Having a toilet leak is frustrating enough. But when you add the puzzle of locating the right repair parts, frustrating can become maddening in a hurry. Here’s a few hints and tips that may help you find the right repair parts the first time.
In an ideal world, we would all keep all the paperwork for our fixtures and appliances filed nicely so they’re easily available in this sort of situation. Most manuals have repair parts lists, contact information for the manufacturer, and sometimes the installer even goes so far as to staple a business card to the manual so you know who to call if your toilet ever needs servicing. Unfortunately, the paperwork gets misplaced, the house gets completely and utterly cleaned out (including the stash of manuals) before being sold, or the dog ate it. Or, more commonly, we simply lose it or throw it away, thinking it’s no longer important since the warranty expired. In any case, all hope is not lost; there are ways to find what your toilet needs to make it work like new again.
The first step in identifying parts is identifying your toilet’s manufacturer. Is your toilet an American Standard, Kohler, Toto, Crane, Universal Rundle, Eljer, or what? In many cases the manufacturer’s logo is printed somewhere on the toilet, usually on the bowl between the bolts that hold the toilet seat on. But what if that’s missing or illegible after years of cleaning? Well, that brings us to the next step!
For most toilets, the manufacturing process includes stamping or impressing identifying marks into the porcelain on the inside of the tank or the underside of the lid (the rough, unglazed parts). If you’re lucky, you’ll have both. These marks can include model numbers and dates, as well as number/letter combinations that might be factory or lot identification, and sometimes, a manufacturer-specific symbol. The model numbers have a tendency to follow predictable patterns, so someone who is familiar with a variety of toilet repair parts can often tell who made a toilet by the model number (or at least narrow it down). Once you have the manufacturer and model number, you’re usually pretty set as you or your plumber can then contact the manufacturer to determine what repair parts are available for that model. However, many toilet manufacturers don’t sell parts directly to the end user, which is where we come in – we offer many toilet repair parts for many brands of toilets. And if you don’t see what you need, just email us, we might be able to get it!
What if your toilet’s particular repair parts have been discontinued? Sadly, this happens. Eventually, manufacturers stop supporting older toilets. The reasons for this can include a lack of demand for the repair parts, a desire to encourage customers to embrace newer low flow technology, or simply an inability to provide the parts due to manufacturing issues. Whatever the reason, when a part is discontinued, it can be frustrating to someone looking to repair their toilet. When this happens, your first question should always be: “Is there a designated replacement?” Sometimes the manufacturer simply replaced the old part. The new part may look a little different, but a manufacturer’s designated replacement is designed to work in place of the old part.
In the event there is no manufacturer’s designated replacement, sometimes checking with local as well as online plumbing supply stores (like us!) can turn up a pleasant surprise. We, like nearly all toilet repair parts retailers, have parts on our shelf for a variety of toilets, some common and some less so. We might even have the discontinued OEM repair part you need.
If that doesn’t work out, sometimes a third party manufacturer has an acceptable replacement. This type of part includes “universal” fill valves, flush valves, and flappers. Sometimes these parts are made by the same company that was originally subcontracted to make the toilet’s OEM (original equipment manufacturer) parts. Sometimes non-OEM replacement parts are made by a company that specializes in generic replacement parts. Either way, it’s good to do your research. Check with the third party to see if they also manufacture parts for your brand of toilet. If they do, you’ve got a really good chance of getting something that will work much like the OEM part. A couple of examples of companies that make parts for specific-name-brand toilets as well as generic aftermarket toilet repair parts are Fluidmaster and Coast. Also, please remember that “universal” in the plumbing world does not mean “fits absolutely every toilet out there” – it means more like “fits a great deal of toilets but isn’t designed for any one specific toilet.”
To be completely thorough, it can help to check with your plumbing supply store to see if they’ve had many complaints or compliments about any part you’re considering. Check online reviews and local plumbers, too. If you listen and read carefully, reviews can be a great resource – just remember, some complaints are simple misunderstandings or due to installer error rather than a problem with the product itself, just like some praises are typed in before the part has been given a good test run. This may seem like extra work, but would you rather spend the time and money on buying parts over and over, just to find that they don’t fit, or would you rather spend a little time and get the right replacements the first time?
Also, it never hurts to ask a question (or ten)! So, ask questions, get out a measuring tape, and ask some more questions until you’re sure you’re not wasting your time and money by ordering a part sight-unseen. Both online and brick-and-mortar stores with great customer service will have no problem spending the time with you to make sure you get what you need.
Unfortunately, there are also occasions when a very old toilet is no longer supported by the manufacturer and the sizes and style of the fill valve and flush valve are odd enough that no “universal” parts will fit (have you seen the parts for those old Briggs toilets?). In this case, once you’ve talked to the manufacturer, all your local (and not-so-local) plumbing houses with the warehouses full of odd parts, checked the online or printed classifieds, gone through the auction websites and estate sales, and spoken with plumbing restoration specialists, your options are pretty much reduced to replacing your toilet. So, once again, break out your inner researcher and start grilling all those nice people again to help you determine the best new toilet for you.
To recap: the best way to find the right replacement parts to repair your toilet is patience and research. Take a little time now to save time, money and frustration later, and have a perfectly working toilet that much sooner!