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After denial, Whirlpool admits microwave self-starts can occur

Consumer Reports News: February 15, 2013 03:23 PM

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Following a Consumer Reports investigation about microwave ovens that apparently started up by themselves, Whirlpool Corp., maker of the KitchenAid KHMS155LSS, one of the models involved, has done an about-face, acknowledging that such malfunctions are possible.

Our recent investigation, "Microwave Mystery," cites dozens of cases involving the KitchenAid KHMS155LSS, with many consumers telling us about their mishaps, including waking up in the middle of the night to find their microwave running and getting hot. When we contacted Whirlpool in the process of our reporting, the company said it had not been able to verify a single case of self-starting with that model.

Whirlpool now says, "We have determined that it was possible for certain keypads in this specific model microwave to develop unintended electrical paths, which could cause the keypad to beep, or very rarely, start the microwave oven." The company says it will offer a free repair to owners of the KitchenAid KHMS155LSS.

Whirlpool contacted us after the article was published to explain that it did in fact have confirmation of a 2008 incident in which a KitchenAid KHMS155LSS microwave turned on by itself and caused damage to the oven cavity. The change in the company's position was blamed on an internal misunderstanding.

In the rest of the media statement, Whirlpool says:

"We conducted rigorous safety evaluations, and determined that this issue does not present a safety concern for consumers because of the built in safety features designed to contain potential heat damage inside the unit. We evaluate every report that is brought to our attention, and have not verified a single instance where a microwave self-activated and caused heat damage outside the unit. We have reviewed this situation with the appropriate U.S. and Canadian government safety agencies, including the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Ontario Electrical Safety Authority. We are offering owners of this model microwave the option of a free repair, even if the unit is no longer under warranty. We encourage consumers with concerns to contact us directly at 1-800-422-1230."

That statement is more in line with the one made by GE, which was also included in our investigation. GE spokeswoman Kim Freeman said, "GE has investigated unverified reports of 'self-start' and found them to constitute product quality, not product safety, concerns. Many have been determined not to be 'self-starts' at all." However, our investigation revealed serious fires caused by both KitchenAid and GE microwaves. And the problem was not confined to those two brands.

Whirlpool's offer to fix the KitchenAid microwave stops short of being a recall done in conjunction with the Consumer Product Safety Commission. We contacted the CPSC to see how this new development might affect its ongoing investigation into microwave safety, but the agency declined to comment, citing Section 6(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act, which limits agency disclosures.

We also followed up with Whirlpool to ask whether consumers who already paid to have their microwaves repaired will get their money back. We are awaiting a response and will update you when we have more information.

On February 21, Whirlpool responded: "There is no single reason why a microwave may require service. Each claim is a unique situation, and is resolved appropriately for the particular set of circumstances. If any of our consumers have questions about a past repair, we encourage them to contact us (1-800-422-1230) so we can look into the matter to confirm their case was handled appropriately."

Daniel DiClerico

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