Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Dryer Switch

I haven't posted anything on this blog for a while. Fortunately, your garage door opener doesn't fail that often. But, there are other similar problems that happen around home that are similar, require similar fixes, and similar patterns of dealing with technicians. I decided to talk about them here too.

The latest was with the GE dryer. While turning the start switch on, it didn't start and some smoke came out of it. I was able to smell burn next to the start switch, so I figured that was the problem. As typically the case with these type of problems, the most challenging is figuring out how to open it and reach the bad part. Again, similar to what happened with the garage opener, I called a service to come and take a look at it. A technician came, removed some nails from the back and inside the dryer and opened it. I already told him the problem is in the start switch, so he didn't have to use much brain power, but he was more disciplined and nicer than the garage door guys, so I was ok with him. His service call was supposed to be $45, but in order to replace the switch he quoted $140 labor + the cost of switch and knob from his vendor. He mentioned that he will call me the next day and tell me the exact price and asked for $100, then taking the rest after fixing it. I fall for that and gave him the $100, although should have paid only the $45 until he fix it. After he left, I searched online for the start switch and found that I can get both the switch and knob for ~$20. I found also that I can easily replace the switch myself, now that I know where it's. I was interested to know about his quote; he called the next day and mentioned $69 in addition to his labor, so I thanked him and told him that I am going to order it online. It arrived in 2 days and I replaced it and got the dryer working again.

The steps for the fix:

  • First thing is to unplug the power before doing any work.
  • Then find the nails to remove, some of them are challenging and require effort, a good screw driver helps here.
  • Remove the cover and find the bad switch.
  • Remove the wires connected to the switch, remember exactly how they were connected, in my case a red wire was up and a black down.
  • Turn the switch around remove its clips from the dryer panel.
  • Put the new switch in the panel, turning it around in the counter direction until it clips.
  • Put the wires back in the same way.
  • Put the nails back, make sure to close everything, otherwise the dryer won't start or could be risky.
  • Plug the power and start.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Manipulation of Yelp Reviews

After the bad experience I had with the first service, which I found through Yelp, I decided to write a Yelp review myself about my own experience with this service. As a reminder, I selected this specific Garage Door Service based on the great reviews it has on Yelp. And since it turned out to be disappointing, contrary to what all those reviews are saying, I thought it would be fair (and actually obligatory) to share it with others. Well, Yelp has another opinion!

After posting my review on MC Garage Doors (I wasn't planning to mention the service name here, but since Yelp isn't doing its job, I decided to reveal it), while the review was showing on my page, it wasn't showing on the business page till now! I always wondered how such a service can get so many positive reviews (118 5-stars out of 130)! Even for a great service such a high percentage could raise suspicion. There could be different ways for such a high number of stars: buddies writing the reviews, exchange of favors, or clients given freebies for writing positive reviews. What I wasn't aware of, is that there are also ways for hiding negative reviews, which in my opinion are more important to show for customers to decide.

Curious to know Yelp's opinion on this, I sent them the following message:
I added a review last month and now I noticed that my review is not showing on that business page! I want to know why my review is not there? I noticed also there have been other negative reviews on the same service from other users that are not showing anymore.
I selected this service based on Yelp reviews and when I was disappointed about the service, I decided to post this review so that others like me know about the negatives. Now, it seems that businesses have ways to hide negative reviews and boost their ratings! This will make it hard to trust Yelp reviews again. I hope to get a clarification from Yelp. Thanks!
After more than 2 weeks, I haven't heard back from Yelp yet and at this point, I don't expect a response from them. Beware of Yelp reviews!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Bait Coupons

After figuring out the problem lies with the RPM sensor, I still wasn't able to find it within the opener, as I was only looking on one side.

During that time, I found the Valpak coupons in the mail and among them I noticed this one:

From initial look, it has some good offers like "Free Service Call" and "$50 Off", so I thought why not calling them if that will help me solve the problem faster without wasting more time on it. And as expected that turned out to be another trap but luckily it has some good consequences. I called them and a technician came, this time was more professional and polite than the initial one. After looking at the door, he noticed it's unbalanced so his offer to fix the issue was to just do some "lubing and tuning" for $189! I mentioned to him about the RPM sensor and how I believe it's the real cause for the problem, but he didn't even seem to know about that sensor and insisted on just doing his adjustments, bragging about his 7 years experience and that manuals don't solve problems. I wasn't ready to get cheated again so initially I refused to take this and here he asked for a $49 service call!

That time I started to figure out the trap, looking at the coupon fine prints, you get the free service call only with a service, and in this case you don't qualify for the $50 off since you cannot use with another offer! Got it? So either I pay $189 for a lube and tune which is so expensive for that, and I was sure won't solve the problem, or I pay $49 for nothing. I didn't give up and started arguing and calling these numbers complaining about the bait and mentioning that his diagnostic is not going to solve the problem, I could hear him at that time talking to his boss on the phone saying "I like customers that think they know better than me"! I finally gave up, but the good thing after this fight, I got a word from them that for the $189 he will get it fixed, or at least I showed them that I won't be an easy victim.

He went on to do the lubing, which consist of spraying lubricant on the door rollers and hinges, then he adjusted the spring using a big iron bar. He got the door balanced in less than 10 minutes, which I could have probably done myself, but it's good to see it at least once. Also the spring tuning was a bit challenging and needs a special tool. I will post links for videos online showing how to do this. After that he went to adjust the opener force and time limit controls and thought that's going to get him the $189, but as expected that didn't work and the problem remained the same. He then removed the remaining of the opener cover (I had it already opened when he arrived, so no excuses) and kept looking inside with no clue, until finally he gave up. He was obviously embarrassed after this and spent some time thinking what to offer,  so he mentioned that the logic board needs to be changed which I can either wait for them to order and replace it for me or I can order it online and replace myself! It's nice when you get such suggestions from a service call, why am I calling them then? My concern was that they ask me to replace the whole opener similar to the previous one or pay $189 for the lubing and tuning, but I guess, feeling the embarrassment, he just asked for the $49 service call and told me that at least I got my door balanced, which I thought was fair. He also gave some good suggestions for what lubricant to use and doing it every 6 months. I finally wanted him to show me where's this RPM sensor (which was my main goal for this service call anyway), but he didn't have a clue, so he just told me to search online :)

Overall I was happy with this service, better than the first guy, at least getting the door balanced, but the real surprise came after he left, when I finally found what I was looking for. Since he removed the opener side nails and cover, I was able to spot the interrupter cup and RPM sensor inside and proceed with the solution

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Solution

The first hint at the solution came from the garage door opener manual, which turned out to be a useful resource to read carefully when solving these problems. That model (LiftMaster 3280) turned out to have a good self-diagnostic Flash LED capabilities, which shows up when opening the lens cover on the side that has the wires and force controls.

The problem again was that the door was reversing for no reason. Even after disconnecting the opener trolley from the door by pulling the emergency release handle, the trolley would move for a few inches then reverse back. Adjusting the force and travel limit controls had no effect. But then, looking at the flashing LED every time I press the button, I noticed 5 flashes. The diagnostic chart in the manual pointed to these 5 flashes and short motor movement as an issue with the RPM sensor!

The RPM (Rotation Per Minute) sensor is a small board surrounded by an interrupter cup that sits next to the motor shatft. It's purpose is to detect resistance against the door movement and stops the motor from working against those forces to avoid damage to the motor or to whatever is blocking the door passage. Apparently when this sensor breaks, the motor cannot travel for a long distance without reversing causing the issue I had.

Another useful resource that pointed at exactly the same issue is the LiftMaster Support website:
If you have recently replaced your garage door opener's gears, the shaft bearing kit may be interfering with a part of your RPM sensor assembly called the interrupter cup.  Make sure that the wire harness is plugged back into the RPM sensor and the interrupter cup is installed and seated all the way on the motor shaft, so that the edge of the cup rotates through the RPM sensor. The RPM sensor is a small 1 inch x 1 inch electronic circuit board with a 2 pronged black sensor. If the cup is not pushed on to the end of the shaft, it can cause the symptoms described.
It's not saying directly that the RPM sensor needs to be replaced, but pointing that these are the issues causing this kind of problem.

Knowing that the RPM sensor is likely the cause for this problem, the next issue was how to replace it? Luckily it was so easy to get it, since searching for it online returned many sources and costs as low as $6: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000JGLXDI/. In addition, the product reviews are also helpful in pointing to similar problems and how they were resolved.

Next comes the biggest challenge, which is how to find that sensor within the motor unit? The manual has charts for the motor assembly parts, similar to page 31 in this manual: http://www.homedepot.com/catalog/pdfImages/74/746223fe-1706-44e0-a480-fe41347a16bc.pdf, but these are somewhat hard to decrypt. Searching the web returned also some links with description, photos and even videos, but again the way these photos were taken didn't make it very clear (in the future, I am planning to put some photos and videos that hopefully would make it easier than what was there), besides  different models seem to have it at different locations. After looking at these, I thought that the RPM sensor will be on the side that has the logic board and gears. After removing that side nails, I spent quite some time looking for it between gears and grease without luck. But finally, after removing the rest of the nails and cover, which was somewhat of a challenge for someone not used to opening these devices (of course remember to unplug the power before opening the unit), I found it to be on the other side, the side towards the belt and trolley, hidden behind the interrupter cup with a wire plug connected to it. By unplugging the wires and removing the cup, it was easy to remove the sensor and verify it's the piece required.

Finally, after ordering a new RPM sensor, it arrived in a few days, and once replacing it with the older one, everything worked great! A new interrupter cup also came with it, but I didn't need it, since the old one was ok. After replacing it, I needed to adjust the force and limit controls since during the diagnosis they were messed up by myself and the great garage door service technicians that visited me.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

First Technician

The first garage door service I found was through Yelp. They have really good reviews, more than hundred 5 stars! I always wonder if they have some tricks to get so many good reviews, but that's another story. Anyway, I called them and they mentioned about sending someone within a one-hour window that evening, they said also their service call fee is $89 and that would include simple fixes. Well, that was the first trap! I waited for them during that hour but no one came, so I called again, the guy told me that he will look for his technician and call me back, but he didn't call! After another hour, someone knocked on my door and the technician was finally there.

At that time, I had already disengaged the release handle and it was only the trolley moving back and forth on the belt every time he clicks the opener button. He looked at it and didn't seem to have any clue as if it was his first time to see something like that. He said that hopefully it's just the wires need to be connected properly and on his own words that would be 'relatively simple to fix, otherwise we will have to replace the whole engine'! He anyway started messing with the wires and even broke some of the paint in the ceiling, even though it was clear that these wires were properly connected. These are the 4 external wires going into the opener, two of them coming from the door opener which was already working and the other two coming from the two safety sensors on the left and right side of the garage door, which were also having power since they had their orange and green lights on. 

After putting his own useless wires there, the problem was of course not solved, so he said the only solution is to replace the whole engine which would cost me $450 without the belt or $650 with the belt! That turned out to be twice as expensive as other quotes I got later, but anyway I wasn't convinced that a 5-year old LiftMaster opener can break so easily, these are supposed to be much more reliable and my model even claims to have a lifetime warranty (what that practically means is another story). So I asked him, if there are simpler solutions like replacing an internal part such as the logic board? He answered no, since the logic board is attached to the engine and we have to replace the whole thing. This turned out to be another lie, since as I will show later, the logic board can be ordered online for ~$50-$60 and replaced easily by removing a few nails and wire plugs. He was so useless, that he didn't even try to open it or put any effort on looking for the real cause. When I didn't seem convinced, he mentioned that he has to take the $89 service call, then took them quickly and ran, without even caring to clean the mess he created. To summarize, he took $89 for a false diagnostic and without any sincere effort to figure the actual problem. In my opinion, replacing the whole opener is only a solution for someone who has no idea how to solve a problem. As I will show later, it turned out there's a much cost efficient solution, so either they don't know about it and in this case they are incompetent. Or they know but they want to make big money out of it, and in this case they are not honest. I wonder in this case what they would have done with my old opener after replacing it?

One more thing, the guy noticed that the garage door was unbalanced, but instead of adjusting it (at least providing some value for the money he took), he wanted to replace the whole door rollers and replace the single spring with two springs, again trying to make some big money out of it. Theoretically, it might be true that two springs are better than one, but who wants to make such unnecessary changes on a relatively new door. Later, it turned out that some simple lubing of the wheels and tuning of the spring can get the door balanced.

I was so disappointed with this experience that I went on to look for the solution myself.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Why this Blog?

Two weeks ago I had no experience at all with garage door openers other than clicking the button of my garage door remote to open and close the door, until one morning while clicking that button, the door started to act unexpectedly! The door would just travel a short distance then reverse back again. Even after disengaging the door lock, the trolley would still do that, moves for a few inches then reverse back without any blocks. 

After calling several local technicians that have got some of the best reviews online, a couple of them visited my home taking a good amount of service call fees (I will come to that later) and suggesting solutions for hundreds of dollars without really having any clue about the real cause of the problem. Other technicians that I had to call several times, acted like celebrities, claiming that they have no time at all that week to come and fix my problem.

This experience pushed me to look into a solution myself, so I spent a weekend reading the opener manual carefully and searching online until I found a simple solution that costed me only a few dollars. More importantly, after this research I felt that I know about garage door openers and how they work more that the long-experience technicians I called. Some background, I am a Software Engineer myself in an area in California that has a lot of skillful software engineers but seems to lack of skillful technicians.

I decided to share this experience here with a two-fold goal: First, to help others like me who face similar problems to solve it themselves without going through all the pain. Second, to relieve some load from those super-busy technicians, so that hopefully they can do a better and sincere job for the few people who would still prefer to call them. In the following posts, I will talk about my experience with the technicians I have dealt with, then I will go into the problem and solution in more detail. I will also provide links and videos for some of the different problems that I came across while looking into this. The garage door opener I handled is a LiftMaster 3280, but many of these solutions apply to different models. No need to mention, these are just recommendations, do it at your own risk!