Saturday, February 6, 2010

See You Later Agitator, or Repairing a Direct Drive Washer.

A phenomenon of today is to eliminate as many mechanical parts as possible. This goes for cars, trucks and major appliances. Clothes washers are almost as ubiquitous in this country as cars are, and until ten or twenty years ago, were driven by belts. The result is that motors and pumps are stacked together in line with the transmission. This is not unlike cars are set up today, complete with a clutch and drive train. This does not eliminate the need for corrective maintenance on these machines however as there are always trade offs in any mechanical device.

A Disclaimer: If you elect to do the repairs yourself, you assume the risk of personal injury, property damage and the resultant costs. I cannot control how you fix things or read directions. When in doubt, call a professional or consult with a service manual or counter person. A service call is still cheaper than a trip to the emergency department, a ride in an ambulance, or a property damage claim. No, I will not do your laundry either. You've been warned!
ONE NOTE, this is not about the front-loading washers which are getting more popular by are still pretty pricey for the average consumer. These have the virtues of saving water and energy, not to mention much quieter. These are something to consider when buying a new washer, but there are more trade offs with these along with the higher cost. This is a topic for later. This is about the still run of the mill top loading clothes washers which waste water and electricity; making more noise than a young war but are still reasonably affordable.

The washer in question this week was a Kitchen Aid top loader probably made by Whirlpool. The complaint was that the washer wasn't spinning and probably not agitating. The assumption over the phone was that it needed a belt. Not a problem. Tipping the washer forward showed the ugly truth, there was no belt; only the remains of a plastic coupling assembly in pieces on the floor. I had the part ordered and left for the night, Nothing more to do here.

The motor and transmission are in line in such a way that taking the motor out without removing the cabinet was out of the question. The pump is also attached to the motor in such a way that it is resting against the inside of the cabinet. Here are the step by step instructions for replacing the coupling. The time will take about an hour. Unplug, shut off the water and remove the hoses from the taps before working on the machine.
  • Remove the 4 screws holding the control panel to the cabinet and set it aside.
  • Disconnect the wire harness leading into the cabinet, leave the other wires alone.
  • Swing the basket so you can reach the two clips holding the cabinet to the frame underneath the top. The clips come off from the top.
  • Tilt the cabinet forward to clear the lip on the front of the frame and remove, making sure the plastic strips on the back panel remain attached. Set the cabinet aside, it is fairly lightweight.
  • The pump and motor assembly is at the bottom/front of the washer. Two clips with 5/16 screws secure this to the transmission. Remove those and set aside. Leave hoses attached to pump.
  • The coupling consists of 3 parts, a rubber bushing and 2 plastic "claws" that affix to the motor and transmission. These are the intended weak link to save more expensive parts in place of the belt.
  • Pry out the "claws" with a screwdriver, then install the new ones. The new ones will have a metal bushing inside. Use a hammer and a 7/16 deep well socket to tap these on the motor and transmission. When the shaft is flush with the bushing, stop tapping.
  • Install the rubber bushing on the transmission claw, and then line up the one on the motor to the open holes in the bushing while installing the clips and screws.
  • Verify that everything is assembled correctly before putting the cabinet back together, paying close attention to the plastic strips on the back panel; these need to line up with the edges of the cabinet. There are also two tangs that are on the frame that must line up with the corresponding holes in the cabinet or the cabinet will rattle. The clips for the cabinet install from the top into the back panel. The rest is reverse of what it was before, but make sure the holes line up.
  • Reconnect the water, replace hoses if at all worn. Reconnect the electrical and verify that the agitator moves. Happy laundry day!

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