My Frigidaire burst into flames — now what?

Question: I’m writing to you because it seems you are a man who gets results, and I don’t know where else to go. Last month, my husband and I woke up at 1 a.m. to our fire alarms going off and a strong smell of burning plastic. We quickly grabbed our toddler and baby, ran outside and called the fire department.

Turns out our four-year-old Frigidaire dishwasher’s electrical panel caught fire. Now we have $15,000 worth of damage to our house due to smoke damage, water damage, and a charred dishwasher area. My homeowner’s insurance only covers so much, and we’re paying plenty out of pocket, eating fast food to try and keep things cheap, not to mention dealing with the inconvenience of not having a kitchen with two young children. (Ever tried scrubbing bottles and dishes in the bathroom tub?)

When we contacted Frigidaire, they gave us the runaround and then basically told us without a receipt for the item, they would do nothing. It was installed by the contractor who sold us our house, so we don’t have a receipt. Frigidaire also went on to tell us that they reuse serial numbers on their appliances, so there is no way to track their products. Upon doing some research online, fires with their products, specifically dishwashers, are all too common (google ‘Frigidaire Fire’). But there is no recall!

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At this point, even if we can’t get them to help us in any way financially, we’d at least like them to issue a recall. If our fire alarms weren’t working or if we weren’t home, this would have been so much worse. — Lauren Fitzgerald, Richmond, Va.

Answer: Convincing Frigidaire’s owner Electrolux to issue a recall is slightly above my paygrade. But at least they should be taking the responsibility for the damage caused by the fire, particularly if it’s a manufacturer’s defect.

Most warranties don’t last longer than a year. I don’t know the specifics of your Frigidaire warranty, but I think it’s a safe bet that you were no longer covered. But your research revealed that others have had issues with a burning dishwasher, so I think this may be more of a liability issue for Frigidaire. Asking for receipts isn’t unusual, but in your situation, it’s impractical.

The takeaway from this case might be to keep every invoice from your plumber and contractor, just in case your dishwasher spontaneously combusts. But that’s just the thing — who really believes their Frigidaire will burst into flames?

I couldn’t have known anything more without contacting Electrolux, so that’s what I did. Within 24 hours of reaching out to the company, a representative contacted you and asked you to document all of the costs your insurance company won’t cover. Electrolux will also visit your house to inspect the charred remains of your dishwasher and promises it will consider a recall.

Did Electrolux do enough?

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48 thoughts on “My Frigidaire burst into flames — now what?

  1. It’s worth noting that the fire may not have been caused by the appliance itself, but by improper installation. Given a dishwasher has lots of plumbing and electrical wiring in close proximity, it’s not inconceivable that this was not the appliance’s fault at all. An independent investigation would be best, but Electrolux should at least be given a chance to inspect the situation. If there is solid evidence that the fire was indeed caused by the appliance itself (and was wired and plumbed correctly), I don’t see why the pressure only has to be on the company to force a recall. The Consumer Products Safety Commission has a process for reporting unsafe products directly to them: .

    1. 100% agreed. It is premature to jump to conclusions, especially with the limited information provided in the article.
      I had a similar experience many years ago involving a new home and a new water heater. One morning when I was getting ready to leave for work, I noticed the smell of smoke and found the source to be a water heater that was on fire. Because I was fortunate to be at home and immediately extinguished the fire, there wasn’t subsequent damage to the house.
      An investigation revealed that the contractor had improperly installed the water heater. One of the seals was installed improperly which allowed a slow leak of water that eventually found its way to the electrical box. This resulted in a short circuit. In this situation, insurance covered the replacement and there was nothing else to pursue.
      Until a thorough and comprehensive investigation is complete, a recall is unnecessary and unreasonable.

    2. However, this was a 4-year old appliance. The odds of improper installation only now causing a fire are fairly small, I’d think. Plus, what would improper electrical installation look like on a dishwasher? Most simply plug into an outlet and aren’t even hard-wired in.

      I’m not entirely sure what the OP means by the dishwasher’s “electrical panel.” If they meant the control panel, that is typically on the front of the machine well removed from where the electricity actually comes into the unit. And if they’re talking about where the electricity comes into the unit, the cord is usually a few feet long so that would also a ways away from the house’s wiring.

    3. Installing a dishwasher isn’t rocket science. I was able to properly install mine after half an hour of research on the internet.

  2. This should also be reported to the CPSC. (Electrolux should have done this already.) Things get especially fun if the consumer reports the incident and Electrolux fails to… the CPSC comes down on the company like a sack of bricks when that happens. (Unlike the FTC, they have some teeth with which to enforce laws.)

    I do have one question related to this particular case… why is the consumer paying any more than their deductible? It was my understanding that standard HO insurance forms covered stuff like temporary lodging, etc. while repairs are underway. Will the insurance co. not cover a “suite” hotel that has a small kitchen in the room? (And, by extension, they would then be able to eat normal food instead of eating out all the time…) You don’t need to exactly book a room at the Ritz to get that feature.

    1. In theory, yes, the CPSC should come down like a sack of bricks – but see my comment that I just posted. If you have access to Consumer Reports, check out that article, esp. p. 35 where the article discusses the limitations of the CPSC.

      What’s “funny” is that the website, the consumer complaint database, was off-line when I checked just now.

      Agree with you that there’s something wrong with the HO insurance coverage of this event. Ms. Fitzgerald needs to lean a little more heavily on her insurance agent to have him/her lean on the claims adjuster and provide what’s a standard feature of most fire claims.

      1. In regards to the OP to lean on her insurance agent, there is a chance that she doesn’t have a “real agent” since a lot of people are buying insurance coverage online or over the phone. Or the OP could have poor coverage (see my other comment).

    2. In regards to insurance, I thought the same thing. Unless the OP purchased a policy with limited coverage to save money or purchased a policy without the right coverage, the insurance policy should pay for housing, repairs, etc. above the deductible.

  3. What a coincidence! I just finished reading the “Microwave Mystery” article in my March 2013 Consumer Reports about self-starting KitchenAid microwaves, which referenced a March 2012 CR article on appliances starting on fire – and that March 2012 article discussed dishwashers. The common causes of fires in dishwashers were control-panel problems and leakage of rinse-aid into the circuitry. The March 2013 article says that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has to consult with manufacturers before going public, i.e. urging a recall.

    Seems to me that if the government is reluctant to prod manufacturers into a recall, a poll on urging a recall isn’t going to do much good. BUT – if a goodly number of us decide to contact our congressional representatives about strengthening consumer protections, that might do some good.

    1. Oh dear, the two problems you mentioned have been with us for many years. You can also add the heating element burning through the plastic tub.
      I did the recommended repairs on my GE Triton. Sealed the rinse aid container, inspect and replace wiring harness and insulation. The problem is the rinse solution spills inside the door where the wiring and controls are. Over time and with all the heat, the wires lose insulation and touch metal causing a spark or burning the rest of the parts.
      After learning about the issue, I never used rinse aid again, just used air dry, and only run the dishwasher when we are home and not when asleep as much as possible.
      It is hard to trust appliances nowadays.
      Most break or something goes wrong just after a year since that is how long the warranty is.
      I feel awful for the OP and family.

    1. I don’t get why any modern appliance would need to reuse a serial number. They’re usually long these days.

      Besides that, most appliances also list date of manufacture. If they can’t figure it out with model number, serial number, and date of manufacture then something is seriously wrong.

      1. Totally agree. I’d bet that was a total lie. Besides, even if they did reuse serial numbers, they surely wouldn’t reuse them so often that you couldn’t effectively find the one in this particular case. It’s not like every machine rolling off the line would have the same one, they’d be reused probably many years apart.

  4. I don’t know if they did enough since according to the story they have only promised to do something. If this is a well known problem with that model of dishwater I would think that at a minimum they would recall the model or provide a fix as well as cover any other costs not provided for by the insurance company.

    1. I was thinking the same thing about the company’s response. Until they actually do something, it is nothing more than lip service to keep the bad press away. This is one story I would really like to get an update on in a few weeks to see if they followed through on their promise.

  5. I chose yes because in this case, it does fix the problem. But overall it sounds like there is a larger issue. I mean, the actual total number of units that have caught fire vs. the units sold would need to be compared. There’s many reasons a device can catch fire and we don’t know that the surrounding circumstances were in this (or any other) case.

    The disappointing part, as always, is that it took Chris calling to get it done rather than the company taking responsibility themselves.

  6. As a consumer advocate, did you miss a bigger problem here? A family with a toddler and infant has $15,000 in damages and their insurance won’t cover “everything?” Sounds to me like they are either underinsured or have the wrong type of coverage………

    1. It is not uncommon to have a deductible on home insurance. As a matter of fact, it’s probably the exception to have no deductible coverage.

        1. I read the original post as the fire caused a total of $15,000 in damage. The HO insurance is covering some part of the $15k but she says she has damages in excess of what the HO is covering. I wonder if she failed to purchase guaranteed replacement cost coverage and only is receiving the depreciated value of her property or far underestimated her contents value.

    2. That was my thought as well. The typical homeowner policy has a deductible of $ 500 or $ 1,000. Most standard homeowners insurance policies will cover damage caused by such perils as fire, windstorms, hail, lightning, theft or vandalism. There are other homeowners policies that cover additional perils as well. Typically, floods and earthquakes are excluded and you need to purchase rider (i.e. earthquake) or a separate policy (i.e. flood). Homeowners usually buy either HO-2 insurance, which protects against a list of 16 specific damages, or HO-3, which protects against any damage not specifically exempted. Both kinds of policies, and the more restrictive HO-1, cover damage to your home from fire.

      Therefore, I don’t understand the OP claim that their insurance won’t cover “everything”. Like you, it sounds like they either purchase a policy with limited coverage to save money or purchased a policy without the right coverage.

      Or the OP could be one of the individuals that believe that insurance should be a 100% payout. The purpose or objective of insurance is risk management…purchasing coverage for the risks that you can’t pay for yourself.

  7. I voted yes, simply because issuing a recall requires more research. When the research is done then is the time for a recall. The other thing the fitzgerald’s should do would be to contact their state’s consumer protection agency.

  8. Anyone long for the days when General Motors owned Frigidaire? I recall the familiar square GM logo right next to the Frigidaire brand name.

  9. Hopefully they will replace the dishwasher, too, or the insurance money/money from Electrolux will be enough for a new one once repairs are done to the OP’s kitchen. I find it hard to believe a company would reuse serial numbers, but I digress.
    I had a similar situation with a leaking refridgerator in a previous home. The house new when we moved in, so we had no appliance receipts from the contractor. After about two years, something in the fridge broke, which caused it to leak water in our kitchen and through the wall behind it, which was our “formal” living room. It soaked a good portion of the carpet in that room and there was mold behind the couch that was against that wall. I called the builder’s rep, who came and inspected the damage, and they called GE, the supplier of the fridge. Someone from GE cam to the house and we ended up getting the fridge repair plus the mold and carpet cleaning required (because of the leak) paid for by GE. So if you have a problem with an appliance in a newer home like I did, this could be another way to get assistance.

  10. No offense to Chris, but I think this is a situation where any consumer advocate is going to be in over his / her head. Painful as it will be, the best thing to do in this situation IMO is lawyer up. We aren’t talking about simply replacing a broken dishwasher, we are talking about liability for a house fire which is something Frigidaire or any large company will attempt to deny, shift blame, and stonewall. This family unfortunately isn’t dealing with Frigidaire customer service at this point, they are dealing with Frigidaire General Council.

    1. Luckily, there’s no need to take the expensive step of lawyering up. At least, it’d be pretty pointless since the only money at stake in the end is likely the insurance deductible. Almost all the money that is going to be paid will be provided by the HO insurance policy, If the insurance company wants to sue and subrogate the claim to Frigidaire, they can do so, but that’s no concern of the consumer.

  11. Hi Chris,
    For the rest of us who have dishwashers that have not burned yet, I wonder if you can clarify one issue?
    I have always been told to buy appliances which have the U.L. Logo.
    Doing a simple google search, I found that the U.L. Standard for dishwashers is U.L. 749:
    However when I go through the specifications of some Frigidaire dishwashers, they do not specifically say they meet or comply with UL749. All they have is the UL logo.
    Can we assume that if we buy a dishwasher with the UL logo that it means the appliance meets the UL749 standard?
    Added: To be quite specific, they do not nave the word LISTED when using the UL logo. Is that BS or what?

    1. Few retailers or distributors will sell any consumer products that plug into the wall that do not have the proper UL certification. (Selling non UL-Listed appliances would almost certainly be considered to be “not exercising ordinary caution” and make the seller themselves liable for product failures. No appliance distributor wants to be paying to rebuild somebody’s house.)

      So, yes, it is pretty safe to assume that the dishwasher has passed the appropriate UL tests. They don’t necessarily list the standard number because it’s useless information for most people anyway.

      I’m guessing that it was a screwup by a graphic designer that didn’t go to official sources to get the UL logo; the actual stick on the product likely has the appropriate designation.

    2. UL, ETL, CSA and other certifications can be for either safety or performance. Often standards for an appliance are performance standards and the appliance must also meet separate safety standards. Just having a UL or other logo does not mean the appliance meets all criteria, in fact most should specify what testing was used.

  12. One more proud American Company ruined by a crazed desire for higher profits.
    I do not believe their story about reusing serial numbers…unless the appliances are being made in a 4th world country! Also, I’d like to note that some American companies (GE for instance, who is my former employer) has, in the past, issued recalls on their dishwashers after fire hazards were discovered, even though the dshwashers were out of the normal warranty period. Thy replaced my appliance about four years afer it was installed, and they repaired the replacement unit at no cost two years after that. This does, of course, indicate that they’re making junk, but at least they stand behind that junk.

    1. In regards to “they’re making junk”, there is a difference between an engineering design flawmistake and poor workmanship (i.e. not putting bolts in the machine; no putting nuts on bolts; not tighening bolts; not checking the wire connectors; etc.). To me, the latter is “junk” or poor quality. If the ‘design flaw’ was discovered in QA and the company elected not to redo the design because it will cost money to change the designpartetc then the company and managers need to be hold accountable.

  13. Wow, sorry, but if they reacted this quickly to Chris’s request for more information, then something smells to high heaven on this one. They did a 180 too fast on this one for it to be anything else.

    1. You’re giving them heat because they responded too quickly? If they had been slow to respond, people would be up in arms accusing them of hiding something. I don’t know if it was the dishwashers fault or not, but the speed at which they responded doesn’t seem relevant to me.

  14. “It was installed by the contractor who sold us our house, so we don’t have a receipt.” I have purchased two new construction homes from different builders and both times the manuals, registration cards, etc. were inside of the applicances. When we submitted the registration for our last house, I think that the card (it could have been online) had a box for ‘new construction’ for where it was purchased from.

    One takeway from the article should be you need to fill out the registration cards for new applicances as well as writing down the serial numbers and model numbers of your applicances. A few months ago, we received a letter from GE about our dishwasher stating that there is a risk of fire to due a heating element and they offered to replace the heating element or give us a $ 100 credit to for the purchase of a new dishwasher.

  15. GE had a recall for this same problem and year of manufacture. Could it be that GE and Frigidaire are made by the same manufacturer, or the perhaps the heating element is? I received a letter from GE
    and very easy and quick service to correct the problem. It’s a good idea to register your products so
    you can be reached in the case of recalls. In this case Frigidaire should have done more INITIALLY.
    Will keep away from this product line, that’s for sure!

  16. I’m sorry this happened to the homeowners, but am glad it was worked out for them, even if it took Chris’s pressure.

    We had a good experience with Maytag refrigerator — there was a recall on the compressor relay that had the potential to start a fire; I believe we got a letter and there were advertisements in the paper with specific model numbers and serial number ranges (the baloney about reusing serial numbers has to be exactly that). We procrastinated thinking it was going to be a hassle, until it just stopped cooling one day, leaking condensate all over the floor. I called the Maytag support number, and the woman instantly recognized it was one of the recalled units and directed us to a repair company that came out the next day and replaced the part at no cost (for labor either).

    This was for a 10 year old refrigerator, so I was very happy with the result. I guess we were “lucky” that it was a fault that could be a safety issue (though it wasn’t for us) as well as just functional, otherwise the warranty would have run out long ago.

  17. Please have this person visit, which is CPSC’s online consumer complaint database. There they can look to see if others have had the same issue and what rhetoric the company provided them. The CPSC can help initiate a recall when major issues such as almost burning down your house occur – and no I do not work for the CPSC, but I did work on the project to develop the online system. 🙂

  18. Not to take away from Chris’s good work, I think they should contact Consumer Reports Magazine and tell them about the dishwasher they had, as well as others that have caught fire. They are pretty good at investigating things like that. If they do investigate, they have a lot of pull in getting a recall done.

  19. One might keep in mind ensuring that homeowner’s insurance gives the needed level of cover. Mine pays for accommodation etc. and most if not all of the costs.
    Sorry they had the fire, glad it wasn’t worse…..make sure to get the right insurance for your needs.

  20. They’re all building crap these days. My sister bought a dishwasher, the PC board failed after 2 years and they couldn’t replace it. They quit making it. My sister looked through reviews of dishwashers and couldn’t find one that didn’t have the same problem, a part that was no longer made after a relatively short period of time, of course after the warranty expired. She concluded that a service contract was required so they had to replace it if they couldn’t repair it.

    It’s a scam to sell service contracts.

  21. That’s a lot of votes for a recall. Does any of you have any evidence that this isn’t a one-time thing? A problem has to be repeating to justify a recall. This could easily have been a defective unit, or installed wrong.

  22. This shows how important it is to have a fire extinguisher *IN YOUR HOME*. If the OP saw the fire and had an extinguisher, the damage would have been far less than $15k!

  23. I voted “no”. Next time, someone may DIE, then what? So happy you got involved and that we now know that Frigidaire products are inferior and the company does not stand behind them!

  24. In my own experience, the issue with the insurance company may require some intervention – and few of us are savy shoppers regarding home owners insurance until we have an unsatisfactory claim experience with our company. While some company’s will cover damange – they may want the homeowner to hire the low bid contractor for repairs and this is where some consumer advocacy (and maybe a lawyer) might be needed. One needs to do research about the quality of the work of the contractor has done with others – and the insurance company won’t necessarily provide that info directly. Chris, you might suggest that the homeowners may want to have a conversation with their state agency governing insurance companies.
    Also, the insurance company may be reluctant to cover out-of-pocket expenses for this family (such as fast food) whereas if the family told the insurance company they wanted alternate housing until their kitchen was restored, the policy might cover that (and not food) but a ‘creative’ adjustor might figure out how to provide some coverage for this family’s expenses at the lessor cost of being in their home.
    Insurance companies and contractors doing work for insurance companies are the experts and homeowners are the amateurs and at a disadvantage and its good to get all the extra help and experience that one can find.
    I personally experienced a soot disaster (from our oil fired boiler mis-firing for ~12 hrs) in my home with the result that we were displaced from our home for 3 months. State Farm paid for the entire home to be cleaned, everything in the house to be cleaned (incl all linens and clothes to a laundry/cleaners), paint the full interior, furnished apartment for us to live in for the full period of our absence, paid the utilities on the house during our absence, re-set the house at the end, I never added it all up but I’d guess $40,000; we paid the $500 deductible happily. The painting contractor advised us that after several experiences on jobs he had changed his personal homeowners insurance from A-S to State Farm after seeing attempts by A.S. to lowball jobs. Whether this would still be true today I don’t know; one should be talking to those one knows who have had claims and see what their experience has been.

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