Shattered: Case of the exploding cooktop

Last June's happy hour and barbecue for regional neuropsychologists included some unplanned fireworks: the explosion of the hosts' glass cooktop. Fortunately, no one was hurt– but the aftermath has been expensive.

"It sounded like a gunshot," recalls owner Tom Guterbock.

He and his wife, Bernice Marcopulos, were hosting Marcopulos' colleagues from Western State Hospital and UVA on June 27 when their party was interrupted by "glass flying all over," as Marcopulos describes it. She had been boiling hot dogs in a RevereWare pan on the Kitchen Aid cooktop for their children, ages two and four, at the time of the incident.

Guterbock called Kitchen Aid customer service the next day and spoke with an employee named Nakisha, who, he claims, stated that because the one-year warranty had expired (the unit was four years old), nothing could be done. She gave him the name of an authorized service center, Kraft Appliances, and Guterbock scheduled the repairs.

Kraft Appliances owner Tracy Kraft, who carried out the repairs, told me that he had "never seen that happen" to a cooktop unit. "I called Kitchen Aid to see if they would work with me" on replacing the surface, but got the same answer Guterbock had: The unit was out of warranty. Case closed.

When several months went by without a bill from Kraft, Marcopulos and Guterbock assumed that Kitchen Aid must have covered the cost after all. Alas, Kraft was simply slow to mail his invoice– which was for $381: $291 for parts, and $90 for installation. On October 15, after receiving the bill, Marcopulos called Kitchen Aid to discuss the situation. She, too, was connected to Nakisha.

Marcopulos got the same response as Guterbock and Kraft had: The warranty had expired.

"Her tone was pretty ornery to begin with," says Marcopulos, claiming that Nakisha's attitude "got worse" when she discovered that Guterbock had already called– as if, Marcopulos says, by calling about the same problem, "I was putting something over on her."

Nakisha allegedly told her that because the surface is made of safety glass which is "not sharp," the incident wouldn't have injured anyone. Marcopulos, thinking that Kitchen Aid would want to hear about a four-year-old, $1,500 cooktop unit that had allegedly exploded in the mundane act of boiling water, then asked to be transferred to the safety division.

Although company records state that she was connected to the safety division– and that the call must have been cut off by her cell phone– Marcopulos insists she never got off hold before being disconnected, at which point she gave up and contacted me.

"Glass does break," Rhonda Milliken, spokesperson for Whirlpool (which owns Kitchen Aid), said. Milliken explained that sometimes an object falling from overhead can damage the glass surface, which is then vulnerable to further damage when heated. "That's why we have strict warranties," she added.

Marcopulos, however, claims that nothing had ever fallen on the cooktop's surface.

Milliken seemed skeptical of Marcopulos' assertion that Kitchen Aid should have investigated the incident as a possible safety issue. "If she really felt that seriously about it, she would have pushed that" from the beginning, says Milliken. "She didn't cry 'safety issue' until October."

If Guterbock or Marcopulos had raised the question of safety in the June 28 call, Milliken explained, Whirlpool could have ordered an investigation and, if the unit was ruled defective, "We would have covered that." But because the unit had been repaired, it was too late to explore that possibility.

In the end, however, Whirlpool decided that it wasn't too late– and that the company would cover Kraft's $381 bill after all. The manager of the safety division also called Marcopulos to discuss her concerns– after which Marcopulos declared herself "a very satisfied customer."

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