Whirlpool / Kenmore washer belt drive repair

In 1981, Whirlpool stopped making this machine and started making the Direct-Drive models. If your machine was made after 1981, CLICK HERE. However, they were VERY well-built and there are still a lot of them around. Although it is extremely reliable, it does have its quirks. Fortunately, having been around for so long, the peculiarities of the design are pretty well known.

NOTE: THIS chapter has info specific to Whirlpool/Kenmore belt-drive washers…how the drive train works, how the washer enters each cycle, how to open the cabinet and access internal parts such as the agitator, pumps and clutches, and the most common complaints (troubleshooting) of this specific design. The second menu item on the right (in red) contains information on problems common to ALL washers…fill solenoid valves, water level control, sources of leaks, belt problems, and functions of the drive motor. If you do not read “Problems Common to All Brands” first, you may not be able to properly diagnose your Whirlpool/Kenmore belt-drive machine!!! CLICK HERE to go to this page.

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How a Whirlpool belt-drive washer works

The design uses a single direction motor, with solenoids to engage and disengage the agitate and spin cycles and pump. (Figure W-1) The arrangement of control solenoids is peculiar to this design. It’s called a “wigwag.”

Whenever the motor is running, gears in the transmission keep the wigwag rotating back and forth in a motion similar to the agitator. Each solenoid’s plunger is attached to a yoke with a pin through it. This pin rides in a slot in the cam bar (more about the cam bar later.)

When one of the solenoids is energized, the plunger retracts.

Figure W-1  Drive train

Figure W-2 Cam Bar Action

The pin in the plunger rides in a different part of the cam bar slot than before. (Figure W-2) Since the wigwag is constantly moving back and forth, the pin will push the cam bar to a different position.

The pump turns in only one direction and has a flapper valve located within its housing. To change from recirculate to pumpout, the flapper valve changes position.

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How do the cycles change on a Whirlpool belt-drive washing machine?

Agitate cycle

Figure W-3: Agitate Cycle

During the agitate cycle, the agitate solenoid (the solenoid on the right side of the wigwag, as you look into the back of the washer) energizes and pushes the agitate cam bar towards the front of the washer. (See Figures W-2 and W-3) The agitate cam bar does two things:

1) The ramp cut into its shape lets the agitator fork drop down towards the transmission.

This engages the transmission and causes the agitator to agitate.

2) The pump lever moves, causing the pump to recirculate.

When the agitate cycle is over, power is removed from the solenoid, and the cam bar moves towards the back of the washer. This disengages the transmission and changes the pump back into the pumpout mode.

Spin cycle

During the spin cycle, the spin solenoid energizes (the solenoid on the left side of the wigwag, as you look into the back of the washer.) The wigwag plunger pulls the spin cam bar towards the back of the washer. (See Figure W-4) This allows the clutch bar to drop, and the clutch spring and brake springs move the clutch yoke downward. The brake disengages and the clutch lining touches the clutch pulley. The clutch engages, and the basket starts spinning.

When the spin cycle is over, or when the washer lid is lifted, power is removed from the solenoid. The cam bar moves towards the front of the washer, pushing the clutch bar and yoke upwards. The clutch disengages and the brake engages, bringing the basket to a rapid stop. This whole clutch and braking assembly is known as the basket drive assembly.

How to open the Whirlpool belt-drive washer cabinet and console

See figure W-5 for details about opening the cabinet and console. In raising the lid of the washer, it is better to use a putty knife. You can use a thin-bladed screwdriver, but you might chip or scratch the paint. A wiring diagram is usually pasted to the back of the machine.

Figure W-5: Opening the Cabinet and Console

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Whirlpool/Kenmore Washer Problems

Diagnosis begins by checking to see exactly which cycles the washer is missing or malfunctioning in.

For example, if the washing machine wont drain or spin, check also to see if it will agitate before you empty the tub. In this type of washer, you can pretty well narrow down the cause just by knowing the exact symptoms.

Here are the most common complaints:

Whirlpool / Kenmore washer agitates but won’t drain or spin

In this design, the water level interlocks the spin cycle. The basket will only spin if the water is pumped almost all the way out. If the pump is not pumping out water, the washer will not begin to spin. Check for a kinked drain hose. Also check the pump as described below. Often there will be a strong burning smell along with this problem. This is almost always a locked pump; the burning smell comes from the stopped rubber belt riding on the turning motor pulley.

Whirlpool / Kenmore washer agitates and drains but won’t spin

(Clothes are dripping wet at the end of the cycle.)

Something is interrupting either the electrical spin circuit or the mechanical spin mechanism.

To diagnose the problem, do the following:

  • The basket will not start spinning if the lid is up. A bad lid switch will have the same effect. Close the lid; if the basket still does not spin, check the lid switch for continuity. Also check to see that the switch striker is not broken off.
  • If this doesn’t solve the problem, test for power at the left (spin) wigwag solenoid when in the spin cycle. The easiest way to do this is to unplug the washer and switch the red and yellow wigwag leads as shown in figure W-6. Plug the washer in and set it in the SPIN cycle. If it AGITATES, then you are getting power to the solenoid. Either the wigwag solenoid itself is bad, or the clutch is worn out.

Figure W-6: Easy Wigwag Solenoid Coil Test

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Put the wires back on the correct terminals and watch the spin cam bar as you start the washer in “spin.” If the spin cam bar does not move, the wigwag is bad; replace it as described below on this page.

  • Check also for a broken pin in the plunger. If the spin cam bar DOES move, the clutch is worn out; see below.
  • If switching the wires does NOT cause the washer to agitate, then put the two leads back on the correct terminals and check the following:

The water level is sensed by the water level switch. If the switch is bad, the washer will not spin. Test the switch as described in sections below and in “Problems Common to All Brands.”

Often one of the wigwag wires will break, usually very near the wigwag itself. Furthermore, the break may be internal; you will see no damage on the outside of the wire. Test the wires for continuity and repair if bad.

The timer contacts may be bad. Test for continuity through the spin solenoid circuit of the timer as described in “Problems Common to All Brands.” If there is no continuity, replace the timer as described below.

Whirlpool / Kenmore the washer fills but won’t agitate, drain or spin

The belt is probably broken; replace as described in below.

If the motor hums, but does not turn, Check as described in “Problems Common to All Brands.” If the motor turns with no load, check the drive pulley and pump pulley to see which is locked. If the motor doesn’t start with no load, replace it as described below.

If you don’t even hear the motor hum, the motor, motor starting switch or capacitor may be bad; see below. Also check the motor circuits of the timer as described in “Problems Common to All Brands.” Also check for a locked transmission as described in “Problems Common to All Brands.” If the transmission is locked, see below.

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Whirlpool / Kenmore washer won’t agitate, but does fill, drain and spin

When you set the timer at the beginning of a wash cycle, the fill solenoid valve opens first. When the water level switch senses the correct water level, the solenoid valve closes, the motor starts, and the agitation (right) wigwag solenoid energizes. Usually this problem is a burnt out agitation solenoid, but there are other possibilities.

To test the agitation solenoid, switch the wigwag leads as shown in Figure W-6. Make sure the tub is full and start the washer somewhere in the AGITATE cycle. If the basket SPINS, then you’re getting power to the wigwag. Either the agitate wigwag coil is burnt or the plunger or pin is broken.

Another possibility is that the agitator spline is stripped, as described below.

If the washer agitates very weakly, i.e. you can stop the agitator with your hands, this is a very strong possibility.

The last possibility is that the transmission is broken internally. See section below.

NOTE: The lid switch is NOT interlocked with the agitate cycle in these machines; they WILL agitate with the lid up.

Figure W-6: Easy Wigwag Solenoid Coil Test

Washer does absolutely nothing; No fill, agitate, drain or spin.

To diagnose the problem, do the following:

  • Check for power to the machine.
  • Check the main power circuit through the timer; it may have bad contacts. See “Problems Common to All Brands.”
  • Check the imbalance switch. (Kenmore models ONLY) See the section below.
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Whirlpool / Kenmore washer is very noisy in spin or when braking

The clutch or brake linings are probably badly worn. If so, replacing the basket drive will solve your noise problem. See the section below.

If the centerpost (spin tube) bearings are worn, replacing the basket drive will not solve your noise problem. You will need to call a qualified service technician to replace the bearings, or simply junk the washer. (I stress the word qualified, because it is a specialized job that many technicians will not tackle.)

The way to tell the difference is to listen to the noise the machine is making. If the machine is making a squealing or groaning noise, the problem is more likely to be the basket drive. If it is more like a rattling sound, the centerpost bearings are probably worn out.

A secondary check is to look at the clutch lining. On late models, there are three little pads riveted to the clutch plate. (Figure W-7) Older models had a full disc lining, rather than the three little pads. The lining touches the clutch pulley directly when the clutch is engaged. If it gets worn too badly, the rivets will screech against the clutch pulley. Take a look at the pads or lining. If it looks too thin, it’s probably worn out. Also inspect the clutch surface on top of the pulley for any scoring or gouging. If there is any, your clutch is worn out. Replace the basket drive assembly as described below.

Figure W-7: Clutch Lining (Pads)

Whirlpool / Kenmore washer leaks

See “Problems Common to All Brands” on leaks and backed up drains.

On these machines, leaks usually come from the pump or the air dome or other tub fitting (see the sections below.) Sometimes, there will be a leak in the fill.

Whirlpool / Kenmore washer vibrates excessively when spinning

If redistributing the clothes doesn’t seem to help, see the section below on replacing the snubber and cleaning the snubber pad.

Intermittent symptoms

Usually, with intermittent problems, you simply must know the system and just look at things until you see something malfunctioning.

For example, if the belt is loose, the machine may not spin sometimes, may not pump out at other times, and still other times it may not agitate. The solution is obviously to tighten the belt (or replace it if it is badly worn.)

Another aggravating and difficult to diagnose symptom is caused by worn cam bars. The washer may appear to slip in and out of the spin cycle at very short intervals. Or it may start spinning and suddenly stop, then restart a minute later.

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If the washer tries to spin and agitate at the same time, it usually means that the spin plunger is bent, or the spin cam bar is badly worn. There is also a very stiff leaf spring that holds the cam bars down in place (Figure W-8) that comes loose sometimes.

Some intermittent problems may be traceable to electrical problems, such as a loose terminal or worn wire. However, most intermittent problems with these machines come from mechanical causes. The bolt that holds this leaf spring in place has been known to back out, or the spring can break, causing all sorts of strange symptoms. The bolt can be replaced without removing the transmission, but it’s a real bear of a job.

Figure W-8: Cam Bar Leaf Spring

How to test a washing machine water level switch

The water level switch is located in the control panel on top of the cabinet. For access to the switch, see the section above on “console access.” Test the switch as described in “Problems Common to All Brands.” If the water level switch is bad, replace it.

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How to test a washer timer

Test the timer as described in “Problems Common to All Brands.” Two types of timers were used: standard frame and quick-disconnect. (See Figure W-10)

To replace a defective timer, first unplug the washer. Pull the knob out, hold the timer dial and turn the timer knob to the left to unscrew it. (Figure W-10)

Figure W-10: Timers

Imbalance switch (Kenmore only)

In SOME Kenmore models only, there is an imbalance switch mounted inside the cabinet (on the left side, as you look at it from the back.)(Figure W-11.) If the load is not balanced, the base plate (to which the tub is attached) will move around until it contacts the imbalance switch. The motor will cut off and a buzzer will sound. The buzzer is built into the imbalance switch.

Usually, when they go bad, the washer will intermittently cut out for no apparent reason. You may also see a bright flash; this is the switch arcing. Sometimes, the switch may burn out altogether and it will seem as if the machine isn’t getting any power at all. This switch is easy to replace; just remember to unplug the machine first.

Figure W-11: Imbalance Switch

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Snubber and snubber pad

If the washer vibrates too badly, and redistributing the clothes doesn’t seem to help, it could be that the snubber spring is broken, or that the snubber block or pad is choked up with soap.

Unplug the washer and raise the lid.

The snubber is in the right rear corner of the washer. (Figure W-12) Lift the spring (there’s a lot of tension on it) to remove the snubber block. Be careful not to catch your fingers under the spring!

Figure W-12: Snubber and Snubber Spring

To remove the spring, remove the single nut and bolt that hold it in place, and twist it out of its mounts.

Clean the snubber pad by wiping it with a wet towel or sponge.

Roughen the face of the snubber block a little with sandpaper, or simply take it outside and rub it on the sidewalk or a cinderblock surface.

How to replace the Whirlpool belt-drive washer agitator

Your agitator is splined to the transmission driveshaft, and secured with a stud. Access to the stud is in one of two ways. (Figure W-13) Some have a removable plastic cap on top; you simply pry it off with a screwdriver, and you will see the stud with a nut on it. In others, a one-piece threaded cap is screwed directly to the stud itself. To remove the threaded cap or nut, hold the agitator (this will keep the driveshaft from turning) and unscrew.

Figure W-13: Agitator Mounting Stud Access

But what if the agitator splines are stripped? You can hold the agitator all you want, and the shaft will keep turning with the nut or the threaded cap.

Here’s a good confirmation of a stripped spline. Put the timer in an agitate cycle. Let the washer fill and begin to agitate. If you can hold the agitator still, and the nut or cap is reciprocating back and forth, the spline is probably stripped.

Here’s a little trick to get the nut or cap off when you can’t hold the shaft still; let the machinery hold it still for you.

If you have a nut & stud, hit the nut with a little WD-40 and put a ratchet on it. Make sure the ratchet is set for the proper direction; to remove the nut. Hold the rachet and start your washer in the agitation cycle. The nut will back off with each sweep of the agitator shaft.

If you have a threaded cap, you can do the same thing by hand. Simply start the machine in the agitate cycle and turn the cap counterclockwise.

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Basket removal and tub fittings

To replace any leaking tub fittings, you must remove the basket. Unplug the washer and raise the cabinet top, agitator and snubber spring as described above.

Remove the water inlet fitting from the tub ring. (Figure W-14) Carefully note the sizes and positions of the tub ring clips as you remove them.(Figure W-14.)

Remove the spanner nut. (Figure W-15) A special tool is available from your appliance parts dealer. The tool is a very common item and thus is pretty cheap. Lift the basket straight up and out.

Figure W-14: Tub Ring Area

Figure W-15: Spanner Nut

Tub fitting replacement

Most of the tub fittings have rubber seals and locking nuts or rings. Simply twist the ring counterclockwise to remove. The air dome is the fitting that attaches the water pressure switch hose to the tub. It is a common source of leaks. To remove the dome, remove the hose from it and turn it 90 degrees to unlock it from the seal.

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Whirlpool/Kenmore washer pump removal and installation

In this design, the basket will not start spinning until almost all the water is pumped out of the tub.

Whirlpool washers were equipped, at various times, with three different pumps. (Figure W-16) In the parts houses, they are commonly known as two-hose, three-hose, and four-hose pumps, for obvious reasons. Whirlpool washing machine pumps cannot be rebuilt; they must be replaced. Fortunately, they’re very common items, so they are pretty cheap.

Figure W-16: Pump Types

How to remove the belt

Drain the tub. Remove the back panel of the washer. Loosen the motor mounting bolts and remove tension from the belt.

Lean the washer back against the wall, and put a wood block or paint can on it to prevent it from falling on you as you work. Put a bucket underneath the pump and remove the hoses. Pull out the two mounting bolts and remove the pump. Rocking the pump away from the drive belt will help disengage the belt, and also the pump lever from the cam bar. DO NOT MOVE THE PUMP LEVER YET.

Check the belt for wear as described in “Problems Common to All Brands”, especially for burned or glazed spots where it rode over the locked pump pulley or motor drive pulley. Replace the belt if it is worn, following the instructions below.

Set the pump lever in the same position as the pump that came out. Rock the pump in place, the same way as you pulled the old one out. Make sure the pump lever goes into the slot in the agitate cam bar, and install the mounting bolts. Tension the belt as described in “drive belt installation” below.

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How to replace a Whirlpool/Kenmore wigwag and cam bars

The wigwag is located inside the back panel of the machine. Replacement is fairly easy. First, take all power off the machine. Note which color wires go to which wigwag terminals and remove the wires. Loosen the wigwag setscrew and pull the wigwag straight off the shaft. Replace the wigwag directly, taking care to get the right wires on the right terminals. Also make sure that the plungers fit loosely in the wigwag so that they can move freely. Replace the setscrew, making sure it goes in the hole on the wigwag drive shaft, and tighten securely.

Normally, you will not need to replace the plungers, even when you replace the wigwag. If you see that one is bent or the pin is badly worn, replace the plunger.

The plungers can be quite difficult to replace. The pins that connect them to the cam bars are hardened and thus difficult to cut through.

The first step is to remove power from the machine and cut through the pin. Use a hacksaw blade, diagonals or bolt cutters. Clearance is tight. Sometimes it’s easier to hacksaw through the body of the yoke than to cut the pin.

Once you’ve cut through the pin, remove the wigwag as described above and replace the plunger, using the instructions that come with the new plunger. Make sure you install the plastic insert. It keeps the machine quieter.

To replace the spin cam bar, you must drop the transmission slightly as described  below. To replace the agitate cam bar, you must remove the transmission as described below.

How to replace a Whirlpool/Kenmore drive belt

Open the back of the machine and inspect the belt for any of the problemms described in “Problems Common to All Brands.” If the belt is broken, make sure you check the pump and transmission pulleys to see if they are locked. This may be the cause of the belt breaking.

Unfortunately, the belt is not easy to replace on this machine. To get the belt past the clutch shaft, you actually have to drop the transmission out slightly, and sometimes the transmission needs to be realigned afterwards. Here are the steps:

Figure W-17: Clutch Yoke Spring

1) Prepare the machine: Unplug it, siphon out any water, and lay it down on its front side using the safety instructions in “Problems Common to All Brands.” Remove the back panel.

2) Remove the clutch yoke spring, (Figure W-17)

3) Remove the braces and pump mounting bolts (Figure W-18)

4) Remove the lower left transmission mounting bolt. That is the mounting bolt next to the clutch shaft. Make sure you save the spacer that falls out.

5) You must bottom out the clutch shaft. Hold the wigwag’s “spin” plunger up and tap the spin cam bar towards the back of the machine. The clutch shaft will drop down towards the bottom of the machine. (Figure W-19)

6) Loosen the two other transmission mounting bolts about 7 full turns. Then pull the transmission straight out until it stops against the bolts.

7) Remove the belt. If you have trouble getting it over the clutch shaft, back out the transmission mounting bolts another turn or two.

Figure W-18: Transmission Braces and Pump Mounting Bolts

Figure W-19: Bottoming the Clutch Shaft

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Installing the belt

Installation is basically the opposite of removal, except for the following:

Figure W-20: “T”-Bearing

1) Look at the transmission shaft, right where it comes out of the transmission and goes up into the basket drive. On most models, you will see a plastic “T”-bearing. (Figure W-20) This “T”-bearing is connected to the shaft by a ball; the ball fits in a hole in the shaft and a slot in the “T”-bearing. Make sure the ball is in the hole in the transmission shaft, and that the slot in the “T”-bearing fits down over the ball, before you tighten the transmission mounting bolts.

NOTE: Some models used a “C”-clip rather than a ball to hold the “T”-bearing in place. If you have one of these, ignore this step.

2) The top of the clutch shaft has either two washers or a hex nut on it. Make sure these are replaced before you bolt the transmission back into place.

3) Make sure you replace the spacer before installing the lower left mounting bolt.

4) To set the correct tension on the belt, loosen the motor mounts and move the motor by hand. DO NOT use a lever or pry bar to set tension. The belt should deflect about 1/2″ by hand, with easy pressure. (6 lbs is the official number, though there’s no real practical way to measure it)

If the belt has never been adjusted before replacement, the new belt will probably not require adjusting. Make sure that the belt rides over all four pulleys: the pump pulley, the transmission drive pulley, the motor pulley and the clutch pulley.

5) You may get the machine all back together and find that the spin cycle has problems. The machine may not spin at all, or it may spin very slowly. If so, the transmission needs to be aligned. This is a tricky procedure, so be careful:

Remove the three braces from the transmission. Back off your three transmission mounting bolts about 1/2 to 1 turn; just enough so the transmission will drift a little. The transmission should be just slightly loose, and all three bolts must be backed out the same amount.

Set your washer upright and level. Make sure there is no water or clothes in the basket, and START THE WASHER IN THE SPIN CYCLE. Let it get up to speed, then stop the washer.

Unplug it. Without moving the washer, tighten the three transmission mounting bolts beneath it as evenly as possible. Test the machine to see that it still spins properly. If not, repeat the procedure. When you have it spinning properly, replace the three braces.

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How to replace the transmission

If the transmission locks up, you will need to replace it; don’t try to rebuild it yourself. They are pretty standard items; most appliance parts dealers carry rebuilt Whirlpool transmissions in stock. Make sure you bring the old transmission with you; they will need to match shaft lengths and there will probably be an exchange or a core charge.

To replace the transmission, follow the instructions in the section above, with the following additional steps:

1) Remove the agitator, as described above.

2) Mark and remove the wigwag wires.

3) Remove the mounting bolts all the way.

4) Snap the yoke retainer out of the plastic clip on the clutch yoke (NOTE: some models used a spring clip rather than a plastic snap arrangement.) (Figure W-21)

5) Pull the transmission straight out.

When you get the transmission out, exchange all the old parts: cam bars and spring, clutch shaft, wigwag, “T”-bearing and ball, and the transmission drive pulley. If you wish, you can replace the cam bars, T-bearing and ball as insurance against future problems. Two points to remember in exchanging the parts:

1) The drive pulley is originally assembled with a drop of glue on the setscrew threads. You may need to heat the hub of the drive pulley with a torch to get the setscrew out.

2) To get the agitator cam bar out, you will need to lift the agitator shaft. The easiest way to do this is to remove the “T”-bearing ball and pry the shaft upwards with a screwdriver, as shown in Figure W-22.

Installation is basically the opposite of removal. Make sure you read “INSTALLING THE BELT” above.

Figure W-21: Yoke Retainer

Figure W-22: Removing the Agitator Cam Bar

How to replace a washer basket drive

You cannot service the basket drive assembly, but you can replace it if the clutch or brake pads are worn. The basket drive assembly is not too terribly expensive.

To remove the basket drive assembly:

1) Remove the agitator and basket as described above.

3) Remove the drive block by tapping on the underside of it with a small hammer. (Figure W-23)

Figure W-23: Drive Block

NOTE: The metal of the drive block is pretty soft, so don’t hit it too hard–just tap it. Also be careful not to hit the tub, or you may chip the porcelain interior.

4) Remove the transmission as described above.

5) Pull the whole basket drive assembly straight out. Be careful not to damage the lower seal. (Figure W-24) If the lower seal pulls out with the basket drive, there is a special grease you can put in it. Ask your appliance parts dealer for some. Put the grease in the groove of the seal and put the seal back in place, groove side up.

Installation is basically the opposite of removal. However, note the following:

Figure W-24: Basket Drive Assembly Removal

1) Put the basket drive in slowly so you don’t damage any of the seals or bearings that it has to pass through in the centerpost.

2) Make sure that the tabs on the top of the spin tube fit in the notches in the drive block.