Monday, October 15, 2012

A Lesson in Comparative Advantage from the Washing Machine Repair Guy

I am an engineer by profession and even if I say so myself I think I am a pretty good one. My father was a carpenter who built houses for a living so I like to think I can handle the practical side of things as well as the theoretical. There are few repair jobs around the house that I cannot do.

Just because I can do a job however doesn't necessarily mean that I should do a job.

When our dishwasher broke down a while back I managed to fix it. It was my first time looking inside a dishwasher so it took a considerable amount of trial and error to narrow down the fault and source a replacement part. It only took me three weeks fitted into spare hours when I was home from work and not otherwise occupied. My wife, who is a very very good wife, was even effusive in her praise at my manliness in fixing the machine and kindly neglected to mention the many floodings of the Kitchen floor during the three weeks of my trial attempts. She didn't even comment on the small pile of unwanted spare parts I had accumulated that turned out to be not quite the right thing.

When our washing machine broke down yesterday I bravely opened it up to poke around. Unlike the dishwasher I had worked on washing machines machine before so I was able to check the obvious stuff:
Water getting into it: Check
Spinning Drum working: Check
Water draining out of it: Check
All the basic functions appeared to be working on their own and yet they were refusing to come together to complete a wash cycle. I was flummoxed but we live in the age of boundless information so soon I was exploring Google sourced  error codes and homing in on possibly faulty sensors or control boards.

I could fix this. With a bit of luck it might not even take the full three weeks this time.

Thank fully I came to my senses. There are people out there who fix washing machines all day every day. They know the things that go wrong. They know how to track down faults. They have ready access to spare parts and they know how to quickly get in and replace them. While three weeks of washing dishes by hand could arguably be justified as good training for our children I don't' think three weeks of washing clothes by hand would go down too well. Amazingly my (really really) good wife allowed me the space to come to this realisation all by myself  (unless she is even more subtle than I know).

The repair man came promptly this morning. He diagnosed the fault and fixed it with a replacement part from his van all within 40 minutes.  The part cost €60 and he charged another €60 for his time. I guess I could have saved €60 by fixing it myself but I would hope that the three weeks of my time that it would have taken is more valuable than €60, not to mention the cost of the small pile of wrongly guessed spares I would likely have accumulated along the way.

Best of all: my (really really really) good wife is even giving me effusive praise for having arranged the repair so promptly.

Edit: Title changed from "competitive advantage"  to "comparative advantage" because it is more appropriate.


Cap'n John said...

When one of our toilets was constantly backing up I eventually went wrist deep down the bowl and discovered a large, hard, somewhat square-shaped object was lodged back in behind the S-bend. Unable to pull it back out I did the only thing I could, drained the toilet bowl, emptied the tank, and completely disassembled the toilet which included unbolting the bowl from the floor.

The object stuck at the s-bend turned out to be one of the kids' toy plastic boats they used to play with in the bath. That was when I realized all the boats were gone, bar this one, and further realized my 2 year old daughter had flushed them all away. All bar one.

With the plastic boat removed and toilet reassembled, it flushed and drained just fine.

When one of the pipes in the wall behind the downstairs bathroom sprung a leak...I called a plumber.

You have to know your limits.

mbp said...

Well done sir. Sometimes I think that blocked toilets were invented just to give modern man a role in life that would not easily be usurped by women!