Friday, December 1, 2023

Everything is Falling Apart! (Not Really)

Every piece of equipment has a design life and thus it seems everything falls apart at once.

I took the hamster to Walmart to have the tires installed.  I ordered the exact same tires (make and model) as came with the car and had them "shipped to store."  I called and asked about TPMS sensors and the lady behind the desk suggested I order those online.  I found them in China for $30 a set (!) which beats the $100 apiece that some shops and dealers charge (Mercedes - $200 each!).   But since the shipping was on a "slow boat from China" I decided to get them from Amazon (boo! hiss!) for $50 the set.

They make you get an appointment at Walmart these days and I made one online.   Again, it was pretty painless, and I had to change the appointment because the TPMS sensors arrived a day later than expected (I forgot about Thanksgiving and apparently so did Amazon's delivery prediction algorithm).

The last time I ordered something "shipped to store" it was a spare tire for a friend's camper.  They were trying to sell the camper and someone swiped their spare and replaced it with their own blown-out tire!  So I ordered "ship to store" and when I got there they said "what tire?"  I went to the restroom and sitting in a cart by the "layaway" desk was the tire.  But that was a decade ago.

So my expectations were: (1) I would get there and they would have no record of my appointment, (2) the tires would be nowhere to be found, and (3) the Chinese TPMS sensors would either not work or they would not understand how to install them.  They did put a set in my trailer tires (for a $25 eBay sensor system that works great, even though it was not designed for trailers!), so there's that.

Well, they exceeded all expectations.  The guy doing the tires was competent enough, but the manager handed him the TPMS sensors and told him to install them - without mentioning that I had four new tires to install as well.  So he put the sensors in and re-mounted the old tires and didn't figure it out until he was almost done.  But it was instructive as he said the old tires had flat spots, missing chunks of rubber and were hard to balance.  They were indeed dry-rotted.

So I did some grocery shopping (bringing an insulated bag and ice packs) and bought some more of that $4.95 Cava for the holidays (someone asked for a half-dozen bottles for a party).   It took a couple of hours, but they got it done.  And Walmart has done some good IT work in this area.  My car was "in the system" (I guess they did an oil change once) and all the data pulled right up.  They give you a bar code (which they put on the keys as well) so you can check online the status of the repairs and they can text you when it is done.  The tires are automatically "registered" with Walmart, I presume for warranty purposes.

So, other than the false start on the mounting, they did an excellent job.  The only thing I felt was odd was that so many customers were unhappy - not with Walmart, but with their cars needing work.  They seemed to take out their misfortune with the workers, who are not responsible for them driving to work on bald tires for months on end.  I tried to be nice to the staff, and that kind of freaked them out, as they seemed to be expecting hostility, like the way a McDonald's worker pretty much expects abuse these days.  I slipped the tire tech a twenty which he seemed to appreciate.  The mounting and balancing came to $68 and programming the TPMS sensors was free.

I noticed that the tech hand-torqued the lugs to 80 ft-lbs and then had a second tech (whose badge number he scanned-in) check them as well.  They offer to re-torque them for free within so many days, but I doubt many take them up on this offer.  This is all about liability, so they don't end up like Sears did on "lugnut day."

Anyway, it was like driving a whole new car.  All the weird tire noises went away, including a background roaring noise that you don't really notice as it gets louder slowly over time, as the tires age.  Most people don't experience tire rot, except maybe with hobby cars (which I had an issue with as well, in the past).  Since we are retired and don't drive much, the original tires had 36,000 miles on them in nine years.  I am only sorry I didn't get new ones last year.

So that was a happy outcome. The next morning, Mark yells, "The fridge is OFF for some reason!"  The fancy fridge we bought 18 years ago (three years beyond its design life) had the word OFF in both the digital displays for freezer temperature and fridge temperature.  Fortunately, no food was lost as the cabinet was still cold.  We quickly transferred all the foodstuffs into our good old reliable plain-Jane "box" refrigerator in the garage.

The fancy fridge has been giving us fits for years, as I noted before.  And I finally figured out the problem.  The fancy "Dutch door" doesn't close all the way sometimes, which sets off the door alarm that is at such a high frequency that only dogs and Mr. See can hear it.  The door being ajar lets in humid air which condenses on the membrane switch control panel (Whirlpool Part # AP6010471 / WP67005949 Keyboard, NLA). This, in turn, shorts out the "+" button, which explains why in the past, we would open the door and see the set point changed from 38 to 42 degrees.

Apparently, to turn the fridge "OFF" you can press the "+" button until you get to "OFF" which I learned after reading the manual after 18 years.  I found some YouTube videos on how to take the control panel off.  But all of them show an older control circuit board in the panel, which ours does not have.  Either they incorporated it into the display panel or it is buried in the fridge somewhere to keep it away from the humidity.  I looked online to try to find the display panel part and got this message from HotPoint:

HELP – Where can I get this part?

If we have marked the part you need as No longer available, it means:

  • The manufacturer no longer sells the part
  • We can no longer get it from any of our suppliers
  • There is no substitute for the part available to us
  • We don't know of any other source for the part
  • Unfortunately, even if you contact us we won't be able to help

In other words:

  • Fuck You!
  • Fuck You With a Stick! 
  • Fuck You With a Sharpened Stick!
  • Stop Bothering Us!

I think they got the point across - you ain't getting this part from no one, no how, anywhere in the world.   And every source I tried, from eBay to Amazon to Sears Parts Direct to various other appliance parts online sites (a half-dozen at least) says the same thing.  If you think about it, it makes sense - why bother stocking a part for an appliance that is 18 years old?  We had the membrane switch panels replaced on the stove and microwave, under a recall (the stove and microwave were turning on by themselves!).   So these parts do fail over time and are too delicate for appliance service, IMHO.

So what to do?

On a hunch, I take the control panel off and play a hair dryer over it to try to dry it out.  After ten minutes, I put it back in, and it works!  Overnight, it is still working.  But do you want to put hundreds of dollars of food in a refrigerator that, at any moment, might turn on you - or turn off?  Also the door thing is getting old - the complicated latch mechanism on the "Dutch Doors" is getting worn which is why it doesn't close all the way sometimes.

I did find one place that claims to have it - for a whopping $225.99 (other sites had it listed for $120 but out-of-stock).  For a refrigerator that cost $900 eighteen years ago, is it worthwhile to spend that money - presuming they really have it in stock? (I have seen a lot of sites which claim to have NLA parts in stock, but when you actually order, they go, "Oh, sorry, no longer available!").  And actually, now that I look at that site closely, it does say "In stock" but also "no longer available."  I suspect a lot of these online appliance stores just drop-ship from a warehouse and they have no real idea if the part is NLA or not.  So they advertise it as "in stock" when in fact, they have no actual inventory of any parts.

So, it ain't worth fixing as an "end of life" appliance.  The Weibull curve must be obeyed!  And with the microwave broken as well, maybe it is time to get all new kitchen appliances.  We are in no hurry, which is a good thing.  A lot of people, when something breaks, panic.  "I need a new refrigerator today!" they cry.  "My car died, I need a new one now!" they say - and give up what little negotiating power they might have had.

While Lowes and Home Depot have low prices on appliances, we found the local appliance dealer to have even better prices and offer free delivery and removal of our old appliances, in the past.  So we'll check them out.  Yes, the stove still works, but it is getting old and worn in parts (paint worn off on some trim pieces, glass top stained, etc.).  The dishwasher has given us fits in the past - I had to order a new silverware basket and a cap for the rinse agent dispenser (surprisingly expensive, that latter piece).  That is the problem in deciding whether to repair or replace - you need to have available parts and they have to be cheap enough to make the repair worthwhile.

I'd rather not spend the money - you read the title of this blog, right?  But part of being "stingy" is to realize when "saving money" can cost you more money in the long run.  And maybe someday we may sell this house and it will sell easier with a newer set of clean and working appliances.  Nothing sadder to see than a house with a stove that only has one burner working.  It makes you wonder what else the owners have skimped on!

For the life of me, I don't understand these folks who wail about not being able to afford a home and having to rent.  Your stove breaks, you call the landlord - that simple.  And as one reader noted, in the vast majority of America, it is cheaper right now to rent than to buyWhat have I said about that in connection with Real Estate Bubbles?  Sales are down right now, and optimistic agents are saying it is because there is a "lack of inventory" - but I think it is also because no one wants to pay the outrageous prices being quoted.  I am seeing routine price reductions and longer days-on-market on our island.  But whether this means anything in the greater picture, I do not know.

I do know that living with broken-down shit is depressing as hell.  And having broken appliances, dry-rotted tires, and a "check engine" light on, doesn't make one feel very happy.  But after getting the new tires (and TPMS sensors) as well as a new OBDII code reader (to reset that pesky CE light - I need to order a new evap purge valve, I guess) I feel a lot better about things.

Equipment requires maintenance.  I noticed that Mark's studio - and indeed our whole house - had a lot of dust, dirt, mold, mildew, and red and green algae growing in patches on the soffit.  The back wall of the studio was RED with the stuff.  It took me a few days (and I have a few days more to go!) to clean it all off with Oxy-clean and a stiff brush and the old Karcher electric pressure washer.  Yes, the "free" gasoline-powered pressure washer works fine, but I think it would blow a hole through vinyl siding (actually I know it would!) so I will leave the "big boy" for doing concrete walkways and driveways.  Besides, it's noisy as hell.

But again, after three days (so far) of this back-breaking work, I wonder why I ever felt owning a home was "The American Dream" or something that would be fun to do.  It is a staggering amount of work, when you are working long-hours at a job as a young person.  It is even more staggering when you get old and everything hurts.  And hiring people to do this work is not only expensive, they never do as good or as careful a job as you would.  My lawn guy seems to be on a vendetta against vinyl siding with his weed-whacker.

Of course, this is not the first time we have had to overhaul some aspect of the house.  We had to re-do the laundry room and garage, and the guest rooms and master bedroom as well as the living room and hallway - and the guest bathroom (mild makeover).  Still to be done are the family room and kitchen.  I'd rather not replace cabinets, if  I can help it.  Once you go down that rabbit-hole, you are looking at a major renovation!

And of course, the hot water heater is living on borrowed time as it is....

So, off to the appliance store in the next few days.  We have looked online and almost everything is twice what it cost 18 years ago (which actually is reasonable, given money doubles in value every 10 years).  We may opt for a simpler fridge - one without too many fancy features like digital control boards, if they even exist.  Maybe a simple side-by-side instead of a "Dutch Door" deal.

But the time has come, and I guess it is time to upgrade, whether we want to or not.