23 Oct 2008 12 pm eastern

Regarding the dishwasher

We bought our apartment in December 2007, securing it with what might have been the last mortgage ever issued in the U.S.

The apartment was completely renovated, from its dark wood floors to its schmancy new super-quiet dishwasher.

Over the summer, the formerly super-quiet dishwasher began to emit a high-decibel grinding noise 15 or 20 minutes into its cleaning cycle. It sounded like two airplanes whirring their propellors into each other. Or like giant lawnmowers attacking garbage cans.

We couldn’t find anything loose in the dishwasher — no stray steak knife caught in the motor, for instance.

We used the dishwasher a few more times. The result was the same. After 15 or 20 minutes of cleaning, the thing began setting up a drone that would have sent Thurston Moore reaching for earplugs.

The machine didn’t break, and it did clean dishes, but the noise was beyond bearing, and it seemed to us that the dishwasher must surely be damaging itself.

When you buy a renovated apartment, everything is probably under warranty, but you don’t get the paperwork or any information from the seller.

It took weeks of research and a few dozen phone calls, but eventually the wife got the dope. Our stuff was under warranty and a repair guy would come. No, not that day. Not that week. The month was looking dicey. How did Autumn sound?

We rediscovered the romance of washing dishes by hand—it really is quite therapeutic—and tranquilly waited for the great day to arrive.

Today was the great day, and I volunteered to work at home and wait for the repair guy.

Around 11:30, he showed up. He was polite, professional, and spoke mostly Chinese.

He spent about twenty minutes taking things apart and putting them together, then he called me over to explain what he had done.

I don’t speak Chinese (although I’m sure my daughter will) and he didn’t speak much English, so it wasn’t what you’d call perfect client-vendor communication. But through gestures, sounds, and a technical drawing he dashed off rather deftly on a paper towel, the repair guy gave me to understand that he hadn’t found anything wrong, so there probably wasn’t anything wrong.

He showed me that when you first turn on the water, you don’t hear a noise.

I agreed, but pointed out that the noise kicks in after 15 or 20 minutes.

He indicated that he didn’t have 15 or 20 minutes to wait for it, but if there was a noise, it probably didn’t indicate a mechanical problem, because there was no sign of damage to the machine.

On the paper towel, he drew the parts he had checked for damage, and pointed to their locations inside the machine. Since no parts were damaged, no damage had been done, and there was nothing he could do to diagnose or fix the problem.

I asked if he had found anything that might account for the noise, but the question only led to more drawing.

Eventually, through mime, more drawings, and remarkably well-timed nods, he communicated that he understood that the noise was not normal or desirable. He also conveyed that when we hear the noise, we should let the machine keep running, because eventually something might break, and then he or someone like him could fix it.

Of late nearly everything I buy has been defective in one way or another, and my service experiences, like this one, leave the matter perpetually unresolved. Recently, too, I have had several unrelated medical problems, and a visit to the doctor or doctors never quite seems to set things right. It is as if everything is broken, and everyone knows it, and we perpetually postpone the reckoning.

[tags]getsatisfaction, home, appliance, repairs, homeownership, health, economy, service, customer relations, warranty[/tags]

Filed under: business, client services, environment, ethics, experience, glamorous, homeownership, Zeldman

49 Responses to “Regarding the dishwasher”

  1. Catskills Grrl said on

    My advice: cut your losses and buy a new dishwasher.

  2. Jason Robb said on

    And when you get that new one, stuff it full of dishes and take a picture why don’t you? http://www.flickr.com/groups/dishwasherstuffer/

  3. Daniel Barradas said on

    How true … :)
    And I think it is a global thing. We have that in Portugal also.
    Not the chinese repair man but the “It is as if everything is broken, and everyone knows it, and we perpetually postpone the reckoning.”
    And we have that on so many levels that I would get an headache just thinking about it! :|

  4. Sue Murphy said on

    If my dad was here, he would just say “They don’t make ‘em like they used to!” Fact is, the more complex technology gets, the more potential there is for something to go wrong. That’s why the windows and locks on my car doors are still manual. :-)

  5. David Sleight said on

    Back when I took Driver’s Ed, we rolled in a vehicle that probably would’ve made the Blues Brothers look like car care aficionados by comparison. Our instructor’s solution was to take us out on the highway and tell us to gun the engine as hard as we could, in the hopes that eventually it would blow and the instruction agency would give her a new car.

  6. Josh said on

    Why not just wash the dishes by hand?

  7. MikeD said on

    Of late nearly everything I buy has been defective in one way or another, and my service experiences, like this one, leave the matter perpetually unresolved. Recently, too, I have had several unrelated medical problems, and a visit to the doctor or doctors never quite seems to set things right. It is as if everything is broken, and everyone knows it, and we perpetually postpone the reckoning.

    It seems there should be a term for this. Functional Dissonance?

  8. Jim Doran said on

    Maybe you should use the diagram to break those parts (all of them). Then, he’ll have to fix them, and probably the problem.

  9. Alan said on

    This is the truest thing I’ve read in ages. Thank you.

  10. Phil Nelson said on

    Maybe everything is broken, but not broken enough?

  11. Martin Ringlein said on

    In all fairness (to play devil’s advocate) it is VERY common practice to get a warranty plan on all of the appliances when buying a home — most real estate agents through it in as a “congratulations” gift.

    Like all things in life, ‘you get what you pay for’ and on that same token ‘you don’t get what you don’t pay for’. The opportunity cost is for you to evaluate — you might feel like the Best Buy warranty program is a scam, but if you like going to the front of the line and having immediate response time; then perhaps the over-inflated price is actually worth it. Just one example, but true for many things.

    Things break; that is sort of the nature of it all. Things in motion continue in motion until interrupted by a force — that force is “life”. Your computer is going to crash, your iPhone is going to lose data, your document is going to close on you before you save, your internet is going to go out on you — it surprises me how much people forget that is a common fact of life. All we can do is be prepared and know how to handle the situations before they occur rather than figure them out after the fact — that is what causes the frustration (our desire for immediate gratification).

  12. Eric Fields said on

    I know people who have had their Mac die on them one way or another and after many trips back and forth to the mothership, Apple just had to give them a new one. I’ve been through this myself with Dell at least once.

    At the same time, how many Model-Ts, a milestone in mass production and automotive history, are still running and functioning as good as new (literally — ask someone who owns one)?

    Fascinating, this notion of progress.

  13. Noel Jackson said on

    That’s how America works Jeffrey! We ignore everything until it’s really really broken: our relationships, our financial system, our HTML, our cars, the environment (to name a few); and it’s now the defacto standard for fixing anything… just wait until it’s really bad, then the problem will be more apparent (and be more painful to wait for and you may not be able to fix it, because of it’s severity)

    I don’t believe pro-active thinking exists much anymore. It’s far too costly. ;)

  14. Dan Chapman said on

    Perhaps your dishwasher simply needs to be too big to fail.

  15. Shelly Cole said on

    How funny. I found this post through Twitter. My neighbor is a plumber – he’s on his way over. We have a dishwasher that’s slightly younger than I am (it’s about 15 years old – okay, so half as old as I am LOL) – came with the house. Over the last month, we’ve had the same thing happen – a *terrible* noise coming from it. We couldn’t find anything wrong with it, so we just figured it was age. We’re planning to redo the kitchen anyway, so we figured we’d live with it for the time being.

    To my fun surprise this morning, I found food and bits of…ick in our downstairs bathroom sink. My daughter was ill yesterday (she’s 2) and I thought maybe this was one of the joys I found that I had missed from chasing her Linda Blair reprisal through the house. I cleaned it up and moved along.

    I did a load of dishes this morning, and – oh joy! – my downstairs bathroom is flooded. More of the food-and-ick in the sink, down the sides and all over the floor. the carpet in the next room is soaked, padding and all – we’ll have to replace it.

    So…I know it’s the dishwasher. Maybe the two issues are related. Perhaps you should call a plumber before your carpet gets ruined (and you hurl up your dinner when walking into another room and finding this unexpected “my walls have upchucked” sight). We dont’ have a garbage disposal under the sink, so it’s hard to catch *all8 the food that we rinse off. So my husband thinks it’s a combo of that, and food getting “washed away” when the dishwasher does its thing – and it’s clogged the lines.

    Anyway, I’ll find out in about an hour how bad the damage was – and if this is what caused the unholy noises the dishwasher has been making for over a month now. But when the plumber says “oh crap – that’s not good,” I’m already becoming blinded by to dollar signs pounding me over the head.

  16. Ben Tremblay said on

    In a less formalized world, in a situation of informal economy, the person who handed off the machine would remain engaged, and the person who attended to it later would likewise be engaged.

    What I’ve found is that stuff in our alienated / abstracted world can move along pretty well, so long as any failures conform precisely to what has been formalized. But fall into a crack and suddenly the world stops responding rationality.

    We’re very good at dealing with variance and fuzz … human beings have adapted by dealing with edge situations. But when relations are driven by spreadsheets and activity forms … it’s like losing your credentials: you’re a nobody in a nether-world. It really is quite bizarre. (Shades of Kafka’s “The Kastle”!) And it should be frightening.

    good luck

  17. Neal G said on

    When we lived in an apartment, our dishwasher wouldn’t work at all. Eventually a repair guy came in and “made it” although the washer made the same sounds that yours did. Extremely loud grinding sounds.

    Our solution to the problem: don’t live in an apartment. Buy a house where they don’t buy cheap appliances. It seems that most the apartments I’ve lived in had really poor quality appliances since the owner had to buy 150 dishwashers, 150 washers, 150 dryers etc they found it more economical to buy the crappiest kind.

  18. Jay C said on

    This is the type of service you get when you live in NYC.

    Anything I try to accomplish errand wise, or anytime I am in need of customer service, it’s an all-day, nightmarish affair. While I love living in New York, I’ve become bitter about how much of a pain it is, and I’ve come to the realization that all of these problems are not worth the costs of living here. Hospitals are a whole other topic.

    So I’m moving. I will miss the food and the 3am pizza. I think that’s probably it though. =)

    Good luck with your dish washer.

  19. Joe said on

    Please change image in header!

  20. aj said on

    I also have a dishwasher (installed by the previous owner) in my condo, that died seemingly femtoseconds after we took possession of the place. Thankfully it does not make grinding sounds, as it simply refuses to do anything at all, but in my planned kitchen reno, I will replace it with a Fisher & Paykel DishDrawer.

    Doing them by hand is therapeutic, but the tendency is to let them pile up. And using a dishwasher actually uses much less water than hand-washing where you’re running the faucet continuously.

  21. Edward Vielmetti said on

    Always run your garbage disposal before running your dishwasher.

  22. Ray The Money Man said on

    We are a throw away society. Remember those clunky old toasters of your parents that lasted 30 years! LOL

    We have been trying to find one, even if I have to rebuild the heating coils.

  23. John Dowdell said on

    It’s a hard thing to handle, when the client says “Yes, the website looks good, but after surfing for 2-3 hours it will not display right.”

    If you waited a month, though, seems like he could have waited twenty minutes…. ;-)

  24. David Smith said on

    Every complex system is operating in an error mode. – Le Chatelier’s Fundamental Failure-Mode Theorem

    Diswashers are complex…like people.

  25. Ara Pehlivanian said on

    It’s funny how I’ve been in a similar situation of late. We just bought all new appliances and our fridge (though set to maximum) doesn’t seem to be keeping stuff cold enough. Our laundry machine makes a loud clanking sound at the end of the spin cycle. My foot’s been killing me for well over a year, yet when I finally saw a doctor about it, the x-rays came back clean (and it still hurts). I got a tests done for a pair of other medical woes I don’t care to list here, yet on both counts the doctors told me that they could find nothing wrong. Now it looks like my iPod’s battery is starting to lose its charge a lot quicker than it ever used to, and our home computer has begun to randomly turn itself off.

    So yeah, I feel your pain.

  26. Michael Nolan said on

    We burn a lot of wood in our fireplace during the winter. In preparation for this year I called a chimney cleaner to get rid of the creosote buildup. He took one look and said the chimney can’t be cleaned because of a heat-i-lator that wasn’t properly installed when it was built 20 years ago. “I couldn’t guarantee my work so my insurance wouldn’t cover you if you had a chimney fire.” His only solution was to suggest installing a $600 stainless steel door in the back of our beautiful stone chimney. Right now I’m taking my chances on a chimney fire doing the job.

  27. George Girton said on

    You are fortunate beyond belief — Not only have you discovered the tranquillity of washing dishes by hand, but also you have been gifted with teh rationale to continue washing them in this way.

    I know a dishwasher is supposed to save water, but I often wonder if it is true.. really true. The amount of effort to wash by hand seems roughly equivalent to what’s required to get the dishes into the machine, and aside from the lack of noise which follows upon a successful hand washing, there is the added benefit of being definitively and finally done with the task.

  28. JavaVoodoo said on

    We bought our house also in December of ’07, and like you ran into dishwasher troubles, oh, back in July or August probably. Ours isn’t a noise issue, it’s the latch. You have to literally lean on the door for the machine to complete it’s operation.

    I say all that to say, we’ve gone back to hand washing dishes. We could replace the machine, but really, why bother? Hand washing is perfectly acceptable, and probably more effective.

    My advice, skip the machine entirely.

  29. Steven Clark said on

    Our systems all seem to be geared to this nowdays – planned obsolesence, for example, and the way they produce 100 things knowing 5 will be crap and come back but they still make money so they tolerate the 5 crap ones (seems to predominate in electronics).

    I had a crap video card from a company once – about 400 bucks AUD – and it just showed artifacts on the screen. All the shop kept doing was saying it was probably my old computer, or something or something. 2 years later my new computer and I pulled out that old waste of money card – yup it was the card. The computer people when I’d complained hadn’t even popped it into another box to see if it really was defective. It seems service isn’t on the agenda anymore.

    To that end, if you’re into selling service and quality I think that’s where you stand out in the market nowdays. Who doesn’t want to feel good leaving your business? A handshake, some coffee and biscuits, and active listening.

    The scarey thing is we all have many many dishwasher stories (although your’s is a little more interesting for the Chinese guy).

    Hope you get resolution Jeffrey.

  30. Jeff Too said on

    Frank Zappa summed this up for us back in the Seventies. Not much has changed since then–

    Frank Zappa: Flakes

  31. Kailash Thakur said on

    We would never have this problem in India. We have “human” dishwashers.

    ;-)

  32. Al said on

    Yeah, where’s this “Service Economy” the U. S. has supposedly become? More like a bullsh!t economy, if you ask me.

  33. Andy said on

    Joe the Plumber could have fixed it.

  34. Annie said on

    Next time, put him on your webcam and Skype me. I’ll translate for you! LOL!

  35. Greg Bulmash said on

    This is an odd serendipity. Today’s “Speed Bump” (a syndicated comic strip) features a repairman telling a woman her dishwasher has a “Do Not Resuscitate” order.

    Looks like you can’t get your dishwasher fixed in the funnies either.

  36. Don Ulrich said on

    @noel-well formed not valid

    There is a fascination with things not being right anymore.
    I watched for 6 months as the web site for our local art museum had “enter you name” and “enter you email” in form fields.

    This was done by a local design shop who did national work.
    It got fixed after 6 months…Do we build imperfection into things? Is it one last gasp at control?

    As for your dishwasher it could be the pump. Tell whoever is servicing to check it. Sounds like the bearing in the impeller
    is shot and takes about that long to heat up and fail. Getting warranties honored has become a bitch.

  37. Lance said on

    Glad you enjoyed washing you dishes by hand Jeff =) In our place, having a dishwasher is a dream. Yeah, seriously.

  38. mike said on

    You’ve got to remember to feed the purple monkey.

  39. Victor said on

    I had the same problem. It might be somthing caught in the disposal grinder in the washer. Mine had a very small piece of plastic from a water bottle top in it. It is a pretty easy fix. There are schematics online if you google it.
    Good Luck.

  40. Scott said on

    I was thinking about this the other day. How quickly we all have cashed in on convenience over reliability. The first thing that comes to mind is my cell phone. I completely accept the fact that I can carry this little communication device with me and that the following things may go wrong:
    1. Battery Dies (and over times holds less of a charge)
    2. Signal is lost / Conversation over
    3. Device really only ‘lasts’ for about two years before other inexplainable things begin to happen.
    4. Wrong numbers cost money (both when I call and when they call)
    5. Text messages cost more than gas.

    But at least I can make that call occassionally

  41. Stupid Zeldman said on

    Wow, so sorry this is all you have to post about these days. Like this lemon of a dishwasher (which you admittedly bought used) has anything to do with some sort of universal customer service experience. Cry baby, Thurston Moore weeps for you. Come up and see me, indeed. Get some perspective.

  42. Benxamin said on

    Re: Ray The Money Man – My great grandma’s toaster (Proctor Custom Made in USA no date, but it’s at least 40 years old…) still working very well!

    This “high-decibel grinding” sounds like the ancient Whirlpool in our apartment, too. You can’t carry on a conversation in our place while it’s running.
    Since noise is a vibration, the next step is to determine if it’s caused by cyclical motion or a shaking or both. Then maybe what part(s) and motion(s) are causing it. Since my dishes come out clean, I don’t really want the risk of opening while running at “full-tilt.”

    Ovens and microwaves are transparent; why not dishwashers and refrigerators? I would remember to get eggs if I DIDN’T see them…

  43. Bruno De Bondt said on


    It is as if everything is broken, and everyone knows it, and we perpetually postpone the reckoning.

    You could very well be talking about capitalism (=^_^=)

  44. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    You could very well be talking about capitalism

    We have a winner!

  45. Chris said on

    Buy a Miele ;-)

  46. antoine butler said on

    Customer service blows in general these days. I had a similar experience with my TV. I said it turns green randomly and the picture is crap. The tech comes by, turns it on, it’s not green. He tries to pack up and go. After some passive arguing he said to take a picture of it when it’s green. I did, when he came back and saw the picture, he made a phone call and ordered the exact piece needed to fix the problem. Turns out, knowing that something is wrong or broken doesn’t matter, you the consumer has to prove it first.

    When did it become so common place to not trust your client? Sounds like an IT mindset… it’s almost always user error.

    Maybe an audio recording would help ;)

  47. RayMcK said on

    > It is as if everything is broken, and everyone knows it, and we perpetually postpone the reckoning.

    In other words, The Fall of the American Empire.

  48. The Bat said on

    Paper plates.

    If you want to be “green” about it, I think you can get a type that biodegrades quicker.

    Otherwise they make good kindling for the wood stove I advise you install, which you will be glade you have when the gas/electric (whatever) furnace konks out.

    What? No firewood in NYC?

    What’s that Central Park thing all about, then?

    ^o^

  49. The Lowelife » Blog Archive » Broken or just sprained? said on

    [...] was recently reading Jeffrey Zeldman’s story about his dishwasher — particularly some of the astute comments — and it sent my brain madly off in all [...]

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