The Basics: How an Electric Range Works
In troubleshooting and repair, it always helps to understand how something works. It doesn’t even have to be extensive, just a general idea of the basic operation. This can help you narrow possibilities, figure out things beyond any troubleshooting manual, and give you a little more confidence in your abilities.
Unlike a gas range, an electric range will never leak fuel or create carbon monoxide from burning fuel. Instead, an electric range uses an electrical supply – your home current, 220 volts – and converts it to heat. The greater the electrical flow generated, the more heat that results. Turning the knobs controlling your burners or oven works similar to a light dimmer switch, increasing or decreasing the flow of electrical current and thus the temperature of the element.
Starting with the stovetop, the control knob you turn to set the burner temperature is connected to a temperature control immediately inside the stove control panel, on the other side of the knob. Often this control is called an infinite switch. It regulates the electrical flow to the heating element.
- The oldest electric ranges use a conventional coil heating element, known as a “resistive coil.” This is nothing more than an electrical wire encased in an insulating sheath. (This sheath is the reason you cannot electrocute yourself by touching the burner or the pan on top of it). You know this one by the appearance – flat black coils over rounded burner drip bowls that catch your drips and spills.
- Almost as old is the glass-ceramic cooktop style. Here, the element produces heat that both conducts and radiates through the glass top to the cookware above. Sometimes these feature thermostats that control the elements, turning them off and on to provide a steady temperature rather than ever-increasing heat like conventional burners. Smooth-top stoves like these are easily recognizable – no burner juts up, and often the “burner” looks like it’s painted on.
- Newer cooktop styles, such as the induction, halogen, or solid-disk cooktops (popularly referred to as “Euro-burners”) combine the same basic styles with new technology to produce more even heating, greater efficiency, increased ease of use and sleek styling. In some cases the burner element itself is easily changeable, but the process is slightly different from other cooktop styles. In addition, some feature thermal limiters or thermostats that regulate the burner system. Refer to your owner’s manual or a qualified technician for targeted information.
Moving to the oven, electric ranges typically feature two heating elements – one for baking, one for broiling. Both are controlled with an oven selector switch as well as a temperature control. A thermostat monitors and regulates oven temperatures, opening the circuit to break the flow of heat (electricity) and closing it when the temperature drops by more than 20 degrees. This thermostat is directly behind the oven temperature-setting knob with a thin copper tube that runs to the oven for temperature sensing.
Some ovens have a clock, a timer, or controls for features such as self-cleaning or an interior light. While older clocks used to be manually controlled, many are now electronic and may replace the conventional thermostat system. Often referred to as electronic range controls or electronic oven controls, these need complete replacement when they fail.
Self-cleaning ovens use a timer to operate the cleaning, during which the oven heats to about 700 degrees. A latch engages during the process, preventing the door from opening until the cycle is done and the temperatures are at a safe level again.
A convection oven includes a fan to help circulate the heat. Sometimes the fan contains a heating element. Either way, the result is more efficient, even cooking.
Common Stovetop Problems: Troubleshooting by Symptom
Once you know the basics of how your electric range works, you may be able to pinpoint the problem without a troubleshooting guide. If you’re still uncertain, however, try narrowing down the potential causes by locating the symptom. Most oven or stovetop failures trace back to one of a few potential problems. Always start with the most simple or probable cause and progress toward more complex or less common causes. If the situation still leaves you perplexed or you do not feel up to fixing the problem you identify, consult a qualified service professional.
Nothing Works, or the Stovetop Works Inconsistently:
- Has the home breaker flipped or the fuse blown? Sometimes an electrical surge will interfere with the power supply, causing breakers and fuses to react to protect your appliances. Simply check your breaker or fuse box and replace or flip as necessary.
- Is the range’s power cord plugged in securely? Grasp it by the plug and wiggle slightly to determine a good connection. If your range is plugged into an extension cord, disconnect it and plug it into the wall directly! A range consumes too much electricity to run off any extension cord.
- Look over the power cord for signs of damage such as missing rubber coating with wires showing through, sharp crimps or evidence it is getting pinched while plugged in. Pull out the oven slightly if its position is causing the problem. Electrical tape is good for covering bare wires and preventing them from touching anything, but a range is too powerful to take chances. Have a technician replace the cord as necessary.
- If previous steps fail to fix the problem, it’s time to dig a little deeper. First unplug the appliance, then remove the back panel to access the area where the power cord enters the range. Inside, the cord wires connect to a terminal block. Look for loose, damaged or burned-looking wires. If wires are merely loose, wrap them around the screw terminal and secure by tightening. If you witness evidence of a little corrosion, like you sometimes see on car battery terminals, clean the terminal gently with a wire brush and reconnect the wires. Damaged wiring requires immediate attention from a professional.
- Does your range have an internal fuse or circuit breaker system? Typically situated under the top of the range, directly around the elements or on the sides of the unit, cooktop fuses and circuits can also blow or trip. So can the fuses for the oven – located at the rear of the compartment – and fuses controlling the self-cleaning function, timer, clock or other features, if so designed. To replace any fuse, simply unscrew it, turning it counterclockwise, and replace with the exact same type and size (electrical rating) of fuse. For circuit breakers, push the “reset” button or as indicated.
- Sometimes either the cord or even the electrical outlet is bad even though you can’t see it. In that case, a multimeter will quickly and easily show if the outlet is receiving current and if the power cord is carrying it. Consult a professional for further information.
One Burner Fails to Produce Heat:
Most of the time, the cause can be traced to a defective element, a loose connection or a defective switch. Try a few things to pinpoint it – and possibly fix it in the process.
- First, wiggle the burner element slightly. Turn off the power or unplug the stove to prevent electrical shock if you must touch the interior portion of the stove to remove it. Note if the element feels abnormal or loosely connected; sometimes comparing it with another one will help you judge any differences. Try turning the burner on again to see if this fixed the problem.
- Narrow down the possibilities by pulling the burner element free from the stove and switching it out with another element of the same size. If the replacement works, check the one that wasn’t working where it is now plugged in. If it doesn’t work, you can be sure the element is faulty. Simply purchase a new one and pop it in place to solve your problems.
- Examine the element for warping, bubbles or any visible sign of damage. Look for signs of corrosion on the ends that plug into the burner (called terminals) as well as on the receptacle block into which it plugs. Clean, as necessary, with steel wool or a stiff-bristled brush to remove buildup that may interfere with proper operation. If you notice what looks like burned or scorched areas on the prongs, replace the terminal block that the element plugs into, as it is likely faulty. Consult a repair technician for further assistance.
My Stovetop Burners Work, But the Indicator Light Doesn’t Glow:
Every electric stove features a little indicator light that glows when the burner is in operation. If the burner is on but the light fails to glow, one of two things is the likely problem.
- Using a multimeter, connect the probes to the final burner control switch terminal, the one labeled P, along with the L1 terminal, while the burner is on. It should register continuity. Any other result means that portion of the control switch is faulty.
- If you obtain continuity but the light still isn’t operating, try replacing the light bulb, located in the control panel behind the light position.
My Stovetop Burner Seems to Have One Temperature Only:
If the burner works but doesn’t get hotter or cooler, the infinite switch is likely faulty. Replace as necessary. Consult a repair professional for further information.
Common Electric Oven Issues: Troubleshooting by Symptom
Your oven may not work even though the stovetop burners do. Again, the best way to narrow down the possible causes – and find a solution – is to start with the simplest and most common causes. If, at any time, you grow uncertain or need assistance, contact a service professional for specialized assistance applicable to your particular electric oven.
My Oven Doesn’t Work, but the Stovetop Does:
- Check the oven control knobs. Some have separate cycle and temperature knobs, others combine all functions on one knob. Either way, are they set properly? Have you recently removed the knob, perhaps to clean the oven? If the knob was pulled off, it may not be aligned properly. Try pulling the knob off again and repositioning it for a quick, easy fix.
- Does your broiler element work? Since the broil element, at the top of the oven, is separate from the bake element at the bottom of the oven, if one works and the other doesn’t, you know the problem is either in the element or the receptacle block into which it plugs. Whenever a burner, oven or broiler fails to work, most often the fault is in the element, so start by wiggling the element to see if it is simply loose.
- Pull the element free and inspect it for signs of damage – extremely worn areas, bubbling, cracking, signs of burning or corrosion on the terminals. Remove dirt and corrosion with a stiff-bristled brush or sandpaper. Replace faulty elements; they aren’t very expensive (less than a service call!).
- Test your oven elements – either the bake or broil element – with a multimeter. Clip the probes to the element terminals and test for continuity. The reading should be between 15 and 30 ohms. Higher readings mean the element is faulty and needs replacement. Alternatively, take the element to a repair service and ask them to test it for you.
- If neither broil nor bake works and previous steps fail to identify the problem, check your clock settings. On analog clocks, the setting should be manual. Auto is for timed cooking. This fix may not be relevant for everyone. Newer ERC and EOC clocks, as discussed above, typically integrate the clock with the thermostat. When the clock stops working, it affects the oven and requires replacement.
- Does your range feature built-in fuses? Locate the fuse positions and check if the fuses for the oven are faulty. Replace with 30 amp fuses. Your owner’s manual should explain where they are located and how to access them. Contact a service technician for further information.
The Oven Doesn’t Get Hot Enough:
Perhaps the oven works – it just doesn’t work right, producing little heat. The problem is likely not the element, but another connected part.
- First check the oven door. The gasket surrounding the door must seal in the heat to maintain temperature. If you notice rips, tears or missing portions, this may explain the problem.
- Test the thermostat. Place an oven thermometer inside the oven and verify the temperature difference. Often, you can adjust an oven thermostat simply by turning a screw located on the thermostat’s valve stem. On newer digital display oven models, where the thermostat is part of the clock system, you can’t do this. You must replace the sensor instead. Call a service technician for professional assistance.
- Use a multimeter to test the bake or broil receptacle, similar to testing the burner receptacle. Bad voltage can cause numerous problems. Testing L1 and L2 together should result in 240 volts. From L1 to neutral, and L2 to neutral, should register 120 volts instead.
The Oven Door Refuses to Open:
It’s possible for bent latches or similar physical damage to cause the door to latch and refuse to open again. There’s no easy fix. The oven must be disassembled to reach the latch and force it open again. Have a service technician perform the work for you.
The Oven Door Refuses to Close:
If your door refuses to close properly, the fix is likely simple. Look at the gasket surrounding the door and ensure it is clean and in good repair. Gaskets are replaceable. Also check the springs and armature, adjusting as necessary until the door closes properly. Finally, consider replacing the latch if all else fails.
The Oven Light Isn’t Working:
Replacing the light bulb is very easy. Use the same size and type each time.
The Oven Indicator Light Isn’t Working:
The oven also has an indicator light in the control panel, similar to the burner indicator lights. Access the inside of the panel and replace the light as necessary.
The Convection Feature Fails to Work:
The convection oven will not work without a fan. After testing the selector switch, take a closer look at the fan. Make sure it isn’t plugged or clogged. Have a service technician test the part if the solution isn’t obvious.
The Self-Cleaning Feature Fails to Work:
If the knobs are operating properly, check the oven door latch to ensure it engages completely. In order to enter the cleaning cycle, the oven must “sense” the latch. If the latch has no electrical current, the oven will not detect it and will fail to clean. Test for continuity on the latch. Consult a repair professional for further information and assistance.
The Electric Range or the Food Cooked is Lopsided:
You may not even notice the range isn’t level until you bake a cake, or a casserole overflows on one side, creating a mess inside your oven. Luckily, this is generally an easy fix.
- Is the range itself uneven? A simple way to check is to put a level inside the oven on one of the racks. Failing that, use a pan of water and eyeball the level to see if it looks even. Most ranges have leveling legs that may be adjusted to obtain level. Alternatively, use a small item such as a thin strip of wood, positioned under the stove legs.
- Is the problem confined to the burners? If the element isn’t seated properly, the result will be a slightly lopsided pan. Simply adjust the element to correct.
- Check the condition of the kitchen floor. If the floor is sagging or uneven, the stove will be as well. Consult a professional carpenter for a permanent solution. In the meantime, adjust the stove to obtain level.