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Adventures in DIY Repair of an old Washer

I've got this KitchenAid Superba top loader washing machine, made in 2000. I recently discovered regardless of the brand name slapped on the outside of several well known brands, it's a Whirlpool on the inside.

The biggest advantage I've noticed with that is since it such a common machine base, it's easy to find parts and folks who know how to repair them.

So after 12 years, this poor washing machine decided it wanted some serious TLC. Having never really explored under the hood of a washing machine and with the support of several awesome DIY repair videos on youtube, I decided to roll up my sleeves and tackle the job myself.

Why?

  • Curiosity. I love knowing how things work, especially when they're mechanical, or mostly mechanical.
  • Not going for a front loader, yet. After extensive online research on the new front loaders, I decided to not go that path. Way too many consumer complaints for machines that cost twice as much and last a third as long as their humble distant cousins. They're fussy about the soap, about how they sit, about handling tiny items, they really don't use hot water, they can develop odors, they don't clean as well, etc.
  • Finally, I thought why toss the whole thing if (big if) the problem or problems are not impossible to fix and not overly expensive. Doing my bit for keeping a major appliance out of the landfill for as long as possible.


The patient, a 12 year old KitchenAid KAWS850GQ1, on it's back prepared for it's first 'surgery', clutch replacement.


If the patient doesn't recover or treatment exceeds a reasonable price, it may get replaced with a Speed Queen washer like this.

Repair Diary

2011 Problem Seems like clothes are increasingly a little wetter at the end of the wash cycle. Hmmm.
  Diagnosis I don't know anything about washing machines other than they're for washing clothes. Maybe the spinning part thing isn't spinning fast enough?
  Outcome Wait and see. Started thinking about replacing washer and doing a little online troubleshooting.

Feb 10, 2012 Problem

The time had arrived when I could wring lots of water out of the clothes by hand after load was done. Inner basket clearly not spinning fast enough to extract water.

This problem had gone unnoticed by me probably because it had slowly grown worse over months or even a few years. It was no longer a subtle problem.

  Diagnosis According to nearly all online docs, youtube videos, those in the know say, the clutch was bad - slipping, not allowing the basket to get up to the proper speed. Who am I to argue? I guess I gotta replace it.
  Outcome

Feb 18, bought new clutch ($57), laid the machine on its back, unclipped the pump, unplugged the motor from its harness, unclipped the motor and pulled it and associated parts out to access the clutch.

I replaced the old clutch. Scary, but cool, to dig into the guts of this machine, an appliance that I never really explored in depth before. My first repair job on a washer!

Unfortunately, after I replaced the clutch, put it all back together and let the machine run (no water) the spin speed still was not too impressive. In fact, it seemed to get a little worse. Something else was causing the problem.


The patient on it's back prepared for it's first 'surgery', a clutch replacement.

 


Pump (white thing on top), then motor, the tranny (reddish brown metal casing) at the bottom.

 


Motor, tranny and agitator pole pulled out.

Old clutch with blue spring.

Brake with yellow spring.
Mar 11, 2012 Problem

Being a bit impatient, and knowing the speed problem wasn't really resolved, after assembly I filled it up with a little water to see if the machine would even run. It spun... but it slowed down before the spin cycle was done.

I did noticed a new problem; a pronounced leak from the base. Time to disassemble again. This time from the top; taking off the cabinet, the circular tray, water dispenser, both parts of the agitator tower, and inner metal basket.

But easy things first, this time. I needed to clean off that circular tray.

  Diagnosis Twelve years of rinsing and spinning with liquid fabric softener had slung fabric softener everywhere inside washer.
  Outcome Steam cleaned the circular tray to melt that nasty goo away.


Control panel fipped over the expose the clips that hold the cabinet to the back.


Once I pulled the cabinet off, I was happy to discover I could to finally gain access to the circular tray that clips to top of inner basket. When the machine is assembled I could only see a tiny part of that tray so I could not reach in far enough to clean it. Now I could see and remove it for cleaning. It was caked with years of fabric softener residue. Eeeewwww, what is that nasty waxy goo?

Fabric softener residue also green slimed the entire inside of the washer's cabinet. Problem is because this waxy residue retains moisture, like hand lotion, it promotes rust when it clings to steel.

Steam cleaned it 'til it was purty 'n white.
Mar 11, 2012 Problem I noticed these gear-y things inside the top part of the agitator. Some of those things were worn, fractured or missing teeth. After a little online reading, I learned those things were called agitator cams or dogs. And there are supposed to allow the upper section to turn one way; essential for proper agitation.
  Diagnosis Dogs need replacing; must get a replacement agitator "kit"
  Outcome Easy fix. Upper agitator part works properly.


Old agitator cams and the thrust washer. Normally the cam fixture doesn't fit inside the thrust washer like this. I just wanted to keep these parts together.


Except for the bottom left thrust washer, these parts fit inside that upright column to the left. The thrust washer fits underneath that column, between the lower and upper parts of the agitator column.
Mar 11, 2012 Problem

Still, the major problem was the leak. I had to remove everything until I got clear view of the outer plastic tub for leak inspection. This meant removing the inner basket - the thing that holds the clothes while being washed.

I had my first encounter with the spanner nut. It had to be removed so I could lift out the inner basket. Various discussions online about how to remove the thing.

Some try to hit it with a hammer to twist it off. Some even weld their own special tool to fit into the nut. Many suggest biting the bullet - just buy the specialized $20 washer spanner wrench from an appliance hardware store. Thankfully the best appliance hardware store near me, rented that wrench out for $2/day.

  Diagnosis Drove to the appliance store, rented the damned thing for the day, drove back before the store closed to return the wrench.
  Outcome Awesome. A series of short strong taps on the wrench with a hammer and the spanner nut is free! I can lift the inner basket out to examine the plastic tub.
Mar 11, 2012 Problem

Still, the major problem was the leak. I had to remove everything until I got clear view of the outer plastic tub for leak inspection.

  Diagnosis Outer plastic tub developed a small hole. Replace tub? No way. It costs over $130 online, not counting S&H. If like me you're wondering how the hole got there, read on.
  Outcome I sanded and patched hole with J-B Weld WaterWeld epoxy putty. Good stuff.
   
Mar 16, 2012 Problem Inner basket won't turn for love nor money nor threats of serious damage.
Diagnosis Not verified. Could be bad tranny, broken motor coupler, locked brake...? Appliance parts store staff suggested the machine is probably just locked in a cycle which puts on the brake. Letting the machine process through might free it.
Outcome Random tilting of inner basket, possibly action of reattaching various parts generated a loud mechanical click. Basket can be manually turned again and moves when machine is running.
 
Mar 18, 2012 Problem Inner basket still won't turn at proper speed, even slows down and drags to a stop during spin cycle.
Diagnosis

Inner basket and drive block sitting way too low on drive shaft. This diagnosis wasn't made by me since I had no idea what to look for.

Jeff @ handymanwire.com appliance forum made this diagnosis when I posted a picture.

Outcome I replaced drive block. Inner basket now spins like crazy! :) I starting thinking the inner basket created hole in outer tub by dragging along its surface. Maybe lots of heavy drinking to celebrate this fix!
 

Drive shaft with spanner nut and old worn drive block.

When Jeff @ handymanwire.com appliance expert forums saw this photo I posted, he recognized the problem immediately. (Awesome guy!) The drive block had slid down the drive shaft and thus it and the inner basket were positioned much lower than they should be. This was, at least in part, resulted in the basket spinning slower, likely because it was dragging along the bottom of the outer basket. That dragging was probably what caused the leak in the outer plastic tub.

Drive shaft with spanner and new drive block.

I replaced the drive block. There was an astounding difference in how many pieces fit together and how the basket now spins now that the basket is at the proper height. The drive shaft has two tabs that are supposed to fit into the two notches on the drive block. On my machine's old block, that whole area had worn away, allowing the block and basket to gradually slip lower. Now there is plenty of clearance between bottom of the inner basket and the outer basket. The inner basket spins like crazy.

   
Old and new drive blocks
Mar 20, 2012 Problem Pronounced leak from base of machine... again. Jeez.
Diagnosis Outer tub sprung another leak, but from a different hole.
Outcome I took the machine apart again. Found another hole located a bit higher up in the tub than the last one. Sanded area and patched the second hole with more J-B Weld WaterWeld epoxy putty. Lesson learned; before reassembly, test outer tub for leaks.
Mar 21, 2012 Problem While I had the inner basket out, I decided to tackle that center column, which had some damage due to rust. Again, probably due to the inner basket resting too low on the drive shaft, preventing water from draining as easily as it should.
Diagnosis RUST!
Outcome Flipped basket upside down, scraped and sanded rusty areas; sprayed inside column. Now I gotta wait 24-48 hours before reassembly and testing! Arrrggghhh.
 

This area has me a bit concerned. I don't know how much damage the rust has done to the core of the inner basket and the pump as metal chunks fell off. I chipped off the looser bits and sanded off what I could.

To postpone the inevitable, I sprayed some Rustoleum primer and paint that I had set aside for my red wheelbarrow. Too bad no one will see its sporty new color when the machine is reassembled.
Mar 22, 2012 Outcome

Reassembled everything. It's all good now. Hoping to get a few months or even a year plus from the ole thing.

Now that I know how to fix this type of washer, maybe I can find another one and fix it up. I'm really not looking forward to buying the fragile, poorly built, short-lived crap that's being produced these days.


Tools, parts and supplies I used:

  • large flathead screw driver
  • large phillips screw driver
  • 7/16th socket wrench
  • socket wrench extension (approx 10")
  • 1/4" nut driver
  • semi-circular rasp
  • channel locks
  • needle nose pliers
  • spanner wrench for washing machines ($20, local shop)
  • hammer
  • steam cleaner
  • 16 gallon Sears wet/dry vacuum
  • replacement clutch ($57, local shop)
  • replacement agitator kit ($11, local shop)
  • replacement basket drive block ($15, local shop)
  • J-B Weld WaterWeld epoxy putty
  • Rustoleum rust primer and spray paint
  • paper towels
  • lime, calcium, rust cleaner
  • 100 grit sandpaper

 


Repaired and ready to wash. Since then it's easily done three loads without leaking and the spin speed is back to normal.

Link to sites that helped me understand:

 

Last update to this page: 1 Apr 2012. Send comments, questions or suggestions to Desiree McCrorey.