On The Surface, A Problem: The Stovetop Gets Much Too Hot

No doubt you've heard the whine of the Maytag repairman, "the loneliest guy in town." In advertising, "Ol' Lonely" says Maytag appliances are so dependable he's bored and has no work.

That reputation, plus personal experience with the corporation's products, led two Puget Sound couples to have new Maytag ranges installed in their homes in mid-March.

But when they began using the appliances, the ranges' cooktops (the area surrounding the burners) got extremely hot when any element was turned on.

Julia and Joe Sohlberg of Edmonds first used their Magic Chef range, Model 6892XVA, on March 15. She put a pan of water on the large element and turned it on "high."

"Within seconds the metal surface surrounding the burner became hot to the touch. The adjacent counter was very warm to the touch and the total enamel surface of the stove top couldn't be touched. I immediately turned the burner off and tried to boil the water on another burner. The results were the same on all burners. We called the electrician, who checked the service to the stove, which met all wiring regulations," she wrote.

Next, a technician sent by the appliance dealer inspected the stove and measured the surface temperature at 240 degrees Fahrenheit. At that point he stopped using the burner, the Sohlbergs said.

Maytag representatives now dispute whether the temperature was properly measured.

The Sohlbergs said that on March 25 a Maytag technician checked the stove and told them that if they switched from the black enamel drip pans that came with the range to chrome pans, that could make a difference. They also were advised to purchase a canning element, a device to raise the cooking element slightly and give more air circulation, so the cooktop surface would not get so hot. The technician recommended it for use with oversized pans. The Sohlbergs used a 9 1/2-inch pan for boiling water and didn't consider that oversized. They declined to buy the canning unit.

A call to Maytag's 800 customer-service line brought the message that stove surfaces can get too hot to touch, Julia Sohlberg said.

"When I expressed a concern about safety, I was told that children shouldn't be around a stove and not to expect Maytag to replace the stove," she added.

Mara and Robert Oldroyd of West Seattle had a similar experience with their new Maytag range, Model CHE9000BCE. When any size pan was used on elements at medium or high heat, "the enameled cooktop became unbearable to touch. No range we have ever used anywhere has done this," Mara Oldroyd said.

Like the Sohlbergs, they were told to use chrome drip bowls, and they bought a $35 canning element.

But the new drip bowls and the canning element did not solve the problem. A Maytag technician who checked the appliance reported: "Double checked with tech line and confirmed cooktop heat as non-avoidable."

Both couples bought ranges from Conklin Appliance World in Lynnwood.

Maytag has agreed to exchange the Oldroyds' range for another product.

The Sohlbergs have been offered a free canning element, but she isn't keen on that: She wants a range with a cooktop that does not overheat.

The problem lies with the manufacturer, says Laverne Chisan, owner of Conklin Appliance, adding that there is no temperature restriction on cooktops.

She is correct. I confirmed that with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Underwriters' Laboratories Inc., which develops standards and evaluates more than 16,500 types of products for safety.

There are voluntary industry standards for the temperature of knobs, handles and guards on ranges.

Nonetheless, I'm forwarding the Sohlberg and Oldroyd complaints to Underwriters Laboratories and CPSC to consider when standards are reviewed. CPSC has received similar complaints.

Why did it take four to six weeks to resolve these complaints?

It's not unusual for a large corporation or department store to take that long to handle a complaint, said Jennifer De Boef, marketing communications coordinator for Maytag.

If there was a design problem, it wouldn't have taken that long, De Boef said. Maytag contends there is no design problem.

"The problem is, heat is subjective. What is hot to some people isn't hot to others," De Boef said.

I find it incredible that there are no regulations for the temperature of a cooktop surface. It's time for UL and CPSC to fix that.

Shelby Gilje's Troubleshooter column appears Wednesday and Sunday in the Scene section of The Times. Do you have a consumer problem? Write to Times Troubleshooter, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. Include copies, not originals, of appropriate documents. Phone, 464-2262, fax 382-8873, or e-mail address, sgil-new@seatimes.com