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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Repairing - not replacing our microwave oven

Our microwave oven stopped working a few days ago - it made a loud humming sound and produced no heat and smelled a little smoky.   I took this as an opportunity to blog about repairing versus replacing.   This is a recent model Sears Kenmore microwave oven that was only about four years old and sending it to the landfill is just not something I am willing to do.  So I did a web search on the model number and found a number of suppliers that sell spare parts.  I am familiar enough with microwave ovens to know that the most likely component to fail is the cavity magnetron.  This is the large expensive device inside that converts electricity to microwave energy.  (And no, it is not "radioactive"!   Microwave energy is in the radio frequency part of the spectrum).  I found a supplier that listed a replacement part for about $65 plus shipping and it arrived in the mail this morning.


Microwave oven with replacement magnetron
Most home appliance repairs can be accomplished with little more than a screwdriver, and the only challenge in repairing this microwave oven was that the screws on the back required security bits to prevent ill-informed people from opening up the device.   Fortunately, I already had a security bit set with almost every known type of security screw bit.  Sets like this can be purchased for around $10 in a good hardware store.
security bit set
After unplugging it, it was a simple matter to remove the half-dozen screws on the back, and then I found a couple of simple Phillips head screws on the sides.  Manufacturers are tricky and will often mix and match screw types and even hide screws underneath paper or plastic labels to prevent you from figuring out how to open up their products.  It is also important to document everything as you remove parts so that you can remember how to put them back together again.  This is where a smartphone comes in very handy, or any digital camera for that matter.  Also be careful never to force anything when you are taking it apart.  If something does not come loose easily, it is probably due to a hidden screw or fastener.  Slow down and look very carefully for well hidden screws or catches.  When products are manufactured the components are designed to assemble quickly and easily and so dis-assembly should require very little force.

Having removed the cover, it was easy to identify the magnetron inside:
microwave oven inside with replacement magnetron
The magnetron itself was secured with standard Phillips head screws:
magnetron secured with Phillips head screws
After I unplugged the electrical connection, I removed the magnetron and installed the replacement, and buttoned everything up again.  A quick test of the microwave oven with a cup of water proved that it was working perfectly and actually sounds quieter now.  This whole process took less than 30 minutes and anyone with the desire to do it can do this themselves.  

In our disposable economy I realize that I am somewhat heretical in that I firmly believe things should be repaired and not replaced without a thought.  I hope that anyone reading this will consider repairing a broken appliance themselves.  Not only is it very satisfying to repair something, but it also saved over $100 on the replacement cost of a new microwave oven.

If you are on a tight budget and happen to see an appliance that someone has put out with their garbage, you might want to consider it an opportunity to acquire an affordable appliance with a little repair work.  If you are even more enterprising, you could do the repair and then donate the appliance to a worthy cause!  All of this is something to consider in the spirit of keeping things out of the landfill.