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Posted by on Jun 23, 2013 in Culture, Life, Skepticism, Society, Technology | 5 comments

Fixing It Right

Have you ever fixed something?  I don’t mean mended it, but taken something that you would have thrown out and found out how to fix it and got the parts and made run again.

I’ve often heard it said that we live in a disposable society.  Battery in the cell phone not lasting all day… buy a new cell phone.  Computer breaks, buy a new one.  VCR breaks, buy a new one.

This, I think, is

  • a significant amount of waste
  • extremely ecologically unfriendly
  • very wasteful of money

It’s that latter bit that hits all of us normal people.  Back in the old days (when I was poorer than now, but had a car that I could work on), I replaced brakes, alternators, exhausts, and did body work on my car.  I don’t do a lot of that now, because modern cars are frightening.  You’ve almost got to have a computer tester just to work on the engine or any attached systems.  I don’t really want to go there.  I also don’t have a lot of the tools needed for the heavy work.

But there’s still a lot of things that even non-technically inclined people can fix with just normal tools and an internet connection.  Yes, I said an internet connection.  Because if it can be fixed, someone on youtube has done so.  The nice thing about youtube is that you can rewind and actually see what is going on, unlike a book which (in my experience) has some problems in that regard.  That mystical step that occurs between figure 12 and figure 13 that the experts don’t need, but I sure as heck did.

An example.  About 12 years ago, I bought an electric lawnmower.  I had a gas one, but I was terrible about weekly and monthly maintenance and I never winterized it.  Which means it worked like crap.  So, I got a solution that was low maintenance.

About five years later, the fan broke and the motor kept over heating.  It’s just a big round piece of plastic that fit above the blades and pushed air up into the motor.  I went to the manufacturer website, looked at the diagram, ordered a part.  Three days later, I spent about 20 minutes working on it and we were good to go.  It wasn’t hard, it wasn’t scary… and I saved a boat-load of money.  A new lawn mower cost about $150, the repair guys wanted $50 just to determine what was wrong.  The part was $5 and shipping was $3.  I already had a wrench and a screwdriver.

Last week I replaced the brake lights on my wife’s SUV and replaced the driver door handle.  Yep, the part that opens the door and locks it.  It was a little intimidating when you think about power locks and all that kind of thing, but it was simple.  I had one issue when the part I ordered was 100% the same as the original, but a bit of super glue and a bit of duct tape (literally, I used duct tape and it worked perfectly) and the door handle is fixed.  I put everything back together and all the power windows, power locks, and everything still worked.  For the record, the part was $30 and I spent a bit longer than an hour on it.  Definitely cheaper than $150 an hour plus parts a shop would charge.

I’m not saying that people  buy a new car if the door handle breaks, but very, very few people will take on the task of replacing it themselves.

Computer are another area that’s easy (unless it’s Apple) to fix yourself.  I routinely build computers from parts.  It’s not magical or mystical to open up that box (even a laptop).  I’ve heard all the warnings about electrostatic discharge and the like.  I’ve built a dozen PCs and never had a part get fried just installing it.  I’ve never had a computer fail to run after putting a new component in.  I’ll admit, the first time you power on a computer you just built from $1,000 worth of parts can be scary.  But if you followed the instructions, it’ll work just fine.

Is the video going out?  Don’t buy a new PC, replace the video card.  It’s simple.  It’s actually harder picking out a replacement part than installing it.

There are so many things in our daily lives that, when they break, we can fix.

The problem is that we have a mindset of ‘disposable’ and ‘new is better’.  I freely admit I like to get new toys.  My new computer was not cheap (but cheaper than if I had someone else build it).  I justify it by the fact that the old one couldn’t run a lot of modern software.  And I don’t just surf the net.  I do some CAD, a lot of simulations… yes, and games… shhh!

And if we do decide to get  new thing, don’t just toss the old one in the trash.  Freecycle is a program where you can post what you have online (for free only) and someone will (probably) take it, fix it, and sell it or give it away (some people just like fixing things).

There’s nothing inherently wrong with getting  new thing or not fixing an old one.  But, apply a little skepticism.  Do I really need a new ‘top of the line’ thing?  Is it really that much better?  Will no amount of effort make my old thing good enough anymore?

If the answer to any of those is “no”, then maybe take a chance and fix it yourself.  Yes, yes, you actually can fix it yourself.  You don’t have to be ‘technically inclined’ or a mechanical engineer (never EVER let an engineer “fix” anything!!!!) to fix it.  If you can identify what’s wrong and get a part, then take a shot.  There’s probably instructions online.

You will save money.  You will be very proud of yourself.  You will shock and amaze friends and family.  And, you will be helping the environment.

 

  • Metalogic42

    I love this article.

  • MaryL

    Related to that, I find no need to replace what isn’t broken. I have my Mom’s original ironing board. Large, wooden, a bit heavy and awkward to carry but there’s nothing wrong with it. I also have her old hand mixer. The cord and the beaters aren’t original, but it still works fine. Both of these are over 50 years old, as are a lot of the kitchen utensils.
    Our parents were Depression babies and taught my brother and me to take care of what we have and look for ways to reuse things. I buy a particular ice cream in a small plastic container. These are all now all around the house, as holders for many small items. (Twist ties, cat treats, etc.) Fix, reuse, (or call it repurpose), I grew up with it.

    • SmilodonsRetreat

      My mom still uses the hand mixer she got for a wedding present in ’62. It’s only hand mixer she’s found that’s powerful enough to handle divinity. My granddad used his DeWalt Radial Arm Saw that he bought new in 1947. Last time I checked, about a year ago, it still worked fine.

      And I totally agree with the re-purposing of items. We use the plastic dishwasher tab containers as crayon holders. I use plastic buckets that kitty litter comes in as recycling boxes… every room has one and when they get too gross to use, toss the whole thing in the recycling bin.

      Every time we do something like this it helps save resources, electricity, fuel, etc, etc. etc.

  • im-skeptical

    “- a significant amount of waste

    - extremely ecologically unfriendly

    - very wasteful of money”

    Plus: – exactly what manufacturers want.

    Unfortunately, a lot of things these days are made to be unrepairable, especially by consumers.

    • SmilodonsRetreat

      Sadly true.