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Legal advice: ‘my microwave caught fire twice’

You are entitled to a refund if you purchase an item with a serious fault. Here’s how we helped a member when her faulty microwave caught fire.

Just four months after Which? Legal member Sara bought a microwave from Currys PC World, it developed a serious fault involving the door seal melting and catching fire.

Sara complained to Currys PC World but was referred to the manufacturer, which offered to repair the fault. However, the fix failed to work and the door seal again caught fire.

Sara claims the manufacturer told her that microwaves catching fire was something to be expected, and that while it did not consider this to be a manufacturing fault, it would offer to carry out another repair.

Not of satisfactory quality

We advised Sara that the microwave was not of satisfactory quality and that it was therefore in breach of Section 9 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

As Currys PC World had referred the matter to the manufacturer, it had already had its one opportunity at offering a repair or replacement so Sara could now reject the item and obtain a refund.

We recommended that Sara set out her legal position to Currys PC World. Shortly after doing so, Currys contacted Sara advising her to take the microwave to her local store, where a full a refund was given.

Currys PC World told Which?:

“We were very sorry to hear of the issues <the customer> experienced. We have now refunded her in full for her faulty microwave”

Were you aware of the retailers obligations under the Consumer Rights Act? Have you ever rejected goods after a retailer referred the issue to the manufacturer?

Let us know in the comments.

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@laurenstacey Hi Lauren – Can you say whether the oven that caught fire was a simple microwave oven or a combination oven?

It’s very encouraging that Sara was able to get a full refund, albeit with help from Which? Legal. It’s worrying that the problem recurred after repair and I wonder if this should be reported to Trading Standards or the Office of Product Safety and Standards in case there is a fault with that make and model.

”Sara claims the manufacturer told her that microwaves catching fire was something to be expected,”. This seems a quite extraordinary assertion for Which? to publish without challenge. Did Which? check this with Panasonic ( no doubt all calls are recorded for training purposes). Maybe Sara has it in writing? Otherwise I’d suggest it was quite inappropriate to repeat it. Panasonic microwaves aare usually Which? Best Buys. I doubt they would remain so if they were expected to catch fire.

Referring the customer to the manufacturer’s guarantee does not seem unreasonable in many cases, as that will resolve the issue for many people quickly. A retailer would still retain responsibility should, as in this case, the remedy fail. In many cases a guarantee offers better protection during its life than the CRA.

I am perplexed. Where has the manufacturer been identified in this Conversation?

I, too, am perplexed John. When I first made my comment I said it would be good to knowwhat manufacturer made such a statement (or words to that effect). However, as I am aware I don’t always read intros as thoroughly as I should, I checked back and saw “Panasonic” at the beginning. So I edited my comment. Now I look again and there is no Panasonic. Was it a figment of my imagination? Disturbing!

Perhaps Which would tell us the make (why should they not?). It would be nice to know whether I dreamt, am demented, or should take more water with it.

It definitely said Panasonic – I was a little surprised when I read it for the first time. Even more surprised now!

Thank goodness for that, Cocker. I was just going for a lie down. 🙂
@laurenstacey, Lauren, was the reference to Panasonic removed as seems to be the case? If so, why?

If the statement attributed to the manufacturer is just hearsay and the quotation is open to question, it’s just as well their name has been removed.

I suspect that may be the reason, John, but perhaps Lauren will tell us to allay my fear about loss of reason.

Such hearsay on a rather inflammatory matter should not be reported unless substantiated as it simply gives unwarranted ammunition to some who like, for example, to condemn manufacturers. But, if it were true……..

Better to have named the manufacturer, I think, (and perhaps the model number, as Beryl asks) and omitted the hearsay, unless of course we know that microwaves are expected to catch fire…..

I received a promotional email from Which? this morning, confirming we are not mad. The microwave was made by Panasonic, allegedly:

“Sara contacted the retailer Currys who organised for the microwave to be repaired by the manufacturer Panasonic who botched the repair job, leading to a second fire.”

Don’t know how they decide who does and doesn’t receive Which? emails, but I didn’t get that one.

Google still has:
Legal member Sara bought a Panasonic microwave from Currys PC World, it developed a serious fault involving the door seal melting and catching fire

I also have a Panasonic microwave and it would be extremely useful to know the model and whether we need to be aware it might have a problem.

Mine is nearly 2 years old and the seal is as good as new. I wonder if a flammable cleaning solution was used on the one that caught fire. Accidents such as exploding fish and eggs are a sod to clean off and strong measures might have been called for.

We now have cooking containers that prevent these accidents.

Hi all, can confirm that you’re not mad. Here’s an entirely honest explanation of the mystery. Part my fault, admittedly.

– Anyone who’s received the magazine will have seen this column already and probably spotted the manufacturer was indeed mentioned
– When bringing this online yesterday I had a few queries myself, so decided to remove the manufacturer for now and edit it back in once my questions had been answered (still waiting on this)
– Unfortunately while doing this I missed one mention in the opening sentence – the one you spotted above
– By the time I’d corrected it you’d already seen and noted in the comments

Wavechange – I’ve had it confirmed that this was a combination microwave.

The other possible reason is running a microwave without sufficient heating load. There are warnings in most instruction manuals to add a mug of water, if heating something that has low water content, e.g. a microwave heat pack, often filled with wheat.

In the US, popcorn is quite a common cause of microwave fires. The dried corn nibs have very low water content, plus the fact that you use as little as 50g and a teaspoon of cooking oil to make a bowlful. And oily popped corn is quite a flammable material if you leave it on for too long.

@george – You should know by now, we hang on your every word, literally!

We are all newly enlightened George so you have to allow due diligence to cries of imagined insanity when scripts tend to appear and then vanish into thin air from time to time.
I deduced the reason for the microwaves make being edited out was probably a wise move until the cause of the fire had been established beyond all reasonable doubt.

I would however, still like to know whether my newly purchased Panasonic combination bears the same model number as Sara’s dysfunctional one.

Thanks George.

Em – Thanks. It’s understandable that heating popcorn with oil could be risky and the mug of water will help absorb most of the microwave radiation.

I do not know if modern microwave ovens contain a thermal fuse to detect overheating and cut off power promptly in event of a small fire.

It would be helpful to know the model number as I have recently bought a Panasonic microwave combination oven.

I have close relative who is a JL partner who had issues with a customer returning a memory foam pillow that had become too flat after 2 years usage. It came with a 5 year manufacturers guarantee, and so, because of the time lapse since purchase the customer was advised to contact the manufacturer under the terms of their guarantee.

I suggested, the customer was correct in approaching JL first, but was of the opinion, JL being the retailer with whom the contract was made when the customer purchased the pillow, the onus was upon JL to comply with the terms laid down in The Consumer Rights Act.

There seems to be some confusion about the duration of time between purchase and the terms laid down in the CRA and manufacturers guarantees.

I’ve had two (long lived) Panasonic combination microwave ovens and neither has caught fire. I think it quite irresponsible to repeat the alleged statement from Panasonic without verification.

You are quite right that the consumers’ rights are against the retailer, as they were the party to the contract (established when the purchase was made). The retailer could simply replace the product but it may be that before that is done it needs to be checked whether there has been any abuse or misuse. The CRA and the guarantee are parallel means of resolving a problem with a product; the guarantee is not superior, in law, to any of the CRA requirements but may be the expedient first step. Q

Fires in microwave ovens are usually caused by operator error, particularly overcooking food. Not only can this cause burning but if food is splattered on the inside of a microwave oven this can be a fire risk. I recall being asked for advice the mica waveguide cover on the side of the chamber appeared to be burning and learned that this can happen due to contamination with food. The use of metal objects and foil can cause sparking and the. possibility of food burning.

It would be interesting to know the cause of the fire in this case.

Years ago, I heated up some gravy in a glass jug. There was a thin layer of liquid fat on the top that create some sort of barrier and all the liquid just exploded out of the jug (leaving the jug intact).

Fatty inflammable liquid got into every nook and cranny so would have been a fire risk. As the microwave was quite old and not that good, it was the perfect excuse for a new one so I didn’t bother trying to clean it.

I never put metal objects or foil in the microwave even though it says it is possible.

Fatty foods heat up very quickly because fats have a lower specific heat than water. That is why it is so easy to overheat Christmas pudding. Even posh restaurants use microwave ovens to reheat their homemade Christmas pudding and a burnt flavour provides the evidence.

To avoid food exploding in a microwave oven it may be necessary to use a low setting, reserving full power for heating drinks and other very fluid liquids that will circulate as a result of convection currents set up in the container. I have to use the lowest of the nine settings on my ancient 500 watt microwave when cooking a piece of salmon because if is a fatty fish.

When heating sauces etc. I leave a spoon in the jug for mixing purposes, keeping the spoon away from the sides of the oven to avoid sparking. The reason foil can be a problem is that it has sharp edges, which can result in sparking.

“The reason foil can be a problem is that it has sharp edges, which can result in sparking.”

Maybe someone should tell the tinfoil hat-wearing 5G conspiracy theorists (or not).

You can use aluminium foil in certain circumstances which can best be demonstrated rather than explained. Watch the following, which illustrates the importance of shape and sharp edges.

YouTube.com – Can you microwave aluminium trays? Will they spark?

It would have been worth explaining (best not to demonstrate) that metal items close to the sides of a microwave oven can damage the oven as a result of sparking. I cannot see any point of reheating food in an aluminium tray in a standard (rather than combination) microwave oven because the tray will prevent the microwaves from reaching the food except via the open top. It makes more sense to transfer it to something like a small casserole dish.

Gill Tattersfield says:
22 October 2021

My daughter in law stayed in a house ,on her own, for a few nights and refused to use its microwave because there was rust on the oven under the wheels that turn the plate. She said in USA where she lives she had been warned that rust could cause a fire. Mine ( Panasonic) has developed rust under its wheels ,would you go on using it ?

Hi Gill – It would be unwise for anyone to advise you without seeing the microwave oven. If there is any evidence of sparking, burning or heating at the rusty area the oven should not be used. If you are happy to carry on using it, turn it off immediately if you spot a problem.

I’m more confident about offering advice that should help avoid rusting. Moisture encourages rusting. It is likely to be condensation, but contact with food or use of some cleaning materials can also promote rusting. I have no kids or elderly people around so I can leave the door of my microwave open for it to dry after use or wipe up any condensation, which can be under the glass tray or turntable. That means that the oven is not left damp with the door closed. Food spatter can be avoided by covering it or using a lower power setting. Some cleaning materials contain salt, which can encourage rusting. Washing-up liquid is one example. If you can clean the oven effectively with a damp cloth, that would be ideal. A microwave with a stainless steel chamber might be the answer. I’ve been using a microwave oven for 30 years and there is no sign of rusting even though the chamber is just painted steel.