Another day, another broken gadget. Plastic-free rule #1 when something breaks is to try and fix it instead of replacing it. But that’s not always easy since so many appliances are built to be tossed instead of repaired. Well Easy Schmeasy. Fixing things is fun. Saves money. Makes you feel like a Super Hero instead of a victim. A few weeks ago, I got to don my cape again after Michael plugged in the rice cooker and nothing happened. The light didn’t come on. The element didn’t heat up. The rice did not get cooked. But the wheels in my brain started turning.
(And before any of you leave comments about how we don’t need a rice cooker and could easily cook rice on the stove and here are the instructions how to do it etc etc… yeah, I know. But we have a rice cooker. And we like it. And this one broke, so this is how we fixed it.)
See, back in 2008, the same thing happened to my hair dryer, and my dad helped me out with that situation. After testing the circuits with his multimeter, he determined that the machine’s “thermal cutoff” needed to be replaced, and we visited an electronics shop, bought the part, and replaced it. This time, though, I didn’t have access to my dad’s know-how or multimeter. So I searched Craigslist to find someone who could help. This ad caught my eye:
DID YOU D.I.Y. & GET INTO A JAM? CALL AL (berkeley)
Well, I hadn’t DIY’d yet. I was hoping to find someone to help me BEFORE I got into a jam. The ad described Al’s handyman skills… electrical jobs, carpentry, plumbing, even organic gardening. But this was the part that hooked me:
“A LIFELONG RECYCLER / REUSER OF SOUND USED MATERIALS WHEN AT ALL FEASIBLE. I PREFER TO REPAIR RATHER THAN REPLACE, WHEN AT ALL POSSIBLE.”
Me too! I contacted Al and related the story of my dead rice cooker. He came over with his multimeter to check it out. Al figured out that just as with my old hair dryer, the “thermal cutoff” (or fuse) needed to be replaced, and following his instructions, I was able to take over the job and purchase and install the part.
Of course, I took pictures every step of the way to share with you. So, here are the complete instructions, with illustrations. Keep them in case your rice cooker (or other electric appliance) suddenly stops working and you don’t know why. They could come in handy. And please, if any of you electronics geeks out there notice that I’m using the wrong terminology for some of this stuff, please let me know!
How to Fix Your Rice Cooker When the Thermal Fuse Breaks
1) Tools: Here are the tools I used for this job: Needle nose pliers, screwdriver, and metal cutter. (Note: If you have actual crimpers and want to replace the crimp connectors and know how to do it, you probably don’t need these instructions anyway. I used needle nose pliers and re-used the original crimp connectors.)
Al’s multimeter, which I forgot to take a picture of. But here’s a photo from the web:
And of course, Craigslist. Craigslist is a great tool whenever you want to avoid buying new plastic.
2) Unplug rice cooker from wall. (Do I really have to say that?)
3) Unscrew bottom screws and remove bottom.
4) Check to see if there is a thermal cutoff. A thermal cutoff is like a fuse. It breaks if the temperature in the machine goes over a certain threshold to prevent the machine from catching on fire. Al pulled back the loose insulation covering the wires to find the thermal cutoff lurking inside.
5) Use the multimeter to test for continuity from one side of the thermal cutoff to the other. Read these great instructions for how to use a multimeter and how to test for continuity. Basically, you turn the multimeter knob to the continuity setting, place the needles on either side of the thermal cutoff, and listen for the beep. If the multimeter doesn’t beep, there’s no continuity, which means that the thermal cutoff needs to be replaced. (There are other ways to test for continuity using a multimeter. Read the links above for more information. Or check out this article: How to Test a Thermal Fuse, which explains alternate ways to find the fuse and test it.)
(If the multimeter does beep, then you have a different problem which is beyond the scope of these instructions. Basically, I have no idea.)
6) Remove the thermal cutoff. In my rice cooker, one end of the cutoff was attached to one of the rice cooker wires with a metal crimp and the other end was crimped to a ring terminal and screwed onto the machine. Unscrew the ring terminal.
Uncrimp the other end and remove thermal cutoff. How you do that depends on the type of crimp, I guess. Mine is metal, and Al easily pried it apart and pulled the end of the thermal cutoff out of it.
7) Buy a new thermal cutoff. Call electronics stores and read them the numbers printed on the used cutoff to find out if they have the part you need. The most important number is the temperature. I bought mine from Al Lasher’s Electronics in Berkeley. Yes, it came in a plastic bag. But compare this plastic waste to disposing of a whole rice cooker. Big difference.
8) Disconnect the ring terminal from the old thermal cutoff. I just pried open the b-crimp with a screwdriver.
9) Bend both ends of the brand new thermal cutoff into a narrow U shape and trim off any excess with the metal cutters.
10) Fit it back inside the metal crimp connector and squeeze shut with the needle nose pliers.
11) Replace the other metal crimp connector around the other end of the thermal cutoff and the wire it was connected to inside the rice cooker.
12) Replace the wire insulation.
13) Screw the ring terminal back on.
14) Replace the bottom of the rice cooker.
15) Plug it in. Let there be light!
And of course, heat. The rice cooker works! Hurray and thanks to Allen Macri for all his help. If you live in the Bay Area and need the services of a handyman who is also an organic gardener and reuse advocate, contact Allen. ajpmac [at] comcast [dot] net or 510-815-7152.