HARDBARNED! The Blog

Rise Of The Machines

After what appears to be a resolution in the continuing saga of breakdowns, diagnoses, estimates, repairs, more breakdowns, sales and replacements relating to our vehicles, now another set of machines is angrily rebelling.

The electric dryer broke down about six months ago. I am no appliance repairman. My father-in-law helped me determine the cause, and I replaced the heating element, or, actually, I watched him do it. Things went well for, well, six months. Last week it stopped heating again. Surely that $60 heating element didn’t need to be replaced already?

After another diagnosis by my wife’s dad, we determined that a heat sensor needed to be replaced. As it turns out, this particular heat sensor had been discontinued and isn’t even available at America’s Largest Parts Superstore, much less at Lowe’s, Home Depot, Sears, or our preferred venue, the little local guy’s parts place. However, I did easily find a seemingly compatible replacement part for $16 on ebay and replaced it myself.

Things worked fine for three days, or at least long enough to clear our apartment of wet laundry. Our home had started to look like a traveling circus with our variously patterned, multi-colored sheets hanging from drying racks and door frames and draped over furniture with pants, shirts and assorted male and female underwear all over the place.

Then the dryer stopped heating again, and the washer decided to rebel as well and flooded our apartment, making repair attempts for a poorly equipped repairman like myself even more precarious. At least I still have some rubber boots from a construction stint in Alaska.

Fed up, I spent a couple hours online last night researching washers and dryers, reading Consumer Reports and sifting through stacks of customer reviews and ratings. I really wanted energy efficient machines with Energy Star ratings, if I was going to do this, but every time I started to zero in on a washer that was rated highly by both Consumer Reports AND by most of the customers who had reviewed it, I would discover that the dryer designed to go with it was not Energy Star compliant. This happened twice after extensive research. Apparently dryers are not yet Energy-Star compliant.

I found it particularly hilarious and frustrating that the washing machine that was rated highest by Consumer Reports was rated among the lowest by the 50 or so customers who had also reviewed it. The suggestions for “Best Uses” included “Boat Anchor” and “Modern Art.”

“DO NOT BUY THIS PIECE OF CRAP” one review said.

“USELESS AND DANGEROUS” read another.

“THIS WASHER WILL RANDOMLY JUMP AROUND THE ROOM AND BANG THE WALL AND THE DRYER. IT SOUNDS LIKE THE ROOF IS COMING DOWN. BRAND NEW CLOTHES WILL COME OUT WITH HOLES RIPPED IN THEM.”

“ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OUR CLOTHES DON’T LOOK WORN BECAUSE WE HAVE TO REPLACE THEM OFTEN.”

“WORST WASHING MACHINE POSSIBLE.”

“AVOID IT EVEN IF YOU CAN GET IT FOR FREE.”

“LITTLE DEMON.”

All these comments were listed under the very first dryer that comes up on the recommended dryer page.

My wife suggested washing clothes in the bathtub and getting one of those handheld wash/scrub racks you see hanging from the wall at Cracker Barrel—the ones that old-time folk and roots music groups use to keep the rhythm with the banjo and the jug. You don’t get much more energy efficient than one of those babies. You don’t even plug it in.

I decided to delay my purchase and think about this for a while. I don’t mind the hanging underwear so much, but I really don’t like the idea of scrubbing clothes on my knees in the bathtub. I don’t want to spend a bunch of money I don’t have on fancy machines I can't afford, but I don’t want to buy another set of old clunkers and go through this whole mess again. Plus, I really do like the idea of having more energy-efficient appliances. 

Looks like I could save at least $50 a year on electric bills. Wow. Can’t we do better than that? Help me, T. Boone Pickens, you’re my only hope. Shouldn’t we have solar or wind powered appliances? Why can’t our apartment complex install panels and turbines on the roof? Of course, when I asked the lady at the apartment complex office about recycling, she looked at me like I was speaking in Russian and said, “No one’s ever mentioned that before.”

As Terminator 4 releases this week, and I find myself trapped—sinking in what appears to be a perpetual vortex of machines conspiring to take over my life—I feel a sort of kinship with John Connor.

I know my self-destructing cars and household appliances aren’t trying to murder me or assassinate my mom or wipe humanity from the face of the earth, not yet anyway, but how can I be so sure? I have to admit that the extent to which we rely on machines in our daily lives is a little scary when you think about it.