A few months ago, I repaired the washing machine and wrote about it in a blog posting. Lately, our Whirlpool stove was acting up, not heating up its burners (aka surface elements) until they were ‘wiggled’ a bit. It’s actually been a recurring problem for a while, but was isolated to just one or two elements. Over the past year, it seemed that all of them have been having the same issue at one time or another.
First I took them out and noticed that the contacts were pretty dirty and so I sanded them down, which seemed to help. But then a few of them quickly became intermittent again. I looked at the price of new burners online and found them to be priced quite high, between $30 to $40 *each*. I also realized the receptacles that these coiled burners plug into, which cannot be cleaned, were the the more likely source of poor electrical contact. Those parts weren’t too expensive, about $10 each, so I bought a few of them and spliced them in to replace the ones that were very worn out. This helped quite a bit and we had all 4 elements working reliably for the first time in a long time.
A few months after that I was noticing that a burner wasn’t working, so I attempted to adjust it in the receptacle and when I turned it on, I heard the a very loud pop and saw a very large blue spark jump from the receptacle. I guess that’s what I get for not ‘doing it right the first time’ and just replacing all the receptacles and burners. After that spark, that burner position no longer worked because it evidently took out the switch/temperature controller in the panel. Later, I had an experience where the other small (6″) burner did something similar and this time the spark melted a section of the burner and it came apart near the receptacle. I resigned myself to getting 4 new burners and 2 more new receptacles. I didn’t realize at the time that I’d need two new switch/temperature controllers too.
If you price out a range by the sum of its replaceable parts, you’ll quickly realize that it can get expensive in a hurry. I found that the 4 burners and 2 more receptacles added up to over $160 and with a new stove costing around $500-600, it doesn’t make much sense spend a lot of money to fix one that is 17 years old. However, I found that the entire set of burners and receptacles were available in a kit (shown below) for $72 from the repairclinic.com and that put the cost of the repair within reason again. I wished I had seen that kit in the first place and I would not have tried to fix the range a burner at a time.
It’s really not that hard to work on a range because it has a kind of hinge that lets you lift up the front just like a hood on a car. It even has a way to support the top with some wire supports while you work on it. The receptacles were easy to replace and so were the elements. You do have to be remove power because an electric range it has high voltages, so you should know where the circuit breaker is for the range and make sure to turn power off to the range when you’re about to touch anything that is electrical.
After I got the burners and receptacles replaced, I learned that the big blue sparks had damaged two of the switch/temperature controllers because I only measure 40 VAC (instead of 240 VAC) across their output so I had to replace two of those too. These parts were not very attractively priced on-line anywhere I looked, so I picked them up at the local appliance store.
Now the range is virtually new again and the pots actually sit flush on the burners which start up immediately with they are turned on. One of the more gratifying things about working on appliances is that you can become a total geek with your tools and multimeter and in the end, it results in a wife who is happy with the result :-). Very few geek adventures offer that as an incentive.
UPDATE: 2013-01-19 This repair has kept the stove running reliably for more than 5 years, and so I wanted to confirm that the fix saved us the cost of a new range and made it much more convenient to use, because we no longer worry about whether one of the burners was not heating. So if you want a stove that works like new, my recommendations is to just buy the repair kit and replace all of the burners and receptacles at once.