Um, Why Did My Frigidaire Microwave Randomly Catch Fire?

Though not advertised as a feature, Matt recently learned that if you turn off a Frigidaire microwave and leave the house, it might spontaneously combust. A service tech blamed a short-circuiting switch for the blaze, which thankfully didn’t cause any serious property damage.

Matt writes:

I came home from work to find my house filled with smoke and a smell of burnt plastic. It took me a few minutes to locate the source, but it ended up being the microwave. My Frigidaire FMV158FMB above-stove 1000W unit had caught fire. There is a hole through the clock/display panel where it appears flames shot out, melting surrounding plastic and going up the front of the unit. Luckily, no damage other than a thin film of smoke that looks like it will wipe off of the paint on the cabinets above.

I last used the unit yesterday evening. The house was fine when I left back for work over lunch (2:30 PM), so there is a 4 hour window when it could have occurred.

Manufacturer is closed, so I have not had a chance to contact them. I plan on doing that tomorrow. If they won’t help, I have a home warranty so it should only cost $65 (my deductible) to have it replaced.

Just wanted to both alert you (and consumers) of this risk and also seek advice as to how to proceed to make sure this is handled properly, as it appears to be a faulty unit since it happened on its own. I am very lucky there was not more damage or total loss of house had the fire spread.

Matt later sent us an update.

The manufacturer would not do much with it being out of warranty. It sounds like had there been property damage they would have cared but since the house itself didn’t catch fire, they offered a rebate toward a new one (I would have had to pay a significant amount). Instead, my home warranty company, 2-10, handled it amazingly and I now have a nice GE unit for only the $65 service fee.

The service tech who came out to confirm the microwave was beyond repair showed me the switch that shorted inside behind the panel. He provided anecdotal stories of others having this switch fail but only the unit would light up, just failed to actually microwave things. No fires in those cases.

Also, he said it shorted and overheated inside, but thinks it smoldered as opposed to there being full flames. My outlet tripping cut the power and saved the unit from catching fire.

MicrowaveFire.jpg

Comments

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  1. JoeXJoe says:

    My lady-friend unplugs her microwave. I thought this was kind of silly. Now I think it’s somewhat less silly. I’m not sure it is possible to unplug that type.

  2. enomosiki says:

    The company refuses to do anything when the product caused fire hazard, not even a “We apologize for the incident and we will look into the matter more closely”?

    Frigidaire, you just went on my shitlist.

    • MrsLopsided says:

      No indication on how old the microwave was, just that it was out of warranty, or how much the OP pursued this beyond the initial contact.

      • Matt73921 says:

        It was out of warranty by one year. I pursued it as far as I could. The most they would offer was a rebate toward the purchase of a new unit. This would have still cost several hundred dollars out of pocket. That is why I went with my home warranty. $65 total for the new one (plus about $35 in air fresheners/odor absorbers to try to get the smell, that still lingers, out of my house).

    • working class Zer0 says:

      One day as I was about to leave the house I was lucky enough to notice that my dryer was hot to the touch even though it was off for a while. I unpluged it and called the manufacturer (whirlpool) since there was an obvious defective part that caused the heating element to stay on. They said sorry your warranty is up (by about three months). Ask for a supervisor and she told me the same thing. I explained to her that this was a failure of one of their parts that could have destroyed my house and had that happened they would have been paying a lot more than the cost to repair the dryer. She grudgingly agreed to pay for the repair.

  3. mmbb says:

    No indication that Matt followed up by filing a report with the Consumer Products Safety Commission (cpsc.gov); I guess he just came here to vent.

    • bikeoid says:

      Exactly, the CPSC or UL need to hear reports like this so they can determine if there is a design problem that will affect other units.

      • Pax says:

        Not everyone knows that those two organisations take reports from “average folks”. In fact, _I_ didn’t know that, until just now.

    • Matt73921 says:

      Actually, I first tried calling the CPSC but they were closed for the day. If you read my first email snippet above, I was seeking advice from Consumerist in addition to warning others.

      I called the CPSC the next day (June 10, 2010 10:20 AM EST from my notes; spoke to Jennifer) and now have the paperwork I have to sign off on and submit photos with to complete this.

  4. Hockeynutz says:

    Just returned a Frigidaire AC, 3 days old. I thought I had bought a Minifridge for a second with it’s exchange of air.This appliance took a life of it’s own not knowing if wanted to cool or heat my home as evidence of it’s switching from Cold air to Hot air and back and forth all day long.

  5. Chumas says:

    I love the irony of “Auto Cook & Reheat”

    • Matt73921 says:

      Haha. The “trauma” of the situation is enough removed that I just got a big smile from that one. Now if only the burnt plastic/electronics smell would finally dissipate…

  6. fosterb says:

    My sunbeam microwave caught fire during operation. It too was out of warranty. The little plastic thing that turns the glass plate was defective. (Sunbeam’s theory was that the plastic was contaminated.) I reported it to the manufacturer, Curtis, who told me to piss off. Then I reported it to sunbeam who eventually sort of somewhat cared after I e-mailed their execs for several months. I ended up mailing the unit to UL who won’t actually report on their ‘confidential’ investigation but could tell me when it was completed (that was 6 months ago, no updates since). So basically… consumer product safety didn’t seem like it was very important to anybody involved except for the lone safety guy at Sunbeam who reached out to me but could do little to help or investigate. At one point I yelled at the manufacturer to give me my microwave back (they weren’t sure if they could) so I could video tape it and post it on the internet. So I did…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lN2YF8HQ4lE

    Now before anybody says anything about how there is nothing in the microwave… that is correct, but it was shot after a glass bowl that was in the microwave with water had been damaged during an earlier video (unposted). The glass bowl eventually exploded hours later while it sat on a table.

    The whole thing was a lot of work to get anybody to care, and in the end, not worth my effort. It did completely ruin the reputation of the company that licensed their brand out to a company that does not care. Let that be a lesson.

    • Rachacha says:

      As a product safety professional, there is not much that the CPSC or UL could do in this situation as believe it or not, the product actually complies with the safety standard as no fire was emitted from the microwave. Granted, fire inside your microwave is a bit disconcerting but the safety mechanisms built into the device did what they were designed to do…keep the fire inside the microwave and not allow it to escape. Safety standards and compassion/reputation generally don’t mix. Also, unless there was a huge number of units that did this, there is no reason to institute a recall (and it is difficult to determine where the problem actually lies). It would seem that you simply got a bad unit.

  7. Griking says:

    /shrug

    Electrical stuff breaks over time.

    Should I send an article in describing how my water heater broke a few years ago?

    • yevarechecha says:

      Did your water heater explode and catch fire when you weren’t even using it? That seems a little out of the ordinary and worthy of concern. If his wall socket hadn’t been functioning correctly it could have burned down his kitchen.

      I’m obsessive about unplugging things when I go away overnight and turning off my wireless router if I’m gone for even a couple hours because it runs kind of hot and I have this fear, which I thought was totally irrational and OCD until I read this article, that it will blow up and torch my apartment. So much for that.

      • gc3160thtuk says you got your humor in my sarcasm and you say you got your sarcasm in my humor says:

        I’m glad I read your reply before I added mine since I was going to say essentially the same thing youj did. Good job. I don’t even have to add anything else since you said it so eloquently.

      • nsv says:

        You might not want to live in an apartment, then. Your neighbors almost certainly aren’t that careful.

        • yevarechecha says:

          Oh, I’d deal with my own apartment burning up. I’ve got renter’s insurance, don’t own anything of value, and I could get new stuff and move pretty easily. I’d just hate to damage anyone else’s apartment. Weird, I know.

      • Griking says:

        Mine didn’t cause a fire but this stuff does happen.

        I’m not saying that it’s not unfortunate but I can’t see blaming Frigidaire for it. Shorts can happen because of multiple reasons such as surges, wiring problems, moving the unit, and yes, faulty or worn out components.

  8. sven.kirk says:

    Sorry. I can’t see blaming Frigidaire on this one.
    Electrical shorts just don’t happen out of randomness.
    They happen when you move stuff, or when things move (on) them.
    I know the latter is nasty, but it is true.
    But from reading things, it is from his recent move apparently .

    • bhr says:

      My AC unit did the same thing after FIOS wired our condo complex. I couldnt blame them completely, but the tech said the unit had to have been jostled to knock the switch loose, and they were in the AC closet on my porch to wire my upstairs unit.

      Thankfully homeowners insurance covered it (win).

    • pantheonoutcast says:

      Where exactly did it say he moved? There’s no mention of it in the article. Also, most people do not move to a new residence taking a mounted, above the stove microwave with them.

    • shepd says:

      Shorts can appear to be random when components fail, though. Think dry capacitors, arcing between components, or plain heat failure of many different components. Sometimes the heat the device itself generates can cause a fire over time due to dust buildup if the device isn’t designed properly (this is how many cheap PC power supplies flame out).

    • Matt73921 says:

      This has been in the same place in my house since I bought it in 2008. Nothing had moved recently. Nothing changed. I microwaved a baked potato in it over 24 hours prior to when this happened. Everything was fine on my lunch break. When I came home from gym after work, that was what I was welcomed with.

  9. andrewe says:

    I bought a house filled with brand new (under warranty) Frigidaire appliances. All the appliances, save one, failed at least once while still under the Frigidaire warranty. Not one appliance was repaired under warranty because I was the second owner of these brand new appliances.

    So, perhaps, Frigidaire honoured the letter of the warranty but they certainly did not honour their customer. My experience with Frigidaire was junk appliances, junk warranty, and junk customer service. I will never, ever buy a Frigidaire or one of their house brands ever again.

    • cluberti says:

      Honestly, since Electrolux purchased Frigidaire in the 80s, they’ve produced mostly crap. This is not really new, or news.

    • baquwards says:

      when buying a house and looking for new appliances (didn’t have a big budget) I noticed how incredibly cheap the Frigidaire appliances were built. Online reviews confirmed my hunch, so I avoided them. I am sure that they sell a lot since they make a lot of low end stainless steel appliances and we know how lots of people are dazzled by stainless steel, LOL

  10. Rachacha says:

    Recommendations:
    1) Contact the CPSC and advise them of the issue. They may not do anything because they generally work on emerging trends (an isolated incedent does not make a hazardous product, but a pattern of failures does). Save the microwave if you can as they may want to inspect it. https://www.cpsc.gov/cgibin/incident.aspx

    2) On the unit there should be a certification label (Probably UL). Contact the certification laboratory and advise them of the issue. Again, they may not do anything for an isolated incedent, but they should know about it as well. If it was UL, they have a form to fill out at http://www.ul.com/global/eng/pages/offerings/perspectives/consumer/fieldreport/. If it was another laboratory that certified it and the certification mark is on this page http://www.osha.gov/dts/otpca/nrtl/nrtlmrk.html let me know and I can get you in contact with the right people.

    3) Be thankful that the product and the electrical safety systems in your home worked the way they were supposed to and prevented a major disaster.

    • FrugalFreak says:

      Be thankful for today’s shoddy cheap manufacturing as compared to appliance quality of years ago?

      No Thanks

      • Crim Law Geek says:

        If reject the premise of your argument about today’s electrical gadgetry being unsafer. If that were true, the rates of home fires should have skyrocketed, or stayed very close to the same as the years of yore (since home safety has improved). The fact is home fire rates have massively decreased, because today’s doohickies are safer.

        • Sudonum says:

          Not to mention that there are tons more of those doohickies in everyone’s homes.

        • Rachacha says:

          Just to add to what you are saying, the short lifecycle of today’s appliances (i.e. refrigerators not lasting 40 years, but only 15-20) actually helps to improve safety because over time the insulation on wires becomes hard and brittle which is more likely to short and cause a fire.

        • Crim Law Geek says:

          Of course, I meant “I reject”. Stupid typo! :-P

  11. sgtyukon says:

    I bought a new Frigidaire room AC three years ago. It broke in less than a week. Warranty said it was beyond repair, but took too long to tell me that for me to take it back to the store. It took months of effort and long distance phone calls (no 800 number) to get them to aurhorize a return to the store. By then it was November and even if I still needed AC the store didn’t have any. The store wouldn’t refund cash either, just a gift card.

    So, now,if I need to buy an appliance I go outside and look up in the sky. If there are no pigs flying around, I don’t buy a Frigidaire.

  12. mbz32190 says:

    I agree that Frigidaire makes pretty much junk. We recently got a newer Frididaire fridge in the break room (not my decision), and the whole thing feels like it is made out of cardboard. I know build quality isn’t the same across all brands 10-15 years ago, but there is no way that my non-muscular self should be able to easily move a large fridge across the room.

    • satoru says:

      A fridge is basically just a compressor with a box to hold food. There isn’t a huge need to have gigantic compressors to power your fridge these days. The weight of the fridge ends up being a factor more of the box really. How much insulation they put in and such. Even then it’s not that much of a weight increase. The decrease in weight is a good thing. There’s no real good reason why a fridge should weigh a while lot empty these days, since weight doesn’t imply any benefit.

      On the other side of the spectrum, a heavy stove is generally good. It means they used lots of heavy metals in the oven components, which retain heat. This is good so that when you open the oven door, the temp bounced back faster and means more even cooking. Aga ovens are basically gigantic pieces of metal that retain heat constantly so you don’t have to pre-heat or anything. They weigh 500kg though!!

  13. Thyme for an edit button says:

    My microwave had little lightning storms that would go off inside it every once and a while. It started getting singes on the inside. I finally decided to replace it after I only had it for a year… it only cost me $10 at a garage sale so I guess I can’t really complain.

    • Big Mama Pain says:

      That usually happens if it has an aftermarket turntable in it; sounds so stupid, but I learned from experience having to get a commercial microwave serviced after I just threw in a turntable from a home microwave and having it light up like a T-storm right after.

  14. Thyme for an edit button says:

    They would have cared if the house caught fire because then they would have to get one of their lawyers to send you a letter about why it’s not their problem instead of some call center rep telling you over the phone.

  15. satoru says:

    As we say in the industry, once you let the magic smoke you, you can’t put it back in :)

  16. satoru says:

    It kinda looks like they had an electrical surge and one of the components inside basically burnt out. This kind of thing is surprisingly common.

    If the microwave was on a GFCI circuit, it shouldn’t have burnt out like that though.

    • Rachacha says:

      How would a GFCI outlet have helped. A GFCI simply looks at the the current that flows between the hot and neutral line and if there is a large differential it assumes that the current is going to ground and shuts off the circuit. Based on the photos, the fault appears to have occurred in the secondary, low voltage circuits, a GFCI likely would not have seen such a failure until the insulation in the 120V circuit was compromised, at which point the circuit breaker (or fuse) for the electrical outlet circuit would have tripped. I have seen product failures where the GFCI was not tripped, but the circuit breaker did, it all depends on the nature of the failure and the sequence of events that dictates which will trip first.

      • satoru says:

        Good to know! I get a lot of flack for not knowing the intricacies of household electrical work because I graduated as an Electrical Engineer. This, despite the fact I majored in high power RF design :P

    • Matt73921 says:

      My first thought was surge, but nothing else tripped. Weather was perfect, so not a lightning strike. All other electronics that would either not reboot on power failure or would have a flashing clock indicated any issues. The second technician (first one paid for by Frigidaire to investigate what happened didn’t even open the unit) paid for by home warranty (the one who pointed out the switch that caught fire) is the one who said the reason it didn’t become a full fire was due to the GFCI outlet tripped, but he still believed that had that outlet not tripped, the circuit breaker would have. Either way, I don’t care what worked to prevent this from being a house fire, I just realize I am very fortunate.

  17. SagarikaLumos says:

    I have a Frigidaire dishwasher included in my apartment. It doesn’t do a very good job, but I can’t replace it because it’s not mine. I wish it would break, so that I could have an excuse to make the landlord buy me something that will actually wash dishes.

    I don’t want fire, though.

    • whatdoyoucare says:

      You might want to try a product to descale your dishwasher like Lemi Shine. Their website has a map of North America that shows hard water levels. Lemi Shine only costs a couple of bucks. If you don’t want to spend the money you could always try running a bunch of vinegar through it.

  18. Big Mama Pain says:

    I was under the impression that these over the stove models were junk anyway. They take a huge beating being over a hot range all the time, with just a small fan on the bottom to alleviate that (which likely gets gummed up with grease and not cleaned enough). I’ve never cooked on a stove in tandem with a microwave to where I’d need that kind of “convenience”, though, so I guess it is an indispensable luxury for some people-even to pay $65 for a warranty replacement, when I’ve seen counter top microwaves go for $40 nowadays.

    • Ilovegnomes says:

      Not all of them are junk. We’ve had ours for over 5 years now, and it still does a good job. It does take a beating and it does require some maintenance to clean out the grease trap, replace the bulb, etc. However, if you have a normal range hood in its place, you would have to do the same thing. It is just really nice to have one less thing sitting on the counter top so that I actually have room to do food prep. It is a big convenience.

      I’ve got a KitchenAid model and it has been a super champ. Retail on the unit was over $800 but I got it NIB on ebay for $200 (it was a previous year’s model).

    • andrewe says:

      You’re a bit misinformed about these great appliances!

      My sub $200 over-the-stove microwave has been going strong for about 7 years now. It frees up a huge amount of counter space and is in a very convenient position to use while cooking a meal. The fan does suck up greasy air but the dirt is trapped in a washable filter. Better to have the grease there than in the air, on the walls or up the exhaust vent.

      Also. You can’t really compare the price of a 1000 watt, over the range microwave/exhaust fan with a $40 countertop model that is best suited for making popcorn.

    • baquwards says:

      I have a small kitchen with limited counter space ( I love my little kitchen and cook every day). When we bought the place there was no installed microwave, I put one up and it was the single best thing that I did to the place. The microwave actually works better than any that I have ever used before, it is like night and day compared to my countertop units (which were not cheap ones). I didn’t cheap out when I bought one, mine was over $300, they can be had for less than $200, but microwave combined with an exhaust fan, $300 isn’t a bad price. I would have replaced the exhaust fan anyway, it was an eyesore.

  19. crazydavythe1st says:

    This is slightly off topic, but I have to question the value of a warranty that has a $65 deductible for an item that could be replaced for $100, tops. There is almost no way that this guy is coming out ahead on this. Notice that he had to have a service tech come out too to see if his microwave could be repaired first.

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      Built in microwaves cost a lot more than $100.

    • Rachacha says:

      Built-in/over the stove microwaves cost usually between $200-$500 or more

    • bhr says:

      also, not a warranty. This was his homeowners insurance, which covers way more the most people think.

      • malraux says:

        Often when people move into a new home, they purchase a home warranty, which covers surprise failures of most appliances, as well as some plumbing, roofing and other issues. Most people only keep them for a year, but it helps to hedge against things like the micro-hood or the refrigerator giving out. If the poster said warranty, he probably means warranty.

      • baquwards says:

        no if you read above, he says that it was his home warranty.

    • pantheonoutcast says:

      Even if he pays $65 to have something worth $100 replaced, he came out on top.

    • cluberti says:

      If you want a countertop microwave that’ll compare, you need at least a mid-sized microwave (and given it’s more a cooking microwave rather than for popcorn or warming a plate, you probably would want a full-sized Microwave oven) which will take up a decent amount of countertop – hence why some people like the convenience and space saving that an over-the-range design has given that an over-the-range also has an exhaust for the stove, as well as filters for grease and such which add to the cost.

    • Matt73921 says:

      To clarify. This is a home warranty, not my home owner’s insurance. I did consider filing a claim with insurance, but a $500 deductible would have made it pretty useless. The home warranty, however, was a $65 trade fee. This covered the technician coming out to confirm the unit was beyond repair. It then covered a brand new, comparable ($500-600, not the less than $100 someone assumed these run) unit to be delivered and professionally installed. So, assuming Home Depot offered free delivery/install, I was looking at $500+ (plus tax) for the unit. Instead, $65. Home warranties are definitely something people should look into when buying a home. Last year, my warranty replaced the original 1970 furnace for $65 (trade fee) plus $110 for non-covered parts. I now have a new 2009 efficient furnace for $175 out of pocket. The warranties run ~$400/yr, but with a few other service calls and these two major claims, they have paid off.

    • baquwards says:

      Home warranties can be had for around $400 a year. Mine has a $35 deductible, so even if I had to replace the microwave under the home warranty I would come out about even and still be able to use the warranty for other things.

      I have a 26 year old central a/c unit, a $35 deductible is a whole lot easier than coming up with 2 grand to replace it.

  20. Awesome McAwesomeness says:

    Not a surprise. Our old Frigidaire dryer scorched out clothes in small spots.

    It seems like with something that serious, they should replace the unit for free.

  21. anonyx says:

    As someone who regrettably works in retail for an electronics store, i can absolutely confirm that frigidaire offer amazingly budget and amazingly terrible products. Typically, for every 2 we sell we get 1 back. There have been days when we have had more back than we’ve sold in that day.

  22. baristabrawl says:

    Um…it’s Frigidaire?

  23. MacGyver says:

    http://www.consumeraffairs.com/homeowners/ge_spacemaker_microwave_fire.html
    We had one of these OTR microwaves in a home we bought. It arced in almost the same place as the pic, with a very loud bang about one second after I started it. I lost my hearing for a few seconds. The noise was so loud that a neighbour came over to see what happened.

    I immediately removed the microwave from service after reading the link above and went with a range hood instead. I’d never go with an OTR microwave again.

  24. Destron says:

    When I bought my house it was a new build with brand new appliances – all Fridgidaire. After about 2 months the light in the refrigerator stopped working but it didn’t bother me so I ignored it – that was a mistake. Another couple of months later the same short that caused the light to stop working cause the refrigerator to catch on fire. Luckily someone was home and we had a fire extinguisher handy.

    Fast forward about 4 months – less than a year in the house – and while using the microwave it started throwing sparks and the fan that was in the roof of the microwave fell out spinning around inside like a top.

    The house came with a warranty from the builder that also covered the appliances, he replaced them ALL with more reliable appliances and vowed to never by Fridgidaire again, and neither will I. Faulty products is one thing but these things are death traps.

  25. DanRydell says:

    unit unit unit unit unit unit unit unit unit unit unit unit unit unit unit unit

  26. keepher says:

    For all of you with micro fails check to see if they were made in China, then make a report to Underwriters Laboratory. They have an online form for reporting these types of fails.

  27. tooki says:

    This happened to a downstairs neighbor a few years back, who was out of town at the time. By dumb luck, I was awake at 5am and smelled the smoke seeping up the building stairwell and pounded on everyone’s doors to get them up. Luckily, it was mostly smoke damage (the guy’s apartment was essentially ruined), but his cat survived and the building didn’t burn down.

    The microwave, however, was a goner.

  28. Matt73921 says:
  29. friendlynerd says:

    My parents have that same microwave in a different color and it died just out of the warranty period. Thankfully my dad’s an electrical engineer and found the culprit – some kind of capacitor he was able to swap out for like $15.

    I think it was doing the same thing as described here though – lighting up but not heating anything. I wonder if it was the same part?

  30. DVFelix says:

    I just looked up Frigidaire microwave problems and am totally shocked to find that the same thing that happened to Matt’s microwave happened to mine. I have four dogs and fish. Had my mother or I not been home, they would have asphyxiated to death. It hardly took any time for the whole first floor of the house to fill with smoke so thick that I could not see my hand in front of my face. The scary part is that it was not being used, only plugged in keeping the clock on since I would have to set the clock in order for it to work. I am still in shock and very happy that I now know not to use Frigidaire. I went to Home Depot and asked about the possibility of this happening to a microwave and they said they had not heard of it but they were not surprised to find out it was a Frigidaire product. They said it was an inferior brand and they do not carry it. Go figure! I will still have to find out what would, and why, cause a fire in this day and age. So anyone, please let me know of a reliable brand that stands behind their product. Offering a rebate and not considering even an apology or an instant discount unless there were other property damage (I am sure any home insurance company would hit them hard with subrogation costs) is not standing by your product, especially in such a dangerous situation.