Investigating appliance fires takes sleuthing

The Sacramento Bee, a newspaper in California, published an article on Feb. 2 about the defects in appliances that can cause a fire. Much of what I am writing today comes with permission from Consumer Reports, which supplied the data used in this eye-opening story.

The Web site address should be written in your personal directory because it may be of great help to you once you have read this column. This a Web site where you can go back years to check out the model number of your appliances and check to see if they were ever under a recall published by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, (CPSC).

In the past five years, more than 15 million appliance units have been recalled by the CPSC and manufacturers for defects that could cause a fire; 7.3 million (almost half) of the recalled units were dishwashers. Almost four of every five recalls in Consumer Reports' analysis involved products made outside of the U.S. with the majority coming from China. The biggest recall in Consumer Reports' analysis was for 2.5 million GE dishwashers in May 2007. In March 2009, 1.6 million Maytag refrigerators were recalled because of electrical failure in the relay, the component that turns on the compressor.

National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) data from 2002-2009 showed more than 69,000 fires in which the appliance was the primary cause. Most incidents were attributed to ranges, followed by dryers, air conditioners, refrigerators and dishwashers.

Since March 2011, consumers have logged more than 850 instances of appliance fires on, a site maintained by the CPSC that allows consumers to report product safety problems. The site has proved to be a useful forum for sharing safety concerns, but it has encountered resistance from companies that contend the information publicly posted is unverified. Consumers Union supports efforts to protect and promote the Web site as a way to publicly provide early warning of potential product problems. Consumers should be encouraged to share their experiences with unsafe products on the site to provide real-life experiences that can contribute to safety.

You will have to agree that the above information is all pretty good stuff and I urge you to pass it around. I have spent the past 30 years writing books, this column, and doing radio shows across this country and always in my own polite way trying to scare the pants off of home owners. I have such a passion for this subject as most service technicians carry the same feelings. Talk to any appliance repair guy or gal and they have seen so much in regards to appliance safety. Don't you ever think I have a great love for these manufacturers who I know could do so much more for the customer who purchases their product? I honestly think that appliance manufacturers don't have a clue what the words “quality control” means and if government put the same emphasis on them that they do on the automobile industry we would certainly have safer products in our homes.

Register new appliances: The large number of recalls is a sobering reminder of how important it is for consumers to register their products with manufacturers in order to be promptly notified in the event of a recall. Consumers concerned about their privacy or junk mail need only provide manufacturers with their name, contact information and the appliance model and serial number. I talk with thousands of homeowners every year and it still shocks me at how many people have plugged up vent lines on their clothes dryers. I will continue to scare every person I can in regards to the use of appliances and don't forget the Web site in this column. It could prove to be the most important address you have. Stay tuned.

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