Sunday, February 1st, 2009...9:40 pm

Fix, Don’t Pitch

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photo figure credit: MITBeta

In the spring of 1998 as I prepared to graduate from college, I made a classic personal finance blunder: I bought a $1500 surround sound receiver on my credit card.  At the time I was earning about $240/week before taxes, which means that I really could not afford this stereo.  It took me many years to pay off that credit card since there were obviously many other charges on this card, though no single item this expensive.

Fast forward to 2004: Having at least partially learned my lesson about buying things I could not afford (the receiver wasn’t the last…), I still owned the receiver and it still had a prominent position in our home theater setup.  Imagine our disappointment when the volume control started to go south.  When pushing the volume up or down buttons on the remote control, the receiver would display the corresponding message, such as “Volume Up”, but the volume knob would not turn as it once had.

Bravely, I disassembled enough of the receiver to get a good look at the volume control, hoping that an obvious loose connection was apparent.  I didn’t find anything obvious, and after reassembling, the control started working again.  For a while.  When the knob stopped working again, I discovered that if I gave it a couple of quick raps, the control would start working again.

The “knock on knob” solution worked for another 5 years until last December.  No matter how much knocking I did, the volume control would not come back to life.  I started to think about having to replace the receiver, which prompted this post: Replacing Items That Put You in Debt.  Then ScrapperMom asked a simple, but brilliant question: “Can it be fixed?”

“Duh,” I thought, “why didn’t I think of that?”

When I disassembled the receiver in 2004 I made sure to take a number of pictures of the parts that appeared to be broken (one of which appears above).  So I went back to those pictures and found the part number for the board.  Then I visited the manufacturer’s website and found a place to search for parts.  I put in the information I had and quickly received an email back with a couple of possibilities.  Hmm.  I called the phone number at the bottom of the email and asked if I could speak to technical support.  The tech who came on the line (almost immediately, by the way) knew the troubleshooting for this product, which hadn’t been manufactured in almost 10 years, cold.  Within 5 minutes I was armed with enough info to diagnose the root cause of the problem.  After testing out the receiver, I found that the motor that drives the knob was bad, and I ordered a new assembly for about $43.

Yesterday, a friend who has lots of experience with soldering delicate electronic parts to circuit boards came by and had the old part off and the new one on in about 45 minutes.  We checked out the receiver and the volume control works fine now.  Lest you think to yourself that that’s all fine and good if you have a friend who can solder, my initial research for this volume control problem indicated that the part and the repair would have cost about $100 at a qualified service center.

By doing a little research, getting my hands dirty, being resourceful (i.e. calling Bryan), and being reminded not to Pitch, but Fix, we have saved ourselves at least several hundred dollars on not having to buy a new receiver.  Yes, we could have survived getting up to turn the volume knob for quite a while (if you can imagine that horror!), but modern society has made the remote control ubiquitous, and having quick access to volume control with a newborn and a toddler in the house will save our sanity for sure.

Do you have a story about fixing instead of pitching? Let’s hear about in the Comments below.


  • While my husband was in college full time, and we had no money and a small baby, our freezer door on our refrigerator fell off. It was located inside the main door of the fridge at the top. This fridge was given to us, and we could not buy a new one. Completely out of the question. But with the plastic freezer door broke off, the ice formed quickly. No, it wasn’t frost free! So, my brave husband got a piece of plywood from his parents nearby and cut it with a hand saw to fit the shape of the freezer on top, very very snugly. And that was all he did. And yes, sometimes when you opened the main door to the fridge, this “newly acquired” door would fall down, but if you were fast enough, you could catch it, put it back in its proper place, and push it in really hard to make it stay better. This wasn’t just a fix to us, it was the repair of the year!! The “new door” lasted us 2 1/2 more years til he graduated and we were transferred to Cleveland, Ohio. And NO, the refrigerator didn’t come with us. On a funny note, he told me not to tell my girlfriends about this new door he made. I said, why would I want to embarass myself and tell them anyway. He said, Well, just don’t, because they may just want one themselves!!! We had a good laugh about it, and can still remember this even though it was about 42 years ago.

  • I can’t top Sandy’s story – or yours! – but we have taken to fixing rather than replacing things. Most recently, I managed to hit our toddler’s tricycle with our car. (It had rolled forward from Designated Tricycle Parking into Designated Jeep Parking. Our small garage leaves no margin for error.)

    The damage wasn’t serious, but it also wasn’t in any condition for my 3 y.o. to ride. I hit Craig’s List – unfortunately, no trikes were listed. Waiting for one to pop up could take weeks, depriving my kiddo of prime pedaling season.

    Then it hit me – go to Radio Flyer’s website. Not only did they send me the replacement parts in less than a week, they didn’t even charge me for it! I borrowed the right type of wrench to make the repair – so our total cost was $0, instead of $50 at Toys’R’Us.

  • Good stuff. I literally JUST fixed my washing machine (which is over a decade old) this weekend when my little inner voice was saying “buy a Energy Star front-loading replacement.”

  • well since I married an ME whose father owned a Mooring company, we “must” try to fix everything before we buy a replacement! But I think you also need to mention if it’s free it’s for me….we (well Jon) has gotten a snowblower (old 60’s one that will never die!) that just needed a little tune up, a freezer for the basement and almost all the outdoor kids toys for free….just out in front of people houses!!

  • Hey, being married to ScrapperMom, I’m sure you know that we scrapbookers are famous for recycling items into new uses.

    You got our Christmas card… made from recycled corrugated cardboard.

    I must give a shout out to Freecycle, too! Great place for reducing, reusing and recycling!

  • Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    Abby: I’m glad no one was in the tricycle!

    Kristen: Are you sure all those people were done with that stuff?!? I remember a certain Dr. Katz episode where the dad tells his kids to get the grill, and they complain that it still has burning coals in it…

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  • Funny I just got this email. I tried, I really tried hard to fix a stupid roll of Scotch Brand tape from hubby’s office. There was about 1/3 of the roll left, and it kept veering off and splitting. I started over probably 50 times, outside in the hot car in the driveway. I wasn’t going to come in till I got it. By the way, I had 10 more rolls in my supplies closet, but that didn’t matter right now. Well, I roasted, sweated, dug my feet in deeper, but I hate to admit it, I had to give up. I just could not get it today. It is in the garage trash cans. Now I am feeling like I should have tried more, so maybe tomorrow I may dig it out of the trash so I can “FIX” it and not “PITCH” it.