You’ve carefully measured the amount of detergent you use for each washing machine load, you’ve kept the lights and darks separate, and, most importantly, you never overload the tub. So why does the washer fill with water and then… just sit there? Provided the washer lid or door is fully closed and the lock mechanism is functioning normally, the drive belt (if applicable) is intact, and the appliance is capable of draining the water, the likely cause of a washer not spinning or agitating is a faulty drive motor or stator.
So, how can you be sure the motor or stator is to blame? That’s right – it’s time to get out that most versatile troubleshooting tool: the multimeter. Let’s review how both top-load and front-load washers agitate and spin, then go step-by-step through the procedure of using the multimeter to test the washer’s motor or stator.
How a top-load washer agitates and spins
For standard model top-load washing machines, the clothes, towels, and linens will be agitated by a traditional agitator assembly, a one or two-piece tower that rises up from the base of the inner tub and will often have a fabric softener dispenser attached on top of it. High-efficiency models will use an impeller commonly referred to as a “wash plate” to do the agitation.
The control board sends voltage to the drive motor after the tub has filled with water
The agitation cycle begins when the top-load washer’s control board or timer sends voltage to the drive motor after the washer’s tub has filled with water. On some top-load models, the motor may directly drive a transmission. For other models, a belt will be used to operate the agitator drive shaft, or a stator and rotor will interact to create a strong magnetic field to agitate the tub. On washers using a transmission, the inner tub may move a little during the agitation cycle, but most models will use a brake which holds the inner tub in place to prevent it from rotating. The drive shaft will oscillate the agitator assembly on standard top-load models and the wash plate on high-efficiency models to both circulate the water and move the clothing, towels, or linens around the tub.
The faster the tub spins, the more effective the water is removed from the laundry
For some models, the drain pump will drain the water from the tub before the spin cycle while other models will drain the water during the spin cycle. The brake which held the inner tub in place is now released and the direct drive transmission, drive motor, or stator and rotor assembly will spin the tub to remove the excess water. A variable speed control board may be used to signal the motor to gradually increase the spinning speed. The faster the tub spins, the more effectively the water is removed from the laundry.
How a front-load washer agitates and spins
Front-load washer tubs will agitate the clothes, towels, or linens by doing several rotations in one direction, stopping, and then tumbling the load in the opposite direction. After the water is drained from the tub, the drive system will spin the tub at a very fast speed to help remove excess water from the laundry.
Many front-load washer models use a stator and rotor assembly to spin the tub
Many front-load washer models use a stator and rotor assembly, located on the rear of the appliance, to rotate and spin the tub. The stator, energized by the voltage sent by the control, becomes an electromagnet that interacts with a rotor on the tub. The rotor has permanent magnets built into it, so the two components create a magnetic field that rotates the tub in each direction. Other front-load models use a motor, belt, and pulley to rotate the tub. A motor control board will regulate the amount and polarity of the voltage sent to the motor to affect speed and direction.
As the spin cycle advances, the voltage is increased
At the beginning of the spin cycle, the tub is rotated more slowly to allow the laundry to be evenly distributed, but as the cycle advances, the voltage is increased which results in a high-speed spin. Generally, front-load washers will spin faster than top-load models, a key factor in reducing drying time.
How to access a washer drive motor or stator
To test a washer drive motor or stator, you’re going to need to access the component.
Top-load washer motors or stators are located directly below the outer tub
For both direct drive and non-direct drive top-load washers, the stator or drive motor will be located directly below the outer tub. To access the component you will need to remove the washing machine’s front panel or cabinet or tip the appliance back on its rear panel so you can reach the motor or stator through the bottom opening. Be sure to unplug the washer’s power cord before you attempt this. You will probably also need to shut off the incoming water supply and detach the incoming water hoses (be prepared for some water to spill).
Non-direct drive front-load washer motors are located near the rear of the outer tub For non-direct drive front-load washers, the drive motor will be located near the rear of the outer tub near the bottom. For direct drive front-load models, the stator assembly will be attached to the rear of the outer tub. You will need to uninstall the washer’s rear panel to reach these components. Again, be sure to unplug the washer’s power cord before beginning any disassembly.
Testing the motor or stator
Once you’ve accessed the drive motor or stator, you’re ready to test the component. With the multimeter in hand, here are the steps you should take to do the test:
- If applicable, remove the cover to fully expose the drive motor.
- If testing a stator, remove the rotor first then uninstall the stator. The rotor is usually secured with one large screw in the middle; the stator is usually secured with multiple screws.
- Disconnect the wire harness or wires from the motor or stator.
- Referring to the washing machine’s wiring diagram, identify the appropriate terminals or pins for the windings you’re testing as well as the appropriate resistance of those windings.
- Rotate the multimeter’s range selection dial to the lowest setting for ohms of resistance.
- Contact the black and red meter leads to the appropriate terminals or pins for the winding you’re testing.
- Observe the multimeter display. The display should show a resistance rating within the range designated in the washer’s wiring diagram. If the resistance rating is not within the appropriate range, you’ll know the motor or stator is faulty and will need to be replaced.
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