Used appliance alert: Missing model and serial numbers could be big problem

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DENVER -- One of the most dangerous appliances in your kitchen is the dishwasher with 15 million units recalled in the past five years because of fire.

Consumer Reports estimates that dishwashers spark an average of 500 fires every year in the U.S. To find out if your dishwasher has been recalled, you need the model and serial number or name plate, but FOX31 Denver found used appliances stores selling dishwashers without those identifying numbers.

Carrie Medina, a Wheat Ridge mother, discovered she had unknowingly bought a recalled dishwasher when it caught on fire. Medina said, “I was really upset. Upset because they put my family in harm’s way.”

Medina had been using the recalled dishwasher for three years when the control panel caught on fire. “Every time I used that dishwasher it could have caught my house on fire,” Medina said.

HEIDI HEMMATShe bought the recalled GE Monogram from Affordable Used Appliances in Thornton.

The dishwasher’s rating plate, which lists the model and serial numbers and is attached to the inside of the dishwasher, was missing.

While trying to repair the unit, the Medinas found numbers hand written behind the face plate. Medina said, “He (My husband) pulled out the dishwasher and removed some of the foam and found the model number and serial number in permanent marker. That was a big red flag.”

Using the numbers, Medina found her dishwasher identified by those numbers had been recalled due to it being a fire hazard. She contacted GE which responded saying, "…there is not much GE is able to do for you without a rating plate (model and serial sticker). Normally, if a unit is sold without a rating plate, that means at some point, the unit was meant to be scrapped and not sold again … Also, if you purchased the unit after the 2010 dishwasher recalled was announced … and the recall work has not been completed on the dishwasher, it was illegal for that dealer to sell you this dishwasher.”

Medina called Affordable Used Appliances and they admitted their mistake. “They verified, oh yes, it’s been recalled and we’ll give you your money back,” Medina said.

In Colorado, it’s a crime to knowingly sell an item with a serial number that’s been destroyed or removed.

FOX31 Denver wanted to know if Affordable Used Appliances is selling recalled dishwashers, so we took hidden cameras into two metro area stores.

At the Westminster store, we found one used dishwasher out of 18 for sale had no rating plate. But, the price tag on the unit had what appeared to be a partial model and serial number.

In Englewood, we examined ten dishwashers and discovered an Amana dishwasher also with a missing rating plate.

FOX31 Denver’s Heidi Hemmat asked the salesperson at the Englewood store, “Where is the model and serial number on here?” The salesperson said, “It looks like somebody might have pulled it off. I don’t think I can actually sell this one.”

We wanted to know about the hand written model and serial numbers we found on the price tags, so we sent them to the maker of the products.

Whirlpool Corporation said, "...the partial model and serial numbers you sent through are not Amana serial model numbers. None of the model or serial numbers you provided to us are consistent with Amana or Whirlpool brand products.”

Affordable Used Appliance’s district manager Jeff Harris said, “We take pride in having a good quality control program to clean the appliances, safety check the appliances and inventory the appliances … If an appliance does not have a serial number we generally will reject the appliance and not sell it. If there are appliances on our sales floor, we did not intend to do this; it fell through our (quality control) process.”

Harris told us “we do not sell appliances that are recalled” and Medina’s case was “an anomaly. We do not sell appliances that have model and serial numbers missing.”

When asked why Whirlpool and Amana could not find products that matched the handwritten numbers on the price tags Harris explained it could have been a “process error” and “it’s possible a technician wrote it down wrong.” Harris ended our conversation with saying “we’re an honest business.”

Whirlpool and Maytag did not think A and A Quality Appliance, the parent company of “Affordable Used Appliances,” was an honest business.

The dishwasher manufacturers filed a lawsuit in Denver District Court in 2008 accusing A and A of “reselling recalled dishwashers, switching serial number tags of undamaged, appliances with those of damaged appliances” and “selling damaged products with no model-serial tag.”

The allegations prompted the Denver District Attorney’s office to conduct a criminal investigation. No charges were ever filed. Both sides agreed to dismiss the lawsuit. Whirlpool said they “…dismissed their claims against one another and have agreed to the option of once again working together.”

Colorado Consumer lawyer, Peter Bornstein, said a missing number is a sign.

Bornstein said, “If a consumer sees that the serial number has been obliterated there may be something wrong with the product. The product may be defective; the product may be a 2nd or 3rd. Any number of things could be wrong with it and the consumer has no recourse.”

Medina has filed a formal complaint with the district attorney’s office. The DA will determine if charges will be filed.

Protect yourself when buying an appliance

Never leave your home with appliances running.

Register new appliances. That way you should be notified promptly if a product is recalled. Appliances usually come with a registration card for you to fill out and mail to the company or you can register on the manufacturer’s website or by phone.

Check for recalls. You can use a central website for several government agencies, and some let you sign up for alerts. If you move into a home with existing appliances, record their make and model and check the websites for recalls. You can also review consumers’ experiences with those products. And if you experience a problem, report it on the same website. File a report at Consumer Reports Online as well.

Check your home’s wiring. The electrical wiring in older homes can’t always handle the demands of modern appliances. Have your system inspected by a qualified electrician.

Install fire prevention equipment. Almost two-thirds of home fire deaths occur in homes that lack working smoke alarms. Each level of your home and every bedroom should have one. Smoke alarms that have both photoelectric and ionization sensors provide the fastest response to any type of fire. Consumer reports also recommends you keep one full-floor fire extinguisher (rated 2-A: 10-B:C or greater) on every level, plus a smaller supplemental unit in the kitchen.