12 September 2013

Refrigerator repair

The main 'fridge here at the SandCastle developed a rather serious problem a few weeks ago - the ice dispenser failed.

Now to many this would seem like a minor inconsequential inconvenience.  After all, most of us had to open the freezer door to get ice.  Heck most of us had to manually refill ice cube trays.  However the SandCastle is in the heart of the Sonoran desert and we use a lot of ice.   The dispenser gives ice without opening the door and that saves energy and $$$.  The automatic ice maker + in door dispenser may well be the ultimate luxury appliance 'round these parts.  Right up there with the Garage Door opener!  I smile every time I hear the ice dump into the storage bucket!  So this is a big deal.

First guess was a blown fuse or bad relay.  Heck, fuses are designed to blow in order to save the rest of the circuit.  I used to have a large note on my tool box "CHECK THE FUSE FIRST" because of all the time I wasted troubleshooting only to find a blown fuse.  But we haven't been able to find an electrical schematic.  Usually there is one somewhere on the inside of the unit but we came up empty pulling off the back cover.  If there is a fuse in the circuit, we haven't found it.

We first checked the auger motor.  Pulled it off (four screws) and one electrical plug.    From there we were able to determine which conductors ran the motor.  Checking for power to the motor at the connector we had none.  Ok, the fault is probably further upstream.  For sake of completeness we put 120VAC to the motor and it ran easily.  Reassembled that and move on.

Rung out the front panel switches.. all check out ok too..  And finally got to the microswitch controlling the dispenser.  It also checked ok.  But in the process of getting this far, I noticed the lever that activates the dispenser switch wasn't reaching all the way to activate the switch.

The problem isn't electrical, it's mechanical!  The lever that activates the switch was misaligned.  We reassembled everything and now it works.
Side story... back in my college days I caught a nail riding home from school and blew a tire.  I was about midway through the tube repair when my roommate came home in his 3 piece suit from his internship at a certain tri-lettered high tech giant.

Him: "What are you doing?"
Me: "blew a tire... gotta patch the tube."
Him: (bewildered) "You can do that?  You don't have to pay someone to fix that for you?"
Me: "um no...  you see they sell this kit for a couple bucks."

Patching a bicycle tire was unheard of in his world.  That was something beyond the basic ability of normal people... you need special equipment and have to pay others to do it for you.  To me it was as normal as mowing the lawn.

Total dollar cost to fix the fridge: $0.  Total time to fix: about 2 hours.  Best Benefit: The SandCastle Son did a lot of the work and got his hands dirty in the process.   The couple hours hands on troubleshooting even doing simple disassembly/reassembly will hopefully translate into $$$ saved for him down the road.  That and that I wore insulating gloves while hotwiring the auger motor directly to the ac outlet.

BTW, the hardest part of this repair was not the electrical circuit.  It was the mechanical problems of disconnecting electrical connectors.  Each electrical connector has mechanical locks that we had to figure out how to release.

I hope he takes away the "you can fix it" lesson.  That and check the fuse first!

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