The High Cost of Small Appliance Repair

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microwave broken door release latchThe release latch (circled) was broken. It goes where the arrow points.
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…

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 repairman or taken it to a repair shop, but I expected both of those options would have been very expensive and I was looking to save money. 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 thing I did was to 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 on 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

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

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.

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of Cash Money Life. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started Cash Money Life in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about military money topics and military and veterans benefits at The Military Wallet.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free account here.

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  1. Edmund Chow says

    Thank you for posting this article. I was able to complete repairs on my microwave in 3 hours thanks to your post. My release latch was not broken but one of the hinges that the latch hangs on was broken: the one closest to the door. I was not going to glue the piece back because it it looked like it would not hold up. I went to order a new control panel but could not because they stopped making it! I ended up using crazy glue and augmenting the joint with a cork from the bottle of wine I had just opened after finding the part was no longer available. I cut a shape out of the plastic cork and it fit in snugly providing added stability to the pivot point. Oven door opens and closes now. Hopefully this will hold up. Thanks again!

  2. Mary Ruffcorn says

    I have an over the stove, Kitchen aide, almond color microwave that was manufactured in 2001. The magnatron is in need of replacement and the diodes as well, more than likely. I keep going back and forth on if I should repair or buy a new one. It matches all of our appliances. It has been a great microwave and the ventilation and lighting is very good as well. The cost of repair with tax is around $400! I am stuck! Reading the reviews of the few almond color Microwaves out there (whirlpool) I get the impression they are not as good. If I sink $$$ into it I wonder what the odds are that it will need another repair of something else? Any advice?
    I love to do repairs myself, when I can, but this one is too big of a project for me.

  3. Michael says

    Ran into this EXACT problem on the same Microwave this AM… the door button was moving freely but not opening the door. Took everything apart and found that the tab holding the door release button had broken off. Now my only problem is that every part site I’m finding states the replacement part is no longer available. I already went to the link you provided and found the same results. I can’t even seem to find a used on on Ebay/Amazon/etc. Do you know how long ago you purchased it and can you tell me the exact part # you ordered?

    Thanks so much for documenting all of this!
    Mike from TN

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Mike, I bought the part several years ago (I don’t remember the exact date). It’s possible the parts are no longer made. (This is something where 3D printing would be the perfect solution – just download or purchase the plans, print, and install). If you can’t find the part, I would try repairing it with epoxy designed for hard plastic. That should give you a few more years of use. I hope that helps!

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