About an hour into a brief, twenty-four hour getaway, I received a not quite panicked call from my mom, letting me know that her microwave (a Panasonic NN-SN733W, bought in August 2015) wasn’t working. She uses the microwave all the time, for heating up water to make tea, and even making a good percentage of her meals. It’s probably the most used appliance in her apartment. Which is mildly ironic, considering how dubious she was of the idea when I bought her her first one. She was a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to deal with it that day, but in the end was accepting of the situation.
So today, after coming home, one of the first things I did was to take a look at her microwave. And as she had told me, it seemed completely dead — no clock, no light, no nothing. The outlet it was plugged into was good. I explained that generally appliances don’t fail like that. Maybe the turntable motor would fail, or the magnetron, or the control panel. But given that there was zero sign of life, it seemed likely that it was an internal fuse that had blown. So, I began to take it apart. There was one Phillips screw on the bottom of one side holding the shell of the case on, which I removed. But the other half-dozen screws were all security Torx screws! A sign that the manufacturer definitely didn’t want a consumer opening it up (but why have the one plain Phillips? That is a mystery…).
When I got it open, I could see that the power supply circuit board did indeed have a fuse on it, and the fuse was in a fuse holder, rather than being soldered to the board. Hallelujah! There was hope! It was a ceramic fuse, though, so it wasn’t immediately obvious whether it was blown or not. But a quick check with an ohm meter showed it had blown.
After returning from the hardware store, about 10 minutes later, I popped the new fuse in, and plugged it in briefly, just to see if the clock would come on, etc. And sure enough it did. So, I unplugged it, put everything back together properly (or nearly so), and had mom try it by heating a cup of water. And it worked! So, all is good, at least for the time being, and another microwave has been saved from the landfill/incinerator.
But this begs the question — why?? Why make it so that the average consumer couldn’t replace the fuse? Why not make the fuse accessible without taking the whole shell off? A fuse is, or should be, a “user serviceable part.” I can’t quite imagine what the rationale is for making it this way. Is it in the hopes that people will just toss it and buy another? Why not solder the fuse to the board then? Is it to help keep appliance repair shops in business? Seems vaguely plausible, but unlikely.
I do have the sense that a generation (or two…) ago, people were more accustomed to fixing some things themselves. I am also aware that those “things” were significantly simpler then. An electric stove had a power cord, and from there, the wires went to a bunch of resistive heating elements through a simple, electromechanical control, turning on and off various combinations of heating elements. And a thermostat for the oven. If there was anything else, it was a clock that operated on the 60 Hz AC signal. There were no circuit boards with touch panels, and fluorescent displays to break, which would have to be replaced in whole if something failed. But a fuse? Why bury that where it is unlikely to be discovered except by the most intrepid of owners. While I do appreciate the forward leaps we’ve experienced in functionality, I do believe a lot more could be done to make appliances more serviceable.