When my boyfriend moved in with me a bit over a year ago, he decided to rent out his house instead of selling it.  He’s a newbie landlord, but he’s learning a lot about having to deal with funky issues like his tenant paying rent to the wrong place, and things like that.  The issue du jour is a broken dishwasher.  Now we need to deal with either the dishwasher repair or replacement.

My boyfriend is not a handy guy.  Truly.  It’s not totally his fault; it runs in his family.  They are absolutely lovely people, but tools are kind of a mystery to them, and you can tell that just by looking in their toolboxes.  My boyfriend was all proud of his toolbox that he inherited from his grandpa.  It contained a few mismatched sockets, one of those ratcheting screwdrivers that breaks about 15 minutes after you buy it, and an old hammer that looks like it was made in nineteen-tickety-two.

I’m moderately handy, but I’m no pro.  The funny part is that because they’re so not-handy, they think I’m a home improvement wizard.  I once got blamed for fixing a toilet just because I was standing next to it when it started working again.  It’s a crackup.  Or a scheme.  I’m not sure which yet.  Maybe this is the equivalent of washing the reds with the whites to get out of laundry duty.

The Broken Dishwasher

In any event, the boyfriend’s tenant called and said the dishwasher wasn’t working.  I asked him to get more details from her, so we could look up the problem online before we got there.  Unfortunately, accuracy is not her strong suit.  (Exhibit A: she delivered rent to the wrong house.  And she’s lived there for over a year, so it’s not like it was her first time to our house.)

So the tenant said the problem was that the soap was not dispensing in the dishwasher.  Hmm.  Okay.  I researched that issue, and narrowed it down to a couple of potential problems.  We made an appointment to go over there and check it out.

When we got there, I opened the dishwasher, and saw that the soap was dispensing just fine.  In fact, there was a mountain of soap sitting on the bottom of the dishwasher.  It just hadn’t been washed away.  I started the wash cycle, and I could hear the dishwasher drain, and then…silence.  The wash cycle wasn’t running.  The tenant then told me that she would run the cycle, but the soap wouldn’t really go away, and the dishes would be steamed, but still dirty.  OK, that’s totally different from what she described before, and would have been useful to know beforehand.

We had to go back home to research the issue further.  The cellular signal at that rental property is pretty bad, and it would have taken too long to research it.  Plus, it’s really hard to figure out what parts you might need while typing on a cell phone.

YouTube Can Show You How to Fix Nearly Anything

A few months back,  the tenant complained about this same dishwasher.  She said that the cycle wouldn’t start, and she didn’t know why.  We asked follow-up questions, and she said that the lights were coming on when she pressed the buttons for the cycles, but it never started.  She finally mentioned that it seemed like maybe the latch wasn’t latching quite right.

We looked up the issue on YouTube.  It could have been a few things.  One could be that the latch is fine, but the control panel is dead.  Another could be that the hinges on the door got bent or out of adjustment somehow, so the latch wasn’t lining up.  The third possible problem is that the latch itself, which is an electrical component, had just gone bad.  The third possibility was the most likely, according to the experts on the internet.

I watched a couple of videos on YouTube about how to replace the latch, and it looked like it was totally doable.  Fortunately, the latch was a fairly inexpensive part, too.  Because we wanted to minimize the number of trips to the rental property, the boyfriend picked up the part in advance.  We got to the property and I started taking a close look at the latch.

After fiddling around with it, I figured out that it wasn’t clicking into place properly.  There’s a small metal loop at the top of the dishwasher (see arrow on photo below), and that arrow is supposed to line up with the latch.  It wasn’t.  I bent the loop downward with my hand (it moves fairly easily), lined it up with the latch, and then pushed the door closed.  The latch clicked shut.  The dishwasher started instantly, and that was it.  The tenant must have bumped that loop upward when she was unloading the dishwasher last.

Dishwasher repair latchThe next day, the boyfriend returned the part he bought, and got a refund.  Repair cost = $0.  Repair time = about 5 minutes of actual work, and maybe an hour of research beforehand.  Buying the part and returning it afterward took a bit of time, but I’d rather make two trips to the store than two trips to the tenant’s house.  That saved a service call that would probably have been about $100.  And you never know if the service repair guy would have replaced the latch anyway before noticing that it wasn’t the problem, so that could have been another $30-50.

Dishwasher Repair or Replacement?

Unlike the last dishwasher issue, however, this problem was tricky.  After going home and doing the research, I found that it could be about five different things.  The dishwasher was filling with some water, but not a lot, and it wasn’t coming out of the washer arm at the bottom.  According to my research, the possible broken parts included the washer arm itself (easy), the float valve (easy), the inlet valve (moderately difficult), the circulation pump (getting more expensive and more difficult), or the control panel (even more expensive and a real pain in the butt).

And unfortunately, there was really no way to narrow down the choices, apart from changing out a part and seeing if that fixed it.  Once you get a replacement part and put it in, you really don’t have the option of returning it, so you might end up spending hours replacing parts one by one, and spending hundreds of dollars on parts.  Plus, some of the parts are not regularly carried in stock, so if you replaced a part and it didn’t fix it, you might have to order the next part and wait several days before attempting it again.  This was a huge bummer.  If it was a dishwasher in our own house, we might try replacing parts one by one, because we would gladly wait it out if it meant saving potentially a few hundred bucks.  But the idea of coordinating multiple visits to the tenant’s house and spending many hours in her kitchen was not appealing.

We tried calling service people for quotes, because they might be better at diagnosing the problem and they might already have some parts in stock to try, but the range of quotes was pretty wide.  The cheapest service would have been about $100 (assuming a $50 service charge to come out plus the cheapest part replacement with labor), but the most expensive service quoted was about $500, which is more than the price of the dishwasher.  And then if something else broke in six months, or if we spent $500 and the repair person was still unable to fix it, we’d be really upset.

You Gotta Know When to Hold ‘Em, Know When to Fold ‘Em

Ultimately, we decided it made more sense just to get a new dishwasher and hope that it lasts longer than this one did.  We might have gotten lucky and figured out the solution in one of the first few parts we tried to replace, but it wasn’t worth the annoyance of being in the tenant’s hair for so long.