s, two hours researching how to repair the item in various forums, and a couple hours removing and reinstalling the microwave. Because I could only work at night when my daughters were sleeping, I had to wait almost two weeks before I completed the task.

The total cost as measured in currency, was only $30. It likely would have cost me $50 for a house call, plus time and parts if had someone come out. You may be able to get a less expensive house call if you have a home warranty policy. Dropping the microwave off at a repair shop would have been less expensive than a house call, but still would have cost more than $30.

The biggest cost to me was the time involved. If I consider the other things I could have been doing with my time, this was a very expensive repair job, and I likely could have been better off paying someone. But I’m glad I did it my way, even if it took me a little longer than it should have. (To be clear, I could have finished the job much more quickly if I was more motivated to go out and get the correct tools and complete the job quickly. But living without a microwave is a minor inconvenience, not an emergency).

Lessons Learned About Small Appliance Repair

Small appliance repair is expensive. You are going to pay a small fortune to have a repair man make a house call. Dropping your appliance off at a repair shop will also be expensive. Parts can be very expensive as well. In fact, many replacement parts make repair prohibitively expensive, especially once you get into things like computer boards and circuitry. Unless you have a good reason to keep the item, sometimes replacement can be less expensive in the long run, especially for smaller appliances. In our case, our microwave matches our other appliances, and is custom fitted to the island. If it goes out again, I will do my best to repair it because I don’t want to go through the hassle of trying to find a good match for a built-in unit.

Obligatory warning: Always, always, always unplug appliances when working on them. Electricity can be dangerous. Also be aware that many appliances use capacitors, which store an electric charge. You can still shock yourself even when an appliance is unplugged. If in doubt, have someone knowledgeable show you how to do the repair, or pay someone for their time and expertise.


Published or updated October 12, 2012.
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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 anne heck

Well, your Pop would have been proud of you for tackling a job like that. Actually, we probably would have gone ahead and bought a new microwave, they’re actually pretty cheap nowadays :). Love you!

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2 Ryan Guina

Thanks Gramma. They are inexpensive nowadays, and if we would have had a counter-top model, that may have been an option. But we don’t have the counter space to add a microwave, and it would have looked funny to have a “brick” at the end of our island! So the option was repair it, or try to find a model with the exact dimensions. I figured if I used to repair airplanes, I could fix a microwave. The difference is the airplanes came with step-by-step repair manuals and (mostly) standard tools. :)

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3 The-Military-Guide

Great article. I’m going to link to this post the next time I write about the perils of military long-distance landlording.

Making a microwave oven that can’t be opened up with common tools is just mean. Ironically (and hopefully) it’ll be years before you need to use a Torx security bit again.

My favorite appliance repair website is the Samurai Appliance Repair Man at FixItNow.com. (Can you tell that he’s a Navy aviation electronics veteran?) Over the years he and his fellow appliance repair guys have built up quite a reference library of online manuals, parts diagrams, and YouTube videos. Lately he’s started doing iPhone video of his service calls, which gives a lot more detail on the aspects that the professionals never think to cover with us amateurs.

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4 Ryan Guina

Most long-distance landlords probably have repair service agreements. It’s more expensive, but less hands on.

I agree with the security torx screws being mean. But I think appliance manufacturers do this to prevent inexperienced people from opening the microwave and exposing themselves or the appliance to electric shock or other destruction.

I didn’t come across Fixitnow.com. I like the idea of creating videos to help people do it on their own. Those who are inclined to fix it themselves will figure out a way anyway, and those who aren’t inclined will still make the call to the repair man. So I don’t think it would hurt his business, especially at a local level. And it can certainly help his business be found. Win-win for him. As for my repair job, I watched several videos on repairing microwaves and looked for specific information on my model, but didn’t find anything relevant. So I had to figure it out. It took a little longer, but I know I can do the job in 20 minutes next time, and now that I know some of the tricks, future small appliance repair jobs should also be easier.

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5 Abigail

I always like the idea of having fixed something. My mom was the handyman in our household. She replaced the plug on our toaster and kept it going another decade, almost. I was in college when it finally gave out, and she got it (used) about two years before I was born.

I know they make electronics more intricate and arguably less sturdy, but I think we still give up on things too easily. I’m still kicking myself for getting rid of a vacuum that stopped picking up stuff. I was exhausted (chronic fatigue + depressive) and my husband was pushing me to just get a new one. So I caved. Later, I found out it was probably just in need of a new filter. So… $10-20 versus $100 for a new vacuum. Grrrr!

Alas, my recent attempts to replace some sink faucets didn’t work. I couldn’t budge the leads, and I felt somewhat comforted when the plumber himself struggled. Still, I was annoyed that I couldn’t just do it and feel pride/accomplishment/a more full wallet.

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6 falcon

Its actually fun trying to figure things out and repair them. I did that one time when i had to check a small AM radio player. It was a whole learning process while discovering how parts affect each other and the other to another.

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