Chirping fridge sings an ode to cold world of repair


November 13, 1993|By ROB KASPER

The refrigerator started "chirping" about three months ago. In the early days, I lived with it. It was an occasional chirp, not too irritating, something to keep the parakeet company.

I wanted to believe the chirping would go away. That the fridge would heal itself. But it only got worse. The refrigerator chirped when its door was open, or closed. And, worst of all, it chirped at night. A high, piercing call, somewhat like the wail of a smoke detector. It woke me up.

I sought amateur help. I looked for a repair manual that assumed all you knew about your refrigerator was its name. I found none, at least none dealing with my brand, a Sears Kenmore.

I sought advice from others. I called the Sears 800 parts line and asked the people on the other end of the line if they knew what made refrigerators sing. They said they ordered parts. Did I have a part number? I hung up.

I pulled guys at the office aside and in private moments asked, if they had this problem. "Tell me, John," I would say. "Does your refrigerator, you know, ever chirp at you?" Nobody knew what I was talking about.

I tried to take things into my own hands. I figured if I confronted the noise, it might be scared into silence. I pulled the fridge out from the wall, removed the back cover, and put the back of the fridge under surveillance. I was looking for any signs of trouble. A loose belt. A wobbling widget. Smoke.

I couldn't find anything wrong. Then, as if to spite me, the fridge chirped. A loud, long, in-your-face, chirp. The noise was coming from the top of the fridge, somewhere in the freezer. I couldn't be sure because I couldn't see the freezer's working parts. Apparently they were hiding behind the freezer's plastic interior walls.

For a moment I was seized with the "mad unscrewing temptation." This is the urge to loosen every nut and bolt you can get a wrench on. To pull parts until you find the source of the trouble.

I fought the temptation off. The fridge was noisy, but it was still working. That would not be true if I began pulling parts. And, while a washer or a dryer can remain torn apart for several days in a "contemplating the next repair" state, a family fridge cannot. When you work on a fridge you have to get in and get out fast, like a SWAT team. Otherwise the food spoils and family members get testy.

I found a schematic drawing showing what might be behind the refrigerator walls. But before I went in there with wrenches flying, I wanted to be sure, or at least pretty sure, where I was headed.

As I stared at the freezer diagrams my stomach began to churn. It was similar to a feeling I got once when I found myself on skis, looking down a very steep slope. A voice inside me asked, "Do you really want to do this?" In both cases, the skiing and freezer-fixing, the answer was "No."

So I swallowed my pride and picked up the phone book and looked under the listing for refrigerator repair services. I have a method for picking such services. I do not call places that begin with the letter "A." I figure any place that calls itself something "AAAAA plus" is just feeding on the frustration of people who pick up the phone book and call the first business listed. Not me. I went all the way down to the B's.

My first choice answered the phone promptly. Their people were polite. Their repairman showed up at my house when he was supposed to. And before the fridge got a chance to chirp twice, the repairman had the plastic wall removed from the back of the freezer.

He pointed to a small fan motor sitting in the exposed wall. It could fit in the palm of my hand. That was the culprit, he said. The bearings on the 10-year-old fan motor were seizing, he said, and making the chirping noise. He had a new fan motor in his truck. Putting it in would cost $130.

I told him to go ahead. It was cheaper than buying a new fridge. Any time a repairman says one of our old appliances is worth fixing, I feel relieved. So the part went in, and the fridge stopped chirping and I paid the bill. The whole operation took about half an hour.

Then I did a foolish thing. A few days later I called up the parts people and found out how much it would have cost me to buy this fan motor. The answer was $30.

The moral of the story is when your fridge chirps at you, make one phone call. Either call a parts supplier, order a freezer fan motor and attempt to put it in yourself. Or call a repairman to fix the motor for you. But don't do both. If you do, you'll end up feeling frosted.

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