Sears customers raise alarms over erratic stoves

Some owners of Kenmore brand stoves from Sears are warning others to beware after the burners on their smooth top ranges turned on by themselves or failed to shut off.

Burners turn on by themselves; similar hazard led to earlier recall

Some owners of Kenmore stoves found that their burners turned on by themselves or failed to shut off, the CBC's Kathy Tomlinson reports 2:22

Some owners of Kenmore brand stoves from Sears are warning others to beware after the burners on their smooth top ranges turned on by themselves or failed to shut off. This is a known problem with some models of the brand, which led to voluntary recalls of thousands of stoves in recent years.

"Our stove wouldn't turn off … the burner was red hot," said Angel Claypool of Langley, B.C. "This is a safety hazard — a fire hazard."

Claypool has two children and said she was alarmed when she was out of the kitchen and the front burner on her Kenmore range — manufactured by Frigidaire — turned on high by itself. She said her husband had to disconnect the stove to shut it down. 

"At least now I know about the hazard, but I am very concerned about all the other families out there that have these stoves," said Claypool.

Susie Williams is another Sears customer with a Kenmore stove that wouldn't shut off. In October, she cooked soup, turned off the burner and left the room. Her husband then came in and discovered the element on high.

'It wouldn't turn off'

"No matter what we pushed, it wouldn't go lower and it wouldn't turn off. It stayed cycling on to high," said Williams.

Claypool and Williams contacted Sears, but were told their models are not part of the manufacturer's voluntary recall. Both customers were told repairs would not be covered. They said they feel the retailer didn't take their safety concerns seriously enough.

Sears Canada sells several smooth top ranges, manufactured by Frigidaire, which initiated the 2009 recall. (CBC)
"If my pot had gone dry and burned, the whole house could have gone up in flames," said Williams. "I just got a total whitewash from Sears. I am just flabbergasted that they are not doing more about this."

"They were treating me like I was a problem customer — and I'm anything but. I was trying to help inform them," said Claypool. "They blew me off and weren't very friendly."

Other models recalled

Frigidaire issued the recall for more than 200,000 stoves in the U.S. and Canada in 2009.  Some of those recalled stoves were sold under the Kenmore label. Frigidaire said at the time there had been no reported injuries in Canada, but in the U.S. there were reports of four injuries and two incidents of property damage.

"Depending on the model, the surface heating elements can 1) turn on spontaneously without being switched on; 2) fail to turn on after being switched off; or 3) heat to different temperatures than those selected by unit controls," the recall notice read.

Angel Claypool tells reporter Kathy Tomlinson she is still afraid of her stove, but felt Sears dismissed her concerns. (CBC)
The recall was expanded in October 2010 to include another 28,000 stoves, also manufactured by Frigidaire and distributed by Electrolux Canada.

Sears Canada declined a request for an interview with CBC News. A spokesperson sent an email, saying the problems with Claypool's and Williams's stoves were unrelated.

"Sears has investigated the issues brought forth by both customers and found that the problems with these units are isolated," the statement reads.

Not related, says Sears

"The issue in the recall was electronic in nature and the nature of the issue with the two ranges was mechanical.  We have not received any notable quantity of repair requests for the two ranges in question."

Sears did not explain the difference between the "electrical" and "mechanical" issues.

Williams said the Sears repair technician, who billed her $263 to replace the circuit board on her stove, told her the recalled units had the same problem.

"He knew there was a problem with these stoves," said Williams. "A stove that was exactly the same as ours was also a problem."

Susie Williams bought her Kenmore stove at Sears and is being charged for the full repair after her burner failed to shut off. (CBC)
Claypool said the burner on her stove needed a new switch, which she paid for.

"I am still nervous about it," she said. "I don't cook with that element anymore."

She said Sears didn't send a technician until after she called several times.

"I just can't understand why they wouldn't right away send somebody out."

Investigation underway

The Electronic Safety Authority in Ontario indicated it is investigating these customer complaints. It looks into possible safety risks with any electronic appliance — even those sold outside Ontario — if the same product is sold Canada-wide.

"(ESA) continues to receive and investigate incident reports regarding stove top element controller failures," said a statement from the agency. "ESA is working with the manufacturer, certification body and appliance owners who submitted reports to determine the root cause."

"Public notification is one of many possible corrective actions that can be taken to ensure no further serious incidents occur, and any defects that are likely to affect the safety of any person or cause property damage have been addressed."

Health Canada said it has also received health-related complaints about Kenmore stoves — 26 in 2010 and nine so far this year.

A Sears technician replaced the control panel on William's stove, but Sears says the problem was unrelated to the recent recall. (CBC)
There are numerous complaints that appear to be from consumers on internet message boards, also claiming their burners turn on by themselves. Many report their stoves also fall outside the recall.

Sears said it is co-operating fully with the ESA investigation and insisted it takes all such complaints seriously.

"Sears Canada does more than any other retailer in Canada when it comes to advising the public about a recall and providing remediation," said the statement. "We care very much about recalls, and take all appropriate steps to advise our customers and help in ensuring their safety."

Williams said Sears has a collection agency chasing her for the $263 bill she refused to pay, and the retailer has stopped responding to her emails.

"I think there's a pattern developing here that Sears needs to take a look at — not in the long term but in the short term."