Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Fixed my toaster -- how I did it

Our Rowenta toaster broke. When you pushed the lever down it wouldn't stay down; the toast would pop back up. I would have to hold the lever down the whole time to get toast.

This is the story of my toaster triumph. How I managed to fix my broken toaster for under $5 and in under an hour. Hopefully this will help others with the same predicament.

I wanted to fix the toaster rather than throw it away and get a new one. Wanted to be kind to the environment and save money. Thought of all the landfill space the toaster would take, all the minerals mined and oil pumped that went into making the toaster, and the people whose quality of life might have been negatively impacted by the pollution from that process.

I called a few appliance repair shops. They either said I was silly for not buying a new one or else wanted $45-50 to fix it.

My toaster has the traditional dial-knob and lever. If you have the new-fangled $150 electronic ones that don't have knobs or even levers, that are computer-controlled with little buttons you press, basically you need to get the PC board replaced at an authorized service center for $50. Knowing that now, I think I prefer the old style.

My Rowenta toaster is a model TP-5, I think about 10 years old. The manufacturer doesn't sell parts for it anymore. As it turns out, the parts weren't broken. Rather, all I needed to do was open it up and clean off the contacts and voila, it was fixed.

The bottom of the toaster has 3 torx-head screws. I biked over to Sears with the toaster and figured out I needed to buy a size 10 Torx screwdriver for $3.99 plus tax.

At home, I took the screws out. I removed the rotating dial that specifies how brown you want your toast by pulling it straight out away from the toaster. I also removed the lever that you push on to put the toast down, by firmly pulling it away from the toaster in the same direction I pulled the knob to get it off.

Then came the tricky part. The inside still wouldn't disengage from the outer white plastic cover. I ended up having to hammer down on four pointy plastic bits that were jammed through little holes in the bottom plate, in the process breaking off 3 of them, as well as work on prying the plastic cover from the metal plate off with screwdrivers. No sweat about the broken plastic pieces, since they weren't critical in holding the cover on -- still had those 3 screws and some other retaining tabs along the edges.

I inspected the innards and found that the underside of the metal plate that comes down when you push the lever to get the toast down, had a thin layer of sticky brown goop on it. No doubt that it came from some piece of bread that had gotten lodged there one time when I was shaking the toaster around to get the crumbs out in addition to pulling out the crumb tray. I think this is why the manufacturer advises against shaking the toaster upside down and so forth, but rather recommends just pulling out the crumb tray and keeping the toaster level. I'd messed up my toaster by ignoring that advice.

The part that the metal plate contacts, which looks kind of like a bunch of staples stacked together, also had a very thin layer of goop on it and was a bit rusted. This part is magnetized when you plug in the toaster and get electricity going to the solenoid when you push down the lever, thus holding down the lever. I cut a small piece of medium-fine grit sandpaper and sanded away the goop.

For good measure, I also lightly sanded the other contact points for the copper strips that move and make contact when you push the lever down. I also vacuumed away most of the crumbs using a mini-vacuum attachment that you use for cleaning computers.

I reassembled the toaster, plugged it back in, and voila, working toaster, practically as good as new. No replacement parts were necessary, just cleaning the contacts.

If you are having problems with controlling the toasting level, you probably have a bad thermostat. It is an inexpensive part but does require some soldering to replace. The other part that can go bad, apparently, is the solenoid. In really cheap toasters it seems the parts do go bad. We received the Rowenta as a gift from my in-laws and I guess it is a quality toaster where the parts hold up. It was not the toaster per se that was at fault, it just required a little cleaning.

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