How many appliances, major and minor, do you have in your home? What do you do when one breaks? If it is under warranty, you probably call the dealer and have it repaired or replaced. But what do you do with your 4-year-old blender? Or your 12-year-old washing machine?
Many Americans throw them away. You see them out there on trash amnesty days, when folks empty their basements of big stuff to be hauled away. Or you don't see them, because they're small enough to deposit in the garbage can. How many times have you tossed a small appliance -- a hair dryer or a toaster -- because it just didn't work anymore?
The problem, according to Seattle, Wash.-based industrial designer Peter Newton, is that small appliances aren't really designed to be repaired anymore, especially not by the owner. They are generally designed to be sleek and mysterious. You turn them on, they work. They don't work, you throw them away. Many are even stamped "No User Serviceable Parts Inside."
Repairs are expensive. If you take your curling iron to a small-appliance repair shop, chances are the bill for parts and labor will be at least as expensive as a new appliance. And the old one has hairs and stuff on it. Why not toss it and buy a new one?
We're all familiar with the "garbage thing" by now. Landfills are filling up, no one wants any new ones. Incineration is controversial. And most appliances are not recyclable. What to do?
Let's start from the top. Your oldish toaster won't toast. First, the three biggies: Is it plugged in? Has the circuit breaker gone off? Have you blown a fuse? If the answers are yes, no and no, the toaster is broken. Here are your options.
* Repair it. A number of major appliance manufacturers publish fix-it manuals. Whirlpool, for example, publishes do-it-yourself manuals, available through Whirlpool distributors for $7.50 apiece. Call (800) 654-4389 to find the distributor nearest you. GE publishes Step-by-Step Repair Manuals, $6.95 each, available by calling (800) 626-2000. Both companies can also give you technical advice over the phone.
Most small appliances don't have repair manuals, but a Reader's Digest book, the "Fix It Yourself" manual, can show you how to repair, clean and maintain most small appliances in your home. This is a great book, and you don't need to be handy to use it. If you can follow directions, you can fix your toaster.
* Find a friend to fix it. If the thought of repairing an appliance makes you twitch, consider if you know anyone handy who might be willing to barter. A neighbor? A relative? You patch his jeans, he mends your toaster? You mow her lawn, she mends your toaster? Baby sitting, cooking, knitting, music lessons, they mend your toaster? Everyone has something to trade.
* Pay for repairs. Try the Yellow Pages under Appliances-Household-Major-Service and Repair, or Appliances-Household-Small-Service and Repair. A very few companies -- Black and Decker is one -- find it in their best interest to make repairs affordable. Black and Decker factory service centers will repair your small appliance for a flat one-half of its replacement cost.
* Find a good home for it. Call around to thrift shops. You might find one set up to do minor repairs on certain appliances.
If it's a major appliance, such as a refrigerator, range or washer, you can sell it as is. Look in the Yellow Pages under Appliances-Household-Used for ads that say Buy/Sell/Trade, etc. For example, in my home town, Dave's Appliance Rebuild will buy your broken appliance. You have to take it to him, unless it is a trade. He delivers, so he'll pick up the broken one if he is replacing it.
* Recycle it. You probably won't be able to recycle small appliances, but major ones can be mined for scrap metal. First call your trash utility. Do they recycle "white goods"? If so, go through them. If not, haul out your Yellow Pages again and try Scrap Metal or Recycling. You may have to "prepare" your appliance for scrapping, but the dealer can tell you how.
You have one other option. If you live in a city, there may be an experimental college or an open university or some such equivalent that offers small-appliance repair classes. Go ahead and sign up for a class. Have the mystery taken out of small appliances for you and learn how to repair them. Then you can come over and fix my toaster.