Some people gravitate to certain occupations and feel instantly comfortable. Such was the case with Joel Mendoza, this month’s Cinch Service Provider spotlight. After high school, Joel took a job as a bank teller. Eight months in, he knew it wasn’t for him. That was when his brother-in-law, an HVAC technician, suggested he come and work with him at Sears. “I just liked moving around and fixing things,” Joel says.
After a year-long apprenticeship with his brother-in-law, Joel moved into the newly formed Laundry department at Sears and began going out on his own house calls. After six years as a technician, he took a break and got into the car business, only to realize that his heart was with appliances. He returned and soon after started his own company, Universal Repair.
We spoke with Joel recently from his home outside of Dallas. We talked about his job, working during the COVID era, the most preventable appliance issues, and the reality that you can’t fix everything and sometimes you just have to let go.
Cinch: You’ve been servicing appliances for 20 years, except for a brief foray into the automotive business. Are you as good with cars as you are with dishwashers?
Joel: Uh...I was mostly buying cars through auctions and selling them. I only fixed one car myself, a PT Cruiser, back when they were popular. I did pretty good. Had to figure out a lot of it on my own.
Cinch: Engine work?
Joel: Just body. Fenders, bumpers, realignment...bondo’d it all up.
Cinch: What is the most common issue you encounter across all appliances?
Joel: Probably ice makers. All the different sensors and emitter boards can be problematic.
Cinch: What’s the most difficult to repair?
Joel: Washing machine tub bearings. They’re not difficult, just take a while. Maybe two hours.
Cinch: Let’s run through a few appliances. Tell me the most preventable issue for each. Let’s start with the refrigerator.
Joel: Keep the coils clean. Every couple years, pull the fridge out of the wall, remove the grill if necessary, and clean out all the dust from the coils and around the area. All of that dust and debris gets sucked toward the coils. If you have pets, you should clean it at least once a year.
Joel: Wash off the plates before stacking them. Some people actually think you’re supposed to leave stuff on the plates so the soap and water have something to interact with. It’s just not true. Also, use the dishwasher at least once a week. Some people don’t use their dishwasher that much, and the seals and other rubber components dry and crack.
Joel: The exhaust vent. The more time goes by, the more the vent gets clogged. You’ll notice because it takes longer for the clothes to dry. Clogged vents can blow out fuses, thermostats, and obviously lead to a fire. If your vent is near the dryer, like right outside the exterior wall, you can clean it yourself with a special brush or vacuum attachment. Some houses have vents that stretch 25 or 30 feet up to the second floor. For those you need a pro.
Joel: Close the door gently. If the latch goes, you’re in trouble. And microwaves don’t cost much more than an average repair, so the smart thing may be to just buy a new one.
Cinch: Speaking of that, how do you know when enough is enough with appliances? When is it time to stop fixing and buy a new one?
Joel: It’s a judgment call, but it’s a lot like a car. At some point it’s totaled. Yesterday I was on a fridge call and there was a problem with the seal system. Oil was filtering through the system and it wasn’t circulating Freon. I fixed it, but by then it’s systemic and it’s only a matter of time before it happens again. You just have to do the math - compare the amount of deductibles and repairs to a new unit and make a decision.
Cinch: We’re in the thick of a pandemic. How has work been for you? You obviously can’t work from home. I guess that makes you an essential employee.
Joel: It’s been busy. We actually just hired a new technician. We take all precautions: industrial safety gloves, masks, booties, if the customer asks us. Safety is the number one priority.
Cinch: What’s your favorite part of the job?
Joel: Flexibility. Getting to spend time with my family, coach my son’s little league. But I do really enjoy what I do, fixing problems in a person’s home, making customers happy.
Cinch: What’s your least favorite part of the job?
Joel: Letting go of things I can’t figure out. I obsess over repairs. Sometimes I’ll spend three or four hours on a call when I know the issue probably can’t be repaired. It’s knowing that sometimes you have to let go. You can’t fix everything.
Cinch: That’s good advice for life in general, beyond appliances.
Joel: (Laughs). Yeah, true.
The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.